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SME '17: Scorecard—Broadcast vs. Digital Video
Digital is still behind on always-on availability, scale, and latency, but it's catching up, and it offers advantages in user experience, quality, and—soon—monetization.
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Speakers on the panel "Establishing Parity Between Online Video and Broadcast Television" at Streaming Media East outlined what needs to happen to even the score between the two mediums. So which one is winning on which fronts?

Always On

Score: broadcast. Viewers turn on television and it just works. Online, not so much. "The internet for a long time equals best effort, and best effort is not what is associated with television," said John Bishop, CTO, media division, Akamai. "'The internet behaves differently as I move around' is what we hear from users, and that’s not what television does."

User Experience

Score: online. "We can evolve a UI on digital platforms much quicker," said Clark Pierce, SVP, TVE, FOX Sports Go. "We’re moving it away from a channel-based experience like TV and moving it to ‘'Let's tell you when your shows are on' [and] 'Let's get you to your shows.' Content can now find the user." Pierce said he's focused on how to take TV to the next level via the user experience and interactivity. "The (first) game runs long; we can spin up a virtual channel to give the viewer the choice to see the end of the first game or the beginning of the second game," he said. On TV, you won't get that.

Scale

Score: broadcast. "We have to get parity in the digital space with legacy pay TV services," said Bishop. Otherwise user adoption will never match or exceed broadcast. Can online get to enough eyeballs to scale? Bishop said streaming to tens of millions is an obtainable goal for delivery online now.

"Surge velocity taxes the system, and it's not a smooth join," said Bishop. The biggest issue is large events present huge bursts of traffic, all joining and then also all going to ad break at the same time. "A lot of people come to the CDNs and say 'Can you handle 330 million concurrent?' Things are going to break ...  before you get to 330 million at a high data rate. It simply is this weakest link problem. It might be the ad insertion element," said Bishop. It might be TVE authentication, or any number of other things. Planning as far out as possible is the most important part of large scale events.

Latency

Score: broadcast. Users' number one complaint is online delay, especially for sports viewing. "I think this year will be the year of latency where internet latency becomes less than what cable latency is," said Bishop.

Fidelity

Score: online. "Now it's very common to see HD, P60, and 4K, so in many ways the digital platform has gone beyond," said Bishop. "Sixty frames per second, that was very important to our users," said Pierce.

Operations

Score: broadcast. "How do we have end-to-end visibility in what happens in every stage of the supply chain to digital?," said Bishop. Broadcast has this, and online needs to catch up in this area, because there is no control from the media company over what type of device, version of app or browser, or connectivity speed any given viewer has.

Monetization

Score: broadcast—for now. "How does the business model need to change?" asked Jason Thibeault, executive director, Streaming Video Alliance. "The advertisers like it on the digital side, but scale isn’t really there yet," said Pierce. "The beauty on the streaming side is we have that data. If an advertiser had a choice between two events that were exact same size on TV and a streaming platform, they’d take the streaming platform because they get the data."