2017 summary: OTT has finally become mainstream for pay TV operators

January 17, 2018

It is a great time to be in streaming business. What have we learned and what is coming in the near future of OTT. 

Inna Zagrebelny,

Product Marketing Manager, Giraffic

verge-2015-10-26_14-04-59.02017 was marked as the year of Over-the-Top (OTT) emergence, including multiple launches of new streaming services, Youtube and Hulu entering the linear TV streaming market, Disney’s acquisition of BamTech and announcements of multiple standalone direct to consumer streaming initiatives and DirecTV Now reaching the 1 million subs milestone. And don’t forget the news about T-Mobile’s acquisition of Layer3, marking the well-anticipated carrier’s entrance to the internet TV as the grand finale of the year. Also, with Comcast’s announcement of Xfinity Instant TV and Verizon reportedly testing new OTT service, aimed to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, we think that the best is yet to come and the upcoming 2018 will continue the momentum and bring further disruption of the traditional pay-TV industry and in particular of the video streaming space.  Analysts talk about millions of subscribers dropping their traditional pay-TV bundles, some even say as many as 10 million US cable subscribers are expected to cut the cord in 2018 alone.

While the price and efficiency advantages of the OTT-TV alternative are clear, it’s the differentiation point that remains key to success in this relatively crowded market. It is obvious why users are migrating to streaming but it is less then obvious to find the right solution to prevent migration from one streaming service to another in this “no-contract” land. Unlike linear-TV streaming service providers, the content library is definitely the biggest differentiator for SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon, however the quality of the service and the user experience remains in the cenAVA TV SDK Bannerter of every streaming service success. CES 2018 was just in time for the launch of our TV SDK- the new acceleration solution that boosts the performance of TV appsPerformance gains of up to 50% in quality and 75% reduction in buffering can be obtained by simply integrating AVA TV SDK into video streaming app, enabling OTT providers to deliver the great experience their subscribers are expecting and paying for.  We must admit the new AVA TV SDK gained a lot of interest among the streaming community with some of the most prominent service providers (that we still cannot disclose) moving on to trails.

Speaking of CES trends, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and smart assistants seemed to be included in almost all the new products that were announced during the show and the video space was no different. Samsung is using AI to bridge the gap between the lack of 8K content in the market and their new 8K screens- the implementation of their proprietary algorithm will upscale the existing lower resolution content, regardless of its source, into supreme 8K resolution. LG will make our smart TVs even smarter, by adding intelligent assistance to their TV sets that will learn our usage and consumption habits to essentially adapt the device settings to our needs. The  to their X1 and xFi platform while it is clear that it’s just a matter of time until those will be extended for entertainment and content consumption purposes; and of course the preview of the first sound bar with voice assistant- the TCL Roku Smart Soundbar, that features the new Roku assistant. The innovation however is not in AI or voice assistants, that some of us already getting used to, rather in how those innovations aimed to change the way people experience entertainment and consume content in their living rooms.

At CES the TV sets have their own sweet spot, with all the manufacturers showcasing their premium screens. Those TVs are definitely eye-candies, but despite further OLED and HDR implementations, 4K and 8K resolution and overwhelmingly large screens, they seemed to be more or less of the same as last year.

2018 is shaping to be a year of massive changes in adoption of streaming-based pay TV services. It will be interesting to see how the industry will continue to evolve at and how the new technologies penetration will transform the way we consume and experience video. As accurately summarized by Roku CEO, Anthony Wood: “It is a great time to be in the streaming business.

 

Giraffic CES 2017 Wrap: VR was everywhere as expected, connected cars stole the show

January 15, 2017

Team Giraffic

This year it was a 50th anniversary of the Consumer Electronics Show that for decades serves as the launchpad for world-changing technologies and innovations.  A lot of predictions have been made, accompanied by rumors and speculations on what will be “The Next Big Thing” that will disrupt yet another aspect of our lives.

As our teams makes its way back from a fantastic and busy weekend full of demonstrations and meetings, here’re some of our key observations from the world’s premier technology show.

