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The State of Enterprise Video 2017

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2016 was a year of rebirth for enterprise video platforms (EVPs) after a decade of reliance on (mostly) outdated technologies and streaming protocols.

From the advent of newer browsers, such as Microsoft Edge, which put the final nail in the coffin of Silverlight—and, by extension, ActiveX and Windows Media—to the impending lack of support for plug-ins overall in browsers like Chrome, enterprise customers used 2016 to assess new options.

We covered a few of those in our 2016 “State of Enterprise Video,” from fully cloud-based enterprise video platforms (often rejected due to security concerns) to customized in-house solutions (often rejected because of the cost of creating an island of technology that didn’t integrate with social media or other marketing-centric platforms).

Despite the frequent rejection of cloud-based EVPs, though, the continuation of cloud-based storage solutions being welcomed into IT departments of corporations across the United States felt like a bit of a disconnect. What would it take to move toward cloud-based solutions for enterprises that want to greenfield their EVP options?

We see several areas that enterprise customers explored in 2016 and will continue to focus on throughout 2017.

Plug-in-Free Playback

This area might also be labeled “HTML5 Playback” if there were a standard approach to HTML5 players that also provided content protection. Alas, the industry needs to crawl before it runs.

The good news is that the crawl—in the form of plug-in free playback—seems to be progressing nicely.

At the top of last year’s article, we mentioned Silverlight’s and ActiveX’s demise. Both were due to the fact that competing browsers such as Chrome took the stance that they wanted to eliminate plug-in architectures. Support for Silverlight in Chrome on all other operating systems was disabled by default in April 2015 and was removed completely in September 2015. Support for the newest version—Silverlight 5—will end in October 2021.

Meanwhile, since Silverlight relied on ActiveX and Microsoft’s newest browser, Edge, does not support ActiveX, the company seems to be signaling its intent for a plug-in-free approach to future browser-based video playback.

The clock is also ticking on the Flash Player front. Google has allowed a specialized plug-in for Chrome over the past few years, called Pepper Flash, in acknowledgment that Flash Player is deeply embedded in the fabric of web interactivity.

In December 2016, though, Google announced that it had finally implemented a reversal of default settings: HTML5 is now the default way to play video in the Chrome browser, and users must indicate their desire to use Flash Player on a site-by-site basis.

“[T]his change disables Adobe Flash Player unless there’s a user indication that they want Flash content on specific sites,” Eric Deily wrote on the Chromium blog in December 2016. “Eventually all websites will require the user’s permission to run Flash.”

That eventuality appears to be targeted within the 2017 calendar year, as Deily notes that the HTML5 by default will be enabled for all users in February when the stable public version of Chrome 56 is released.

“Starting in January users will be prompted to run Flash on a site-by-site basis for sites that they have never visited before,” wrote Deily. “In October all sites will require user permission to run Flash.”

The reasoning, at least from Google’s standpoint, is a desire to make the “entire web” more secure and power-efficient. Yet security uncertainty in an HTML5 video-only world is precisely the point that owners of critical or premium content face.

Enterprises probably don’t fancy having some of their mission-critical videos released on their intranets without some form of protection, to keep employees or contractors from being able to copy videos without their knowledge. The good news is that player development will become easier, as browsers and media servers alike adhere to the HTML5 standards, but the bad news is that the security of plug-in-free playback isn’t yet up to the bar set by plug-ins.

The good news is that the MPEG-DASH (dynamic adaptive streaming over HTTP) comes with a provision to handle content protection.

DASH-ing Into Standards-Based HTTP Delivery

A number of enterprise video platform solutions are built around Amazon Web Services (AWS). One of the tools on AWS is an Amazon Elastic Transcoder.

Amazon announced support for MPEG-DASH in Elastic Transcoder in mid-2016, as a way to deliver to devices that support DASH.

“You can now reach a wide range of DASH-compatible devices (from desktop to mobile and OTT) with fewer output renditions,” an Amazon blog post from May 2016 noted.

