Streaming Media West '15: Stream-Stitching: Replacing Content and Replacing Ads

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Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Almost Live, here at Streaming Media West 2015. With me I've got my good friend Matt Smith, chief evangelist at Anvato. Matt, you were actually on a session earlier today. Tell me about the session.

Matt Smith: We're talking about stream stitching. Stream stitching refers to a couple of things. It's not just about ad insertion. We talked in the session about what that means. Stream stitching means replacing content and replacing ads. For example, we've seen this in the last 12 months or so where you'll have an OTT provider who is streaming content that they have broadcast rights for, but the streaming rights were not cleared. They get into a situation where they either have to put a slate up, which is a horrible user experience, or the better experience is to spin up and replace and stitch in a piece of content they do have the rights for.

Tim Siglin: If it's a halftime show that they don't have rights to, instead of putting up the slate, put another piece of content in there.
Matt Smith: Absolutely. There could be a variety of things. Music clearance rights, broadcast streaming rights, whatever the case is and whatever that business logic is, the technology should be able to enable the publisher to stitch in that content in real time. The other definition is becoming more and more common I think, and more understood in our space, which is ad insertion. More commonly referred to lately as SSAI, or server site ad insertion.

Tim Siglin: Right, exactly.

Matt Smith: Those 2 things define what stream stitching is as an overview, and that's what we talked about.

Tim Siglin: As a matter of fact, you and I have talked about SSAI. What did it replace?

Matt Smith: SSAI replaced client side ad insertion, which again, was great for its time. It was required. The industry responded. We created specifications for the insertion of ads in the client side, which means that the player would call out and get ad payload from an ad network and replace it at the player and return to the broadcast or the program when appropriate.

Tim Siglin: Oftentimes one of the problems with that was it was a dual player scenario, where in the player itself it had an ad player and a regular player. Server side stitching of course, to the player, looks like just a single stream.

Matt Smith: Looks like a single stream. Another piece of SSAI involved mismatched ad data rates to the programming. You may be watching Sunday night football and it looked great, and it's adaptive bit rate, then the ad came and it looked like someone rubbed Vaseline on the screen.

Tim Siglin: Okay.

Matt Smith: Server sides began to mitigate some of that as well. One of the key things that you and I have discussed offline that was discussed in the panel is one of the best practices I think the industry's going to have to establish as SSAI grows is pre-fetching the ad payload.

Tim Siglin: Exactly.

Matt Smith: What that means is as soon as you finish a break, you're immediately talking to the ad network saying "Okay, tell me what ads are coming next. In an ad pod, what are the order of these ads?" So that you could pre-fetch them and have them available so that when that 10 or 12 or 15-minute program segment ends, in a live event for example, or even pod, you already have the ads there. You can stitch them in. There's no latency introduced. There's no risk of a miss.

Tim Siglin: The other thing that that does, which we've seen with once, the unicorn that was purchased by Brightcove, is is also mitigates the potential of an ad blocker to block the ad, because if you're pre-fetching the ad into your solution and stitching it, there's nothing that tells the ad blocker that there's an ad coming down.

Matt Smith: Correct. I mean, it looks like one continuous stream. Now, what I did say in the session too is that people in the industry who provide technology, also those who publish, should understand this is a work in progress. We haven't said SSAI is table stakes. Close the book. We're done here. I likened it to a game of whack a mole. But what I mean by saying that is, it's going to be improved over time. The folks that write ad blocking software may be very keen to try and sniff out a play list and see where there's continuity tag is, and say "Okay, there's the change. Shut it down."

We mitigate that today somewhat in encrypting various elements along the supply chain. Most importantly, in this case, the manifest. We mitigate that. We've been doing this for a couple of years with some of our very big broadcast clients. We joked in there that it's funny that this has become the bogey man all of a sudden because we've solved this problem for a couple of years. We positioned in there that perhaps it was IOS 9 and the content blocking toggle. Then, the apps that you buy and stack on top of it that have created all this fear.

Tim Siglin: Which is true, because ad blocking had been very much a desktop scenario. Now, suddenly with iOS 9 we have the potential for it to become a tablet and mobile device.

Matt Smith: Exactly. You know, you've got entire audiences who have come up watching all their content on tablets and smart phones. The solution has to be applied to that market, in addition to the desktop market, which we had solved for. But the devices are a new challenge. But like I say, the technology's been working. It's been preventing ad breakage if you will in this space for a while.

