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Inlet Talks Live Ad Insertion, Second-Gen Adaptive Streaming

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While I can't speak to the financial results, Inlet Technologies has had a great year PR-wise, seemingly becoming the manufacturer of the most high-profile hardware encoder for Microsoft's Smooth Streaming (think Olympics), one of two hardware providers listed as tested (and presumably functional) for Apple's HTTP Live streaming (think Akamai) and for Flash (think Major League Baseball). With chops like these, maybe some of the diplomats in DC or in the UN should take lessons from senior execs at Inlet.

Speaking of senior execs, I spoke with Matt Smith, Inlet's Senior Director of Systems Architecture, before he left for NAB to learn about the products and technologies that Inlet planned to announce and demonstrate at the show. We recorded our conversation in ooVoo for posterity, and you can see the video at the end of this article. While the video is longish (about 30 minutes), if you hover your cursor over the video playback bar, you'll see tags that let you click directly to different sections.

Live Advertising Insertion
Inlet's most significant recent product announcement related to live advertising insertion technology. Specifically, Inlet's Spinnaker real time encoder will recognize SCTE-35 signaling in the broadcast stream, and then make a call to an advertising server to insert an ad. If the content provider doesn't use the SCTE-35 signal, they can schedule the advertising breaks or enter them manually. Through various partnerships, Inlet is enabling this capability on platforms serving the iPhone/iPad, Silverlight and Flash communities.

Specifically, Inlet is working with mDialog for video advertising insertion into the Apple mobile ecosystem, which includes advertisements delivered via adaptive streaming with geo-targeting, day parting and frequency capping. Inlet partnered with Omneon to provide automated ad insertion capabilities for IP content delivery via the Spectrum broadcast media server, and with Vertigo for advertising insertion into the Silverlight Player. 

Overall, Smith felt that automated, live advertising insertion would be a "game changer" because it's the first time advertising insertion has been available for live streaming events. Previously, for televised events, most streaming producers inserted a slate, or showed the announcers sitting around chatting. Now, live event producers can further monetize their streams with pre-, mid-, and post-roll advertisements.

Inlet Spinnaker can now stream live ads to all these devices

Second-Generation Adaptive Streaming
The second major announcement relates to what Inlet is calling Second-Generation Adaptive Streaming. Under the company's taxonomy, producing adaptive streams for Smooth Streaming and HTTP Live streaming was generation one. New in the second generation is adaptive streaming of H.264 for Silverlight and the iPad, and future support for Adobe's new HTTP-based Dynamic Streaming when it's released later in the year.

According to Smith, though Microsoft adopted H.264 in 2008, virtually all live Silverlight broadcasts to date have used the VC-1 codec, and he felt there will be a significant exodus to H.264 now that Spinnaker supports it. Since the world was clearly migrating towards mass H.264 adoption, I wondered if there would be any cross-platform synergy, where a single stream could support both Silverlight and the iPad. Smith said no; all the technologies used slightly different formats, preventing duplicate use, particularly in a live scenario.

Regarding Adobe's HTTP-based Dynamic Streaming, Smith felt that it would work better than Adobe's current RTMP scheme in two use cases: extremely large events that could leverage the web's HTTP caching infrastructure, and also smaller webcasts streamed in HD. He also commented that at least from Spinnaker's perspective, switching over from RTMP-based adaptive streaming to HTTP-based adaptive streaming would be as simple as choosing a different template in the encoder.

Extended Mobile Reach
The other major announcement related to encoding support for the iPad as well as Droid and Blackberry phones. This stems from customer requests to reach platforms other than the iPhone, which Smith called the quest for "ubiquitous mobile." Here, Smith felt that a single stream might be able to serve multiple devices, but noted that Inlet's business was creating the streams, and that their customers would have to parse through the different file formats to determine if and when a single stream might be a match for different devices.

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