 

TVs are erasing the line between streaming and broadcast

From high-end manufacturers like Samsung and LG to Chinese vendors like Hisense and TCL, all were displaying their integrated smart interfaces that include both streaming apps and broadcast channels in one screen. Mostly targeting the cord-cutters and millennials, those devices already have the streaming services pre-installed in their main interface. This allows viewers to easily flip between live TV and Netflix and browse the content from broadcast and streaming services on the big screen. Indeed a great time for streaming media business.

 

From more pixels to quantum dots

 Although we did not expect much innovation on the technology side, the TVs looked richer, with more light output and with the most incredible designs we’ve seen so far. All of them where monster-sized 4K screens- with some brands showing also 8K models– and the majority of them were HDR-compatible devices, powered by 4 main technologies including Dolby Vision and Technicolor HDR. But those are the same trends we’ve been seeing since 2016.LG-SIGNATURE-OLED-TV-W_2

Quantum dots or OELD? This year most of the major manufacturers seemed to be i
n favor of the microscopic dots. Samsung showed-off their new QLED TVs series and so as Hisense, TCL and Sharp. But, it was LG who definitely stole the show, and also grabbed the CES Innovation Award, for its crazy thin OLED Wallpaper series– only 2.6mm thick and so light that you can attach to the wall using magnets!

 

The virtually obvious

As expected, virtual reality once again was everywhere in CES. It actually felt that VR was an obligatory aspect for almost every exhibitor who wanted to seem up-to-date. There were too many products presented in the VR space, mainly aimed to integrate with and enhance the experiences the current headsets are offering. Special VR shoes and gloves to help users “feel” the virtual world, motion tracking solutions, VR chairs, wireless kits for headsets like HTC Vive, mobile VR controllers were also showcased during the exhibition.Giraffiv_VR_Image_small

We’ve noticed that high-quality HD content becomes available and even some in 4K. The devices have the ability to display hi-res VR experiences however in order to view the content properly, it still has to be pre-loaded and stored locally. We did not see high-quality immersive experiences being streamed as VOD or live, aside the reported Intel press event during which the attendees experienced live-streamed sports using tethered headsets and our very own hospitality suite where we showcased our latest VR streaming acceleration solution.

 

VR didn’t go untethered this year as was expected.

Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation

There are still challenges such as battery size or overheating for example that need to be addressed. No significant advancements were made on improving the display or reducing the bulkiness of the headsets- all that is actually needed to take the commercial VR one step forward.

The mobile VR experiences where pretty much redundant to what was showcased last year during 2016 MWC. Some even say that VR was quite boring as the tech giants didn’t really demonstrate any major advancements since last year.

Unlike the tech community, the filmmakers and content producers had multiple previews of their new VR experiences. Fox Innovation Lab flashed its “Planet of the Apes VR“, Baobab previewed the upcoming “Asteroids!”, Cirque du Soleil VR experience was launched by Felix & Paul and (not surprisingly)  the adult content industry did not remain silent.

 

The future car

We haven’t seen so many cars and automotive technology in CES like we’ve seen this year. This is where we’ve noticed the most innovation. Futuristic designs and self-driving cars from HBMW ces17onda, Toyota, Hyundai and Chrysler alongside partnerships like the one of BMW with Intel, Microsoft and Amazon aimed to present the car-makers’ vision of connected vehicle with holographic control.

Connected or autonomous cars concepts where also presented by chipmakers like NVIDIA and Qualcomm as well as infrastructure players like Cisco and Ericsson.

Next-generation safety systems, AI assistants, energy efficiency enhancements, hyper-connectivity,
entertainment systems, gesture and motion control and other sci-fi like features where all there. The automotive industry is trying to make sure that you will stay connected to your car in the same manner you are connected to your smartphone.

 

CES is one the most media-covered shows in the world, with hundreds of announcements across many industries. But seeing how all those different segments starting to blend together to deliver consumers the products and the experiences of the future, that for years we’ve been seeing only in Hollywood creations, was truly amazing. We do already live in the future.

