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OTT Delivery: Creating Strategies for Video Streaming

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Arqiva, which delivers the Freeview Plus services in the U.K., calls this version of broadcast OTT architecture “Hybrid TV,” and you can read a high-level description of its approach in the sidebar “Case Study: Arqiva Connect and Freeview Plus.” (Full disclosure: Arqiva is a client of the author’s firm, id3as.)

At an encoding and content preparation level, the only difference between OTT networks and typical web streaming workflows comes down to the encoding profiles for targeting the connected TVs and OTT set-top box decoders.

At the network layer there are several models that vary cost, quality of service, and control of the paywall, and each provides different value to the various stakeholders.

To sum up, OTT has many topologies and workflows, but all share the common theme that the revenues they drive are typically, at least in part, earned by third parties external to the broadcast and ISP access networks used by the end users and subscribers.

Case Study: Arqiva Connect and Freeview Plus

The Arqiva Connect TV Hybrid Platform is designed to provide OTT content to the DTT service Freeview Plus (available to around 6.6 million homes in the U.K.). My company, id3as, provided some of the core software components.

Figure 2 is a schematic showing the technical layout of the workflow.

We have so far delivered the live aspect of this over Q1 2013, and while it is an ever-evolving and dynamic model by design (much is effectively located in a private cloud internally at Arqiva), the core workflow is optimized as shown above.

Working left to right, a variety of content is contributed in broadcast video formats to Arqiva’s facility, from which Arqiva can select various signals and route them though an acquisition process into diverse IP sources.

Once in IP, the signal is then made available to our encoding cloud where id3as’ software manages the live and archive content generation, ready for the end users’ connected TVs, devices, and set top boxes.

In parallel to the technology platform shown here, the clients then receive a signal via their DTT broadcast transmissions that, through the device’s electronic program guide, notifies the user of the available OTT content.

Once selected, the OTT MHEG application launches. At this stage, functions such as payment and security can be completed using the device’s internet connection, and the user can access the online content management system and content distribution network.

As you can see, there are several options in the delivery, load-balancing, and CDN layers, and these can be dynamically adjusted to manage any variation in the service orchestration.

Supervision, control, and reporting are all centralized in the master control room, giving complete oversight in a condensed and responsive way to Arqiva’s operations teams.

Osman Sen-Chadun, head of technology & operations for Hybrid TV at Arqiva, has this to say about his company’s OTT strategy:

Arqiva provides mission critical communications and media infrastructure, and so it is natural for us to be adapting our capabilities to help our many existing clients, who are at the very heart of the broadcast sector, to extend their reach into emerging digital TV markets – many of which are being delivered online or at least using IP.

We have a reputation among those clients for offering the very best operational supervision and continuity of service for their extremely valuable business. Venturing into the OTT space is not something we have undertaken lightly. For an industry used to ASICs and very high grade, tested appliances, considering ‘commodity servers’ in our core has taken some cultural adjustment.

While the demand for ‘TV Everywhere’ is growing rapidly we have had to ensure that we have sufficient control and resilience over the technology we operate for our clients. We guarantee to deliver the best possible service ourselves, and that the experience for our customers is consistent with the many other broadcast services that we already provide to them.

The multi-site private cloud model we have adopted gives us the ability to meet this level of operational oversight of the physical computers, but also to dynamically reallocate resources between the varied demands for the various tasks of encoding, transcoding, security, and distribution (and so on).

id3as, our software partner, has provided a tailor-made technology stack, which is ideally suited to this dynamic OTT workflow, and integrates tightly with our wider working processes. This includes one of the widest device compatibilities of any comparable provider, and that is largely down to our ability to be flexible and add box-by-box support as new configurations come out – something that would be much more complex in our traditional environment.

These changes to the core of how broadcast can be delivered are in turn precipitating new propositions for end users. We are seeing the economics disrupted, meaning that, for example, some broadcasters can offer several more focused niche OTT channels in the place of a second broadcast channel.

Internet-delivered services are a fantastic partner for a long term technical joint strategy, and that is what OTT represents to Arqiva: It is a way to bring together the inherent advantages of reliability and confidence that the discipline of traditional broadcast carries, with the diversity of application and innovation that IP delivered technology can support.

And this IP connectedness also brings unprecedented audience understanding – we have a discrete ‘return path’ from each user, and every day we learn more and more about audiences. This helps optimize every aspect of the broadcast media workflow in a way that has, in the broadcast sector at least, always been extremely valuable.

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