Tim Siglin: Sure. What else is Anvato doing these days? Just a quick overview.

Matt Smith: We're seeing more and more publishers who are wanting to extend their live linear over the top streaming with ad insertion to new platforms. I don't want to say new platforms, but new platforms for them. They're looking at more casting. Chromecast. Can I do Chromecast and sit in the home and be on my Android device from my laptop and cast this signal to the device. The answer is yes. We're building these things and helping enable these things for customers. We think the new Apple TV is a very interesting new frontier because it opens this up to a variety of other publishers and options, if you will. It's not as ... Locked down is not the right term, but it's not as focused a platform as the previous versions of Apple TV were. The important thing there to take away though is that the video experience is the same, the ad replacement's the same, so we're not having to look at each platform and go "Okay, new problem. How do we solve for this?"

Tim Siglin: Got it.

Matt Smith: Because once the content's been conditioned, it works on every device, every screen, natively with that same experience. Again, for big broadcasters, big publishers, big media brands, that's table stakes.

Tim Siglin: One final question. I've asked this for a couple of the people that have interviewed. HDR, 1080p60, 4K, which one's going to get traction in the industry first?

Matt Smith: I think that HDR is the holy grail there. It is the lighted briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Here's the reason. HDR applies to both those other 2 scenarios. HDR, at 10-bit, which is that basement, or ideally a 12 bit ... Yesterday on a panel someone was talking about a 12-bit. You're like "Wow, that's a lot of ... "

Tim Siglin: Yeah, we're moving from 8 to 10.

Matt Smith: That's pretty heavy. But anyway, I think 10-bit HDR helps 1080p60 and 4K look better. I saw a demo at IBC where they had 2 screens up side by side and as you walked up on it, you're seeing the brighter picture and you're like "That's got to be 4K." I walk up to it and I see 1080p with HDR. I think HDR's going to be a big driver. Again, you're a good student of this. As you're probably aware, the real wrinkle is in the source content. Is it 10=bit? Do you have the color that you can latch on to?

On another panel here, which was fantastic by the way, we did hear that studios have this content in libraries where they can pull it out and create it and apply HDR and coding workflows to it, and get it to the consumers. The real wrinkle, I think, especially at our space, is going to be is the signal origination that's going into the video workflow HDR 10-bit, or just HDR period? Do we have enough colors to grab?

Tim Siglin: That leaves us 1080p60 or 4K. Do we ... Obviously, there's been an attempt in the consumer space to sell 4K, UHD monitors. I'm hearing, at least from a consumer standpoint that HDR 1080p60 monitors are going to be the next big thing this year.

Matt Smith: Could be. I'm certainly no expert on the CU space, but I will tell you this. As you know, I've been in this industry a long time. I was a skeptic of 4K and I thought this was just marketing speak to get people to buy televisions. My own use case. I had a TV that went out last week. Went out to Costco and bought a 4K television. I got to tell you, watching some of the streaming content on Netflix and Amazon Prime ...

Tim Siglin: Right, especially some of the Roku 4 that has 4K capabilities.

Matt Smith: Eye-catching. This was native through the set that I bought, but seeing Frank Underwood in House of Cards at 4K was unbelievable. The detail. The color. You're really pausing it and looking at it and looking at everyone else in the living room going "Did you see that?"

Tim Siglin: Which tells me we're going to have a whole lot of remastering going on in the industry, just like we had from DVD to Blu-Ray. We're going to be seeing the same thing with 4K content.

Matt Smith: And live streaming 4K content is not trivial. There's a lot of heavy lifting. It's very complex. I'll go out on a limb and say I think it's going to be awhile before we see that enmass. I think we'll still see some trials and tests here and there.

Tim Siglin: Sure.

Matt Smith: But you know, even when I bought this set, I had a family member say "Well, this is great, but who's broadcasting in 4K?" The answer is no one. But like I said, we do have libraries of content that are growing. 4K content that's wonderful to look at. But clearly, in terms of the curve, we're at the far left, bottom ... Bottom left, if you will.

Tim Siglin: More uptake involved in 4K than in live, but obviously as more 4K sets get out there, then there's more of an instance for somebody to look at broadcasting live in 4K?

Matt Smith: Absolutely. Like I said, I was an early skeptic, but seeing is believing. I'm now a believer.

Tim Siglin: Good, awesome. All right. This has been Matt Smith the chief evangelist at Anvato. Again, this is almost live at Streaming Media West 2015.

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