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OTT: an entree with a side of IPDR

Wed, 07/31/2013 - 1:26pm
Brian Santo

Incognito Software just released data that pretty much settles the “over-the-top: friend or foe?” debate, at least in North America. For local markets, over the top (OTT) is has widely come to be seen as an opportunity, and multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) are actively preparing for it.

Part of that preparation is learning how to deliberately collect, store, and analyze IPDR data. That would be instead of using SNMP data or deep packet inspection (DPI).

As for OTT’s status in the rest of the world? The answer is: still mostly foe. But given that OTT is not quite as pervasive elsewhere, the response among MVPDs in those markets is probably the fear of the unknown, concluded Incognito president Stephane Bourque. The rest of the world, he said, sort of looks like North America 3- to 5 years ago.

There’s been a lot of speculation about cord cutting, and while there is evidence that it does happen, MSOs have been saying that cord cutting has not been widespread – at least not yet. Recent data from TiVo supports those anecdotal reports.   TiVo observed that TV viewers are treating Netflix as just another channel.

Incognito’s report, The Growth of OTT Content: Opportunities and Challenges for Service Providers, surveyed cable operators and other MVPDs around the world. North American ops are generally more optimistic about OTT being an opportunity to develop new partnerships and revenue streams, even if they also believe OTT presents some threats.

MVPDs are positioning themselves the same way they always have – as content aggregators. According to Bourque, MVPDs can legitimately say of viewers, “They need us. You can’t call Netflix, but you can call us.”

Much of the threat of OTT has less to do with cord cutting than bandwidth increases that result from the rising usage of OTT services. Incognito found that more than 80 percent of MVPDs globally are already upgrading their networks to cope with increased subscriber demand.

“Overall, the data suggests that broadband service providers currently favor the “stick” approach and are opting for bandwidth caps and fair usage policies that largely punish high bandwith users,” the report states. “However, this is changing, with more value-added services – such as unlimited streaming, faster speeds, and proprietary OTT services – planned for the future.”

That implies being able to meter usage accurately, and there have been questions about the accuracy of recent metering.

MVPDs have been mostly relying on SNMP data to at least monitor traffic, if not manage it, but SNMP is not necessarily the most reliable way to do that, Bourque said, explaining that the way SNMP data is typically collected can result in some statistical hiccups on a day-to-day basis. These ultimately get resolved over the long run, but that doesn’t help if you take a snapshot of usage during one of those hiccups.

DPI, meanwhile, has grown in acceptance as an alternative, he said, but noted that DPI is an inline technique, which slows traffic. It also has to be done centrally, usually in its own box.

“IPDR is less intrusive, perhaps,” he said. CMTSs generate IPDR data as a matter of course, but MSOs typically haven’t used it because the extraordinary volume has been hard to handle. But now storage is cheaper than ever, and big data techniques can be brought to bear on the analysis. (Bonus: MSOs already have CMTSs installed – they’re sort of necessary anyway.)

Now you can collect and analyze data on millions of subscribers, Bourque said. You get per-port information, which can be used to manage the network, including considering whether to split nodes or add equipment, or maybe upgrade to CCAP (the Converged Cable Access Platform).

With that data, an MSO also has reliable, hard data on individual usage. “Platinum customers use more data than gold customers. That’s the assumption, but who knows for sure? Now you can prove it,” Bourque said.

Having accurate data allows an operator to upsell (or right-sell, if you will). “Now you can prove to a gold customer that they can save money by moving to a platinum tier,” Bourque said.

One request Incognito has been getting from customers is enabling conditional speed boosts. An operator could offer a movie package, say, five movies, bundled for a weekend of binge viewing. That would come with an automatic speed boost. “Call it a ‘see how the other half lives’ package, or something like that,” Bourque said.  

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