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Second-screen CTO Vendor Roundtable

Wed, 05/08/2013 - 1:10am
Mike Robuck

 

Leading vendor execs provide their takes on TV Everywhere

CED’s CTO roundtable has mined the thoughts of cable operator executives for years now, but this is the first iteration of a vendor CTO roundtable. CED narrowed the field to chief technical officers, or the equivalent, that play a part in the multi-screen ecosystem. While some of the vendors, such as Comcast-owned thePlatform, are well known, others are just starting to make their mark in the TV Everywhere world.

Each vendor was asked the same five questions, and then answered a sixth “wild card” question that was unique to each company’s business. The second-screen CTO roundtable was comprised of the following: Alan Ramaley, CTO, thePlatform; Gemini Waghmare, CEO, UXP Systems; Bob Myers, CTO, SeaWell Networks; and Jim Tanner, Chief Architect, Clearleap.

CED: What are the biggest challenges you face in 2013 and into next year?

Clearleap’s Tanner: As consumer expectations for multiscreen continue to grow, both content and service providers face major challenges related to the sheer amount of content now required, the number of devices and file formats, and the speed at which content needs to be delivered.

Today, our customers’ biggest challenges involve managing back office complexity while presenting a consistent experience on all devices and integrating new devices rapidly, which means, in turn, that our biggest challenge is to continue alleviating the technical and operational challenges of multi-screen through our modular ClearFlow platform.

Seawell’s Myers: The biggest challenge is going to be keeping ahead of the ever changing architectural and technology demands of such a fast-changing and vibrant market as multi-screen delivery. On top of this is the continual need to help customers understand the real challenges of an environment, which to many of them, is understood at a much less detailed level than their legacy systems.

UXP’s Waghmare: In 2013, as operators are now starting their IP video transformations in earnest, our challenges are to make sure we continue to capitalize on a specific window of opportunity.

This means delivering on some exciting MSO projects where the video experience is truly being transformed, partnering with video middleware vendors whose platforms we extend, and continuing to close new deals.

thePlatform’s Ramaley: HTML5 is still maturing on the content protection front. For many of our customers, DRM support is the last piece they need to convert their sites entirely to HTML5, so I’m excited about the encrypted media extensions currently working their way through the W3C.

CED: What is the biggest challenge in regards to provisioning streaming video to subscribers?

Ramaley: The biggest challenge continues to be the panoply of devices that end-users want to use, and how to maintain a great viewing experience across all of them.

The Android market in particular is quite fragmented, with no signs of converging. We’ve certainly got solutions in place, but it’s a never-ending process to stay ahead of the curve.

Waghmare: The biggest challenge is in simply deciding how operators want to do it; in-house or managed, all-IP or hybrid, via a home gateway or completely over the top.

Once that decision is made, the rest is technology, time and money. Since our platform brings multiservice and personalization capabilities in any of these scenarios, we often need to wait until that decision is made before the final blueprint can be laid out.

Myers: The biggest challenge seems to be to wrap the new functionality required to support session-based capabilities, such as targeted ad insertion, session resilience, policy enforcement and per-session encryption, to deliver a real differentiated experience across the plethora of different devices and protocols; all of this without having to waste the huge investment in multi-screen CDN delivery technology that was made over the last few years.

Tanner: Providing an optimum experience across a wide range of devices with disparate capabilities is complex, particularly when considering the consistent influx of new devices. Centering multi-screen strategies on the end device can lead to siloed systems or lowestcommon- denominator APIs that do not work well for all devices. That’s why leveraging a multi-screen service management system that delivers the subscriber experience further up the chain is far preferable for future-proofing technologies.

CED: What was the landmark moment in your company’s history as it relates to multi-screen?

Myers: Clearly the launch of our Spectrum Session Delivery Controller and its first deployment with Columbus Communications must rank as a landmark. That gave us the ability to show a real customer, with real thought leadership and a tradition of real innovation.

Tanner: Clearleap’s platform is unique in that it links both robust content management and preparation with multiscreen service management. The balance of both of these is important, because the needs in both areas change so frequently - and changes in one frequently drive the needs in the other.

The monumental time in Clearleap’s history is now, in that the capabilities our multi-screen platform was built for now directly address our customers’ current needs.

Ramaley: Our very first multi-screen project was in 2000, just a few months after we were founded. We worked with CNBC to create a second-screen experience for their main broadcast, where we’d augment the live channel with a website of clips and supplemental material in multiple bitrates, for the three formats that were popular then (Microsoft Windows Media, RealNetworks RealMedia, and Apple Quicktime). This was using the PC as a second-screen. Since then, we’ve continued to add more and more screens and devices, starting with WAP phones, Windows Mobile devices, Zunes, iPods, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Android tablets, set-top boxes, Xbox, PS3, Windows 8 phones and tablets, the list goes on—but the learning from that first project profoundly influenced our architecture and helped us scale to publish to these future devices.

Waghmare: It was likely at last year’s NCTA Cable Show. We had just brought one of our first customers live with the industry’s first multi-screen video service that included personalized integration of OTT content, third party metadata, voice calling, messaging and social media. At the show, our MINT software platform ended up winning the CIO.IT Innovation award. It was an extremely exciting moment for our company and true validation of UXP Systems meeting a need in the industry. Our software platform, MINT, is a multiservice and personalization gateway that enables MSOs to support the multitude of content, data and applications that bring users a next generation experience.

