Software-Defined Video: A New Modus Operandi for OTT Video Success

The demand for over-the-top (OTT) video has reached a fever pitch, but content owners, broadcasters and service providers continue to struggle over how to rapidly and effectively translate the exploding growth of OTT video consumption into profit. While the potential is great, so are the challenges.

For providers of TV services, evolving their business to compete cost effectively and with speed is a major barrier to success. New direct to consumer entrants may not have the know-how or capital to succeed, while established TV providers are hampered by traditional infrastructure – lacking the agility, efficiency and sophistication to support both quality multi-screen streaming and compelling user experiences. In the last post, we discussed a model that providers should follow to address these challenges and assure optimal return on investment – that is, leveraging a managed services approach to focus more on core functions such as content curation and merchandising.  This post will drill down on the technology enablers of Quickplay’s managed services by further expanding on a key ingredient for rapidly launching, efficiently operating and profiting from premium OTT video services: the rise of software-defined video.

Key Challenges in the Race to OTT

As noted, most traditional pay TV providers are hampered with legacy systems, equipment and operations: pay TV infrastructure is often proprietary, antiquated, and operationally demanding. Vendor roadmaps have been slow to enable providers to compete with today’s streaming services. Managed networks are giving way to unmanaged IP networks; business support systems need to be flexible, and; user experiences require a functional step change in areas such as multi-screen support, personalization and discovery. All of this demands a large-scale transformation that comes with enormous risk and cost in terms of investment and time.

With this industry transformation to OTT, content management is getting more complex: a content asset must first be ingested, encoded, transcoded, concurrently enhanced with metadata, and then packaged for DRM. The output of these new workflows must gracefully support variable network capabilities, operating systems and device profiles. Combined with ever-expanding content catalogs and channel line-ups, the associated complexities and corresponding costs quickly become unmanageable.  New providers, and even established providers, may lack the in-house skills, technology or knowledge to handle IP video multi-screen services. Compounding the challenge is live linear programming over IP, which includes additional elements such as ad insertion, blackouts, and service management around the unpredictability and criticality of live events.

The number of combinations and permutations of devices, rights windows, network, and location consumption rules is in stark contrast to the old world of a single device, connected to a single managed network, with a single consumption profile.

Additionally, business policy enforcement is becoming more complex in OTT video. The world of content rights and streaming consumption rules has created the need for business rules that cannot be readily modeled or enforced in current solutions. The number of combinations and permutations of devices, rights windows, network, and location consumption rules is in stark contrast to the old world of a single device, connected to a single managed network, with a single consumption profile. Frequent changes to business rules bottleneck the timeliness of getting content on-deck. Getting current subscribers and new users to trial your service and convert to your various monetization models is critical and demands solutions that allow maximum creativity from marketers. Serving lower price points than traditional pay TV bundles means that not only is speed essential, but so is efficiency.

Related to the last point, it is critical to note the substantial cost of ongoing change – and OPEX in general – in the new world of OTT. Beyond the high costs of content rights, in planning for an OTT service many ongoing costs are often overlooked and can sink OTT business cases that depend on legacy solutions. Both the technology and the competitive playing field are highly dynamic, non-standard and unpredictable. There are continuous new and unforeseen challenges including maintaining carrier grade reliability, gaining scale and device reach expansion, understanding and improving quality-of-experience, hardware and software maintenance, merchandising agility, monetization flexibility, app refresh, and OS and device lifecycle support – all as the market evolves at an exhausting pace. Fundamentally, solutions require highly agile, low cost, and low impact change management. A software upgrade in an encoder – or even the complete change of an encoding vendor – cannot bring down a mission-critical App (or even require a change in the App). Abstraction of the various physical and logical components of the technology stack – from ingestion to consumption – is essential going forward.

With respect to OTT streaming, existing infrastructure and operations are simply not equipped to handle the challenges associated with premium online video. A transformation is required.

With respect to OTT streaming, existing infrastructure and operations are simply not equipped to handle the challenges associated with premium online video. A transformation is required.  Traditional pay TV vendors have failed to deliver on roadmap promises. So how do providers evolve given existing constraints? Replacing legacy or building out new operations is incredibly costly both in terms of capital and operating costs. The risk of failure is high and the market won’t wait.

The Arrival of “Software-Defined”

We have all witnessed the substantial progress made with cloud-based services options in general.  The adoption of virtualization, network security and software-defined networks (SDN) support a general shift to a new modus operandi of software-defined solutions.   Within the immediate ecosystem, there are supporting moves from industry titans Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, IBM and Google that have made the cloud ideal for online video. Companies such as Elemental (acquired by Amazon) and Cisco have shifted to software-defined solutions for processing video. Cloud-based solutions provide the needed flexibility to spin up and spin down resources as business needs dictate. Combined into a managed services option, the solution is hard to beat.

Our approach to OTT streaming is simple: within our multi-tenant managed services, we deploy a software-defined headend (SDH), a new modus operandi for OTT video.

Quickplay has been at the forefront of this shift. For twelve years, Quickplay’s mission has been to enable the enrichment, merchandizing and monetization of premium video content on any device and over any network.  Our approach to OTT streaming is simple: within our multi-tenant managed services, we deploy a software-defined headend (SDH), a new modus operandi for OTT video.  Quickplay has developed this multi-tenant software control plane for media processing and content lifecycle management, which virtualizes the underlying hardware components (encoders, digital asset management, metadata management, origins, etc.). The result is software managed unified workflow from broadcast to OTT; across content acquisition, processing, enrichment, distribution, discovery, and secure playback for premium live and VoD; on any device and over any network.

Through this unique solution, the application of business rules can be applied through tagging and modeling versus coding software changes or hardware upgrades.  As more and more components of the next generation headend become virtualized as software components, Quickplay’s solution will gain more and more control of an otherwise unmanageable heterogeneous environment.  In addition, the approach provides open access via API gateways for third party partners and Quickplay customers to innovate in areas such as advertising platforms, personalization, metadata enrichment, and application development. The approach forms the foundation for Quickplay’s platform vision: common technology, surrounded by common operations, to deliver uncommon speed and economics.

As more and more components of the next generation headend become virtualized as software components, Quickplay’s solution will gain more and more control of an otherwise unmanageable heterogeneous environment.

The connected consumer and proliferation of global broadband, combined with the growth of OTT video and cloud-based services is creating a global disruption to existing TV consumption norms.  Every IP connected device offers the consumer an opportunity to discover and enjoy content and for providers to increase reach and monetization.  In the past, there was a singular, linear TV model, with the set top box as the point of consumption. Today, content and consumption is highly fragmented, personal and dynamic. It can take place on a smartphone, tablet, streaming device, or laptop; in home or out-of-home. It can be operator-based, niche content, or direct to consumer.  It can be downloaded, watched in real time, or recorded in the cloud for later consumption. We are truly approaching a golden age of video.

Quickplay has developed the world’s first Software-Defined Headend (SDH), enabling for the first time, the flexibility, agility, functionality and scalability unthinkable in traditional solutions.  Powering our market-leading managed service, Quickplay’s SDH empowers OTT providers with the capabilities to be market leaders in their TV businesses without compromising future needs.  And while some others are talking about similar visions for “The Future of TV”, only Quickplay is delivering it today.

CEO and Co-Founder, Quickplay

As President, CEO and Co-founder of Quickplay, Wayne Purboo drives the development, management and execution of Quickplay’s innovative strategy. Under his guidance Quickplay has developed award-winning technologies and forged critical partnerships with market leading content providers, video service providers, handset manufacturers and mobile service operators to drive the rapid growth of the company.