#StateofVR- Industry Twitter Roundtable Wrap

December 6, 2016

Inna Zagrebelny, Marketing Manager, Giraffic

 

Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the most hyped technologies, supported by multitude of announcements, product launches, applications introductions and technology reviews. While it’s clear that VR is going to change our lives, the timeframe ofstateofvr_blog-banner when it will happen on a large scale and in what capacities remain uncertain. To get to the bottom of this, we hosted #StateofVR Twitter roundtable to address the trend and how its adoption is changing the entire ecosystem.

Industry experts joined the chat, including Troy Dreier of StreamingMedia.com, Maria Korlov from Hypergrid Business, Alexis Macklin of Greenlight Research and Giraffic CEO, Yoel Zanger, just to name a few.

360 video is the gateway to Mainstream VR

Even with the constant buzz around VR, the consumers’ access to the new medium is still very limited. As such, they are exposed to VR-based short-term experiences rather complete VR products. Mistakenly, a lot of 360 videos are being considered as VR by consumers, while in fact those are two different experiences. This is unsurprising, considering that 360 videos are much easier to create, requiring only a 360 camera or a smartphone with a proper app. To view these videos, consumers only need a Google Cardboard and certain videos can be seen without a headset at all.  This ease of experience adds context to the projected 84.4 million units of the Cardboard to be sold in 2016. However, once the consumer is exposed to VR- there is a clear preference of more immersive experience than the 360 videos have to offer.

The Barriers of Mainstream VR Adoption

wires-0

Image credit: Dami Lee, The Verge

 The participants identified the main challenges for mainstream adoption to be motion sickness, quality of the visuals, the simplicity and comfort of the hardware and the opportunity to try VR. Since consumers have a very limited experience with the immersive medium, they need to be persuaded of the benefits of the tech. Bulky, tethered and high-priced devices that are capable of delivering better experiences are still out of reach to the masses, and will have to become much lighter, more comfortable and less expensive in order to go mainstream. A balance between physical comfort
and immersion must be achieved.

As for entertainment, functionality and image resolution become crucial. The pixelation of current experiences detracts from the sense of realism and in order to look immersive, the video has to be at least 4K. Unfortunately, streaming UHD content smoothly over low-bandwidth home networks is a rare thing to achieve. It’s possible that early adopters can bear the interruptions during the VR video, while the rest of the viewers will just abandon the stream due to poor resolution. Therefore, the industry will have to come up with a solution for WiFi congestions for VR to become mainstream, as such content requires from 3 to 10 times higher internet speeds as of large video files.

Mobile is in Dominant Position for Widespread Growth of VR

Mobile devices are poised to lead the growth of VR, as this is the most affordable and user-friendly platform so far. A consumer is far more likely to have a high end mobile phone than a PC capable of running some of the leading VR experiences provided by the likes of Oculus. However, the hardware- especially the display of mobile – will have to be improved to eliminate the screen door effect the majority of mobile VR currently suffers. There is no doubt that VR will accelerate the deployment of 4K displays on smartphones and additional innovations to support the life-like experiences.

The conclusion of the discussion is that we still have a long way to go for VR to become a common practice and the new normal of social interactions. As a new and exciting technology, VR might be afforded a “grace period” for lagging behind in terms of ease and convenience in comparison to other forms of content consumption, but for how long that will last remains to be seen.

Check out the full stream below for more valuable takeaways. If you have something to say about VR and would like to contribute to this fascinating conversation, we welcome you to do so by using the #StateofVR hashtag.

For more updates, our next Twitter roundtable chats and streaming updates, follow us @GirafficAVA.

 

A ‘Virtual’ Reality Check – Join Our Twitter Roundtable Discussion

November 17, 2016

Inna Zagrebelny, Marketing Manager, Giraffic

 

The hype around the Virtual Reality (VR) is widespread, and the potential for mainstream success looks positive. Ever since Mark Zuckerberg made his grand entrance at 2016 Mobile World Congress to the room full of people wearing the Gear VR headsets, it seems that almost every aspect of our modern life serves as another potential application of VR. From entertainment, sports, gaming, social interactions, live shows, to enterprise applications such as medical and industrial, there is a not a single industry that does not at least explore the concept.

stateofvr-twitter-1

When looking at the entertainment industry, matching the user experience with consumer expectations will dictate the rise or the fall of VR. Delivering on the promise of a truly immersive experience is quite a challenge, because it requires the content creators, producers, hardware manufacturers and the delivery platforms to develop and perfect their crafts to continue momentum for the medium. Quality content is no longer a preference, it is fundamentally needed to sustain VR.

