The most effective multi-screen strategies will take advantage of both cloud-based streaming and in-home media mobility.
Service providers are transitioning to a multi-screen service model, offering subscribers access to media content at home and on the go across TVs, PCs, and mobile devices. These media mobility services remain annoyingly cumbersome today, but the industry recognizes the need to push forward and smooth out the wrinkles as quickly as possible.
Consumers are demanding it, and competitive threats are everywhere.
Luckily for cable providers, media mobility isn't just a competitive crisis; it also offers significant revenue opportunities. Consumers are willing to pay for the convenience of anytime, any-screen media access, and the additional value of these services also creates greater stickiness between customer and provider.
The challenges and opportunities around media mobility are established. Yet, while the sense of urgency is building for service providers, there is also pronounced ambiguity over the technology options. How should operators deliver video to multiple screens? What is the most efficient and effective way to deploy multi-screen services?
Advantages and disadvantages to cloud delivery
The assumption that service providers will stream everything from the cloud is an unrealistic one. Most providers don’t have the necessary infrastructure or financial resources to host and stream all linear and on-demand television content to every connected screen. This is not a short-term problem. Even as the gradual shift to IP delivery takes place, growing content stores, as well as the personalization of the television experience, mean that service providers will always be in a race to keep up with the network demands of multi-screen viewing.
At the same time, there are advantages to using in-home streaming resources for multi-screen video services. Service providers can mitigate bandwidth strain, reduce expenses, and speed time to market by anchoring select media networking functions in the home. By transcoding video locally and then redistributing it to multiple screens, operators transfer the storage and processing burden from the network to the subscriber residence. Compared to overhauling an entire network, the process and expense of adding targeted features and capacity to consumer homes is relatively easy. It allows operators to make infrastructure investments incrementally rather than all at once.
A look at the numbers
From a capacity standpoint, global WLAN networks will never be able to match consumer demand for streaming content from the cloud. Consider that there are over 750 million pay-TV households in the world today, and that each household watches on average 1 hour of television each day. Assuming only one stream per household at an average bitrate of 1.0 Mbps, that adds up to 450 MB of bandwidth per household per day. Across 750 million households, that is over 300 petabytes of bandwidth consumed every day in multi-screen TV watching alone.
In reality, the average number of hours of TV watched per day is much greater than one hour, and the average number of streaming client devices in the household is already over three. All forecasts show a significant increase in streaming clients per household over the next five years, ensuring that even as WLAN bandwidth increases, the demand will track or surpass it over time.
There’s also the issue of storage. Depending on the service provider, traditional on-demand content libraries alone can be tens of thousands of titles today with each video file from 10 MB to a hundred MBs. That number will continue to go up, but more importantly for service providers is the fact that rights issues, format variations and distribution requirements dictate the storage of multiple copies of each title on the network. Moving part of that total storage requirement to the consumer home significantly decreases the strain on a provider’s infrastructure.
A hybrid solution
From a capacity standpoint, the most effective multi-screen strategies will take advantage of both cloud-based streaming and in-home media mobility. A transition to network-based delivery for some content is appropriate, but for the vast majority of service providers, it is impractical to consider moving everything into the cloud. Instead, service providers can reduce bandwidth and storage requirements by relying on home networks to shoulder most of the burden. For financial and operational purposes, the numbers support a hybrid approach to multi-screen service deployments where the primary means of streaming originates from the home and is supplemented by the cloud.
Next month Penthera’s Melani Griffith will write about TV Everywhere and the ability to download and go.