Not only does DASH promise to simplify video processing workflows, which in turn helps improve cost efficiency, but it also offers an opportunity to protect content in a way that Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) does not, especially with content that is downloaded to an end-user device.

The DASH implementation of content protection began with the Common Encryption Scheme (CENC), which allowed five specific digital rights management (DRM) solutions to be interchangeably used for DASH content that was delivered as fragmented MP4 files.

While Apple had contributed to the DASH specification, leading DASH to specify a version of MPEG-2 Transport Stream (M2TS) for DASH players—M2TS forms the basis of Apple’s HLS streaming technology—the practical implementation of CENC centered on protecting H.264-based fragmented MP4 segments.

The MPEG-DASH Industry Forum (DASH IF) has floated a concept over the past year, starting in December 2015, about a concept whereby additional DRM solutions could be included, through the allowance of “alternative types of DRM signaling elements.” The DASH IF calls it the Content Protection Information Exchange Format (CPIX).

Published in late 2016, version 2.0 of CPIX includes a way to encode and encrypt—either in a single process or, barring encoders that understand the necessary encryption approach, two process steps—content for rights-managed playback in a compliant MPEG-DASH player.

“In the case of DASH packaging, [encrypting and packaging] consists of adding the default_KID in the file header ‘tenc’ box, initialization vectors and sub-sample byte ranges in track fragments indexed by ‘saio’ and ‘saiz’ boxes, and possibly one or more ‘pssh’ boxes containing license acquisition information from the DRM provider,” the most recent version of the CPIX version 2.0 draft documentation notes.

On the DASH player front, Akamai has helped moved the needle on JavaScript implementations of a DASH player. Akamai contributors to the DASH ecosystem released Dash.js version 2.4.0 in late December 2016 on GitHub. This version focused on timed text XML (TTML) and other subtitling management aspects, but also addressed several issues around encryption and the setProtectionData class necessary to properly use DRM and media extensions found in the newest Microsoft browser versions.

Extensibility Through Programming Interfaces

Another area where enterprise video platforms continue to advance is extensibility. In the past, the idea was to build every feature into an EVP, but that often meant prioritizing features and functionality, both by overall customer need and competitive advantage.

These days, though, EVPs continue to commoditize. While EVPs continue to add key components for core functionality, they often do so as “lite” versions of their more robust broadcast or media and entertainment platform siblings.

As a result, features tend to take a bit longer to implement, since EVP updates often come after the media and entertainment platform has rolled out an updated set of features. To allow enterprise customers to access the core functionality, though, today’s EVP offers application programming interfaces (APIs). These APIs also allow enterprise customers to enjoy some of the functionality of entertainment solutions, well before the features trickle down to enterprise platforms.

Ustream, now an IBM company, divides its APIs into several groups, some for media and enterprise and others for app publishers, device manufacturers, and general use.

For enterprise customers, the Ustream player software development kit (SDK) allows Android, iOS, and Roku applications to easily integrate live and on-demand (“recorded” in Ustream terminology) content. Essentially, the SDK is a ready-made player infrastructure that allows enterprise customers to use Ustream as an enterprise platform.

But enterprise customers need more than player SDK, so Ustream offers an API to authenticate viewing using standard enterprise security tools such as lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP). In addition, to verify content viewing by enterprise employees, an API can connect existing enterprise applications to unfiltered analysis data points. Media companies can take advantage of these smart data connectors too, at a much higher scale.

Asset Management

Enterprise solutions in 2016 were repositioned by software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers as a natural step toward asset management, from still images to video versioning.

In essence, service providers want their customer thinking beyond a single encode and toward asset management. In that regard, EVPs can be considered the younger sibling of broadcast media asset management (MAM) solutions.

Vizrt, for instance, has recently relaunched its decade-old Enterprise Solution (aka Viz Ardome) as a new MAM solution for enterprise customers. The new solution is based on the newer Viz One architecture, which was originally designed for broadcast and online distribution.

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