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Buyers' Guide to Media and Entertainment Video Platforms 2017

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In 2016, the state of media and entertainment video platforms could be summed up in four words: OTT or go home.

That philosophy has informed many of the options and features added into today’s offerings, and this Buyers’ Guide will cover several of the most innovative ones.

Before we get in to the most sought-after features, though, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Facebook Live.

Back in 2007, when I was prepping the “Decade of Streaming Media” article, the question was whether content publishers should abandon every on-demand platform except YouTube. In the 9 years since then, though, YouTube’s dominance has not meant the death of innovation or other options.

The same appears to be true today. While live streaming production tends to go to the platform with the most eyeballs, there’s a sense that Facebook Live isn’t for every content owner. Ironically, YouTube is now having to compete for live eyeballs, not just with Facebook but with Twitch (Amazon’s e-sports and performing artist platform), Twitter, and a host of white-labeled solutions from Adobe, Brightcove, Kaltura, IBM (Ustream), and the like.

Should I Use a Media and Entertainment Video Platform?

That question is widely asked, especially as cloud-based storage of content and the use of HTTP-based delivery—from Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) to the MPEG dynamic adaptive streaming via HTTP (DASH)—makes it easy to deliver to small audiences without the need for a specialized server environment.

But that’s not all that these platforms offer. The best tend to cover security, delivery, content creation, and optimized transcoding for the scores of new smartphone and tablet devices hitting the market each month.

Aframe, a company that focuses on cloud-based acquisition and post-production workflows, sums up the differences between using a platform versus relying on tools that may serve a small audience. The company contrasts apps that do a small part of the total workflow with applications that reside on desktops versus servers and media-specific platforms to deliver the whole media experience.

“Apps are smaller than applications, specific to individual tasks,” Aframe notes, adding that apps can be combined together or integrated with other apps to provide a larger solution.

“Apps can be part of the operating system or more specifically portable devices, e.g., smartphones and tablets,” Aframe states, “while applications are ‘standalone’ desktop software normally used on PCs or workstations.”

Platforms have embedded applications or apps that are used to provide access to the platform. Examples of this might be the upLynk Slicer, which sits on a PC desktop and supports the transcoding and uploading of content into the Verizon Digital Media Services platform.

“The decision on whether to select a lightweight app or more robust solution,” Aframe notes, “equates to what volumes of content you are working with, the security and capability you are looking for and the range of professional features.”

The rest of this Buyers’ Guide focuses on platform solutions.

Content Quality

One area where EMPs saw significant content publishing interest in 2016 was the delivery of 4K (Ultra HD) content. While the number of devices to consume 4K in a set-top or internet-streaming OTT is still limited, the number of devices creating 4K has grown dramatically. From the latest Android and iPhone offerings to sports cameras like the GoPro—as well as several 4K capable, purpose-built D-SLRs offered by Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and others—acquisition of 4K went mainstream in 2016.

Media and entertainment platforms have been answering this call, more than entertainment or education video platforms have, and several of the leading platforms are also offering high dynamic range (HDR) options, although most offer the additional color depth and expanded exposure latitude of HDR for their 1080p content platforms.

Most of these efforts, at least for 4K, are in the video-on-demand (VOD) area, since it’s both costly and technically challenging to deliver live Ultra HD content. As the one-two combination of higher consumer bandwidth (e.g., 5G data rates) and lower price of UHD-capable tablets and televisions converge, expect to see 4K live streaming broadcasts outpace traditional over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts, led in large part by the focus on content quality that EMPs are now emphasizing.

Speaking of quality, we continue to see advances in virtual reality, although at a slower pace than 1080p HDR or 4K adoption. Some EMPs are focusing on this space, others have demonstrated the ability to provide lower-resolution VR or 360° streaming, and a few have opted to adopt a wait-and-see approach. A large part of the uncertainty around 360° streaming is the limited availability of quality low-cost VR hardware.

If VR is important for your buying decision, please join us at Streaming Media East 2017, where show header Dan Rayburn is preparing a hands-on pavilion showcasing VR.

“We are looking to add a big hands-on VR component to the show floor at the next Streaming Media East show in NYC, taking place May 16–17,” says Rayburn. “We are looking for companies that can bring gear, do demos, and showcase the latest that is taking place with VR technology.”

Content Creation

The niche of media and entertainment video platforms that offer content creation tools was fairly narrow in 2015, but expanded in 2015. Gone are the days of just being able to trim the in and out points of a VOD asset and schedule it for playout in a linear fashion.

Now the table stakes for platforms looking to offer raw content storage (a significant money maker since storage is second only to bandwidth in terms of revenue for them) include a long list of content creation and collaboration tools.

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