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TV 2.0: The Future Isn't About Delivery, It's About Experience

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When we talk shop in the video industry, whether we are from old-world broadcast or new-world over-the-internet, we often categorize video one of two ways: linear or OTT. For many, linear is video that’s delivered by traditional broadcasters according to a schedule determined by the programmers and accessible by an electronic programming guide (EPG). Viewers can watch shows at their scheduled broadcast time, which is especially relevant for episodic content, as episodes are only available once a week. Traditionally, this was the service that we paid for monthly, delivered into a set-top box sitting next to the television set (or received over the air through an antenna).

OTT is video delivered over the internet to apps, browsers, phones, and connected devices. Subscribers to these services, who also pay monthly for access to content, can pick and choose what they want to watch and when they want to watch it. Episodic content? Enter the “binge.” There are no restraints on when a user can watch most content through an OTT provider.

But are these two types of video fundamentally any different? The short answer is no.

Linear video can be delivered over coaxial cable or IP and, unless the content is “live,” it doesn’t have to be according to schedule. Let’s say that Judge Judy is available at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. But that episode was filmed 3 months ago. It’s not being “broadcast” at all. It’s just being delivered. So viewers can choose to watch it at 4:30 p.m. through their traditional broadcaster or, if they want, on demand through some OTT service (or maybe even the broadcaster). Sure, there are times when Judge Judy is being filmed and delivered in real time (or kind of real time), but that’s live linear. It’s a pretty unique use case that refers to only a subset of video types like sports or special episodic content such as American Idol. And although most OTT providers cut their teeth in the on-demand space—the non-linear content—they are branching into live linear at an ever-increasing pace.

Video, it would seem, is just video. It’s either delivered live, and a viewer must watch it at a specific time, or it’s available whenever the user wants to watch it, on whatever device. It really doesn’t matter how it’s delivered, through a set-top box or an OTT service, although it will increasingly be provided over IP as operators move in that direction.

The important distinction, rather, is the experience viewers have with that video through the various devices they use to consume it. Video provided through an operator network, via a set-top box, may be significantly different than the very same video provided through an OTT service. Think about a live sporting event. Watching it through a service like DAZN, a viewer could perhaps switch camera angles and even see data overlays on the players. I recently heard that the NHL is experimenting with 5G in arenas to provide that exact functionality through an IP-based video stream (which would only be available through a browser or an app). You don’t get this kind of functionality via a traditional operator on the TV (unless the viewer is opting to consume video through an app on the TV, rather than through the set-top box).

This is what’s going to define the future of watching television—not how the video is delivered, but the experience that it provides the viewer. From social integration to augmented reality to virtual reality, TV will become video delivered over IP to endpoints that can be programmatically enhanced with additional functionality. So we really shouldn’t be making a distinction, either in industry conversations or within the general market, about the difference between linear and OTT. Rather, we should focus on the difference between non-IP and IP-delivered video, no matter who is providing it.

[This article appears in the September 2019 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "TV 2.0—It’s All Just Video."]

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