CED: Are cloud services the next trend or are cable operators still clinging to internally built and managed service silos?

Waghmare: We think the answer is yes to both. Operators will leverage the cloud to bring more and more content and services to the TV screen. YouTube, over-the-top (OTT) content, syndicated content like WatchESPN, social media, apps and metadata will come from the cloud and enrich next generation video.

At the same time, we still see most core video and operator services coming from new and legacy systems that are implemented by the operator. We think the key, however, is in having a single and common service gateway that makes the difference between cloud and in-house systems seamless. So long as operators can use one API layer to deploy next generation experiences, it doesn’t really matter.

Tanner: While many of our customers take advantage of our data center-based platform, it is not so much of an “either/ or” question. It is more about enabling operators to leverage their current expertise and infrastructures as they integrate new technologies and rapidly expand their services. Many operators, and programmers, are finding that multi-tenant hosted and distributed software is extremely scalable, but Clearleap also offers on-premises and hybrid models.

Myers: Cloud services are clearly a very important innovation. Initially they will be used selectively once we get beyond “Oh yeah, we’ll do it in the cloud,” as if there is some magic formula for solving all the problems of multi-screen deployment.

It is a great option for smaller operators looking to deploy a “pay as you grow” model. It also provides a real benefit in allowing an operator to focus on what they  are really good at and not have to spend time building infrastructure that can be done better elsewhere.

Ramaley: Each cable operator needs to make their own decisions about how to move forward. The only choice that isn’t a choice is to stick with the status quo. The clear trend is towards the cloud.

Cloud services provide a better cost curve in terms of CAPEX vs. OPEX, total cost of ownership, and scalability. With cloud services, innovation is faster, operational issues are resolved faster, and integration with third-party services is easier.

CED: Relating to TV Everywhere services, what is your bold prediction for this year and over the course of the next two years?

Myers: Over the next year, operator CDNs as we know them now will become just another part of the infrastructure and the focus will move from just delivery to a model of integrated session delivery control, monetization and optimization, allowing the operator to focus on real differentiation of their service offerings to their customers.

Waghmare: Two years from now we won’t be using TV Everywhere as the catchphrase term for next generation video.

In fact, getting TV on all screens, anywhere has already happened, and it’s not that big of a deal from a consumer’s point of view. What is a big deal is that what we call TV today will be totally transformed by IP delivery. Your TV experience will be enriched and personalized to include a multitude of services and choices, better navigation, personal and OTT content, contextual discovery and blended experiences.

And it is already starting to happen because the whole ecosystem, from set-topboxes down to the networks, are becoming more open, more Internet based and more flexible. All of this change will transform the way we see traditional TV.

Ramaley: It’s hard to be bold when the trends are so clear. We’re going to see a lot more live linear feeds bundled with traditional VOD feeds, so live ad insertion and protection will continue to be hot areas of innovation. Portable devices will continue to dominate. Piracy will continue and disproportionately affect the content providers with the most sought after content. DRM will become available on more devices but I doubt there will be a winnowing of the options or a “winner,” since DRM options have never winnowed in the 13 years I’ve been working in online video. Finally, cable operators and programmers will continue to redefine their long term contracts to put more premium video online.

Tanner: We’re still in the very early days of TVE. So far, we have seen more programmer TVE experiences versus aggregated experiences. Over the next few years, there will be better content aggregation, and the need for metadata aggregation will become even more relevant. In addition, we expect there will be more linear content available through TV Everywhere services.

Wild card quest ions CED: What are the new trends you’re seeing out there?

Tanner: First, as HEVC encoders improve and in-silicon decoders become available at a price palatable to consumer electronics manufacturers, it will enable a quantum leap in multi-screen video quality at all resolutions and across all networks.

Second, the efficiency provided by HEVC will enable 4K video delivery using existing networks. While no one can accurately predict what the consumer adoption curve of these devices will be, Clearleap’s modular platform enables our customers to rapidly integrate these technologies without needing a new or different platform.

CED: How does your company improve/assure QoE across multiple devices?

Myers: Today’s adaptive bit rate streaming techniques amount to encoding and storing 45 different versions of a single video on caching servers. Furthermore, any real visibility into what is going on comes from the intelligent client app, which does all the requesting (and itself requires an army of programmers and updates to maintain). SeaWell Spectrum Session Delivery Controller is a combination of dynamic format repackaging and manifest manipulation that enables service providers to exert an unprecedented level of control over ABR delivery.

CED: With multi-screen coming into play, what is the future of the original screen, the TV?

Waghmare: The TV will ultimately become more like an iPad — a gateway to a world of information and entertainment, in a lean back, immersive and personalized setting.

CED: Do you see multiscreen, or online video platforms, impacting traditional TV delivery in the living room?

Ramaley: TV operators, like BT and Comcast, are now using systems, originally designed to manage Web video, to manage actual TV services via IP-connected settop boxes. We expect this trend to accelerate in the coming years as operators rollout their next-gen TV services.  

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