Like many disruptive innovations, the tech is currently constrained by the users’ old habits, expected technological advancements to make the headsets comfortable and affordable, as well as the delivery ecosystem to assure the experience is seamless.

So where exactly is VR heading, and what needs to happen to get there?  Are real-time 4K VR experiences just around the corner?

We welcome you to join our upcoming Twitter roundtable chat to find out more and partake in this insightful discussion, on Wednesday, November 30th 2016 at 2:00pm EST.

Moderated by Giraffic, this one-hour chat will address the VR phenomena and how its adoption is changing the entire ecosystem.  What are the main growth engines, future applications and challenges of mainstream VR? A wide range of industry experts along with Giraffic CEO Yoel Zanger will share perspectives on the many components of VR including user experience and consumer expectations, content availability and delivery, formats, supporting devices, market growth engines and future applications.

We hope to see you there!

To follow the conversation and participate you can track our designated hashtag #StateofVR using the native Twitter app or website, or simply use Hootsuite, TweetDeck or TweetChat.

Enter the hashtag #StateofVR a few minutes before the start time and Giraffic moderator will make the introductions and begin the conversation. Please make sure to include the hashtag with every tweet you post during the roundtable. Otherwise, your comment will not be seen by other participants.

Check out the recap of our previous roundtable here:

#LivestreamCheck- Industry Twitter Roundtable Wrap– a discussion of the live streaming trend and what is needed to make it ready for primetime.

Beyond the live stream: Improving the Viewer Experience- Giraffic at Streaming Media West 2016 conference

November 10, 2016

Noam Geri, VP Sales & Business Development, North America, Giraffic

During last week’s Streaming Media West conference, I moderated a panel discussion in the Live Streaming Summit track. We covered quality of experience, and how to make it top-notch.  The discussion included Mitch Singer of Digital 360 Ventures (formerly CSO of Sony Pictures), Matthew Durgin, Director Smart TV Content at LG Electronics, Brenton Ough, CEO of Touchstream and Kumar Subramanian, CEO of MediaMelon.

smw2016_1

Panelists: Brenton Ough, CEO of Touchstream; Kumar Subramanian, CEO of MediaMelon; Matthew Durgin, Director Smart TV Content at LG Electronics; Mitch Singer of Digital 360 Ventures

We started by agreeing that sports is the main driver in adoption of live streaming, although news and linear programming continue to play an important role as well. That’s not so surprising, because those are inherently live and happen at a set window of time. Also, panelists said that the array of new ‘skinny bundle’ media streaming services will contribute to the rapid growth of live streaming.

We addressed many of the technical challenges that plague the ecosystem. Mitch Singer highlighted the proliferation of services, standards and protocols that providers and OEMs need to support and maintain. Singer also advised that content providers should deliver the quality of a stream promised to consumers, especially if they are charging a few extra dollars a month for it. Minimizing latency of the live stream was also addressed, especially due to its importance in streaming live sports. In fact, one panelist shared a personal example of bar patrons electing to view the nearly unwatchable low resolution stream of a baseball game over the high quality screen because it was a couple of seconds more current. The panelists explained that service providers can achieve low latency in live steaming right now, however as latency is reduced- the risk of service interruptions increases.

Finally, the panelists affirmed the important role for 4K in live streaming.  Matthew Durgin remarked that consumers have grown accustomed to high video quality from their cable/satellite service, and they will expect the same high quality video in live streaming, with 4K being included in the mix.  LG invests in several technologies that enable a higher quality viewing experience for streaming of live and VOD content, and cited Griaffic Adaptive Video Acceleration technology as an example.

Live streaming will be adopted by the masses whether it’s ready for primetime content or not, that much is clear. But the panel demonstrated some promising advances happening in the background in order to help keep up with the global love affair of the medium, and to fulfill the steady, high quality consumption of content that viewers desire.