Inna Zagrebelny, Marketing Manager, Giraffic
The International Broadcast Conference (IBC) broke the records this year, with over 55,000 people visiting the RAI exhibition center in Amsterdam. Over the past few years the companies unveil and showcase the plethora of innovations, solutions and new products, influencing the way service providers, broadcasters and content creators reach their audiences and essentially shaping the way viewers consume content.
The show got an extensive media coverage, featuring a multitude of major announcements across many verticals. Rovi’s acquisition of TiVo and launch of the new TiVo interface that supports SmartTV and mobile devices adds another proof that viewing habit migration can no longer be ignored. Ericsson’s MediaFirst platform integration into Android TV OS, following the earlier announcement of their integration within set-top-box RDK, shows that open source STB software is gaining traction. Heavy promotion of 4K content was present at the conference, supported by the UHD Forum’s release of industry guidelines for UHD delivery. The formation of VR Alliance aimed to promote the new medium within the OTT space.
With all of industry shifting announcements collecting attendee mindshare, here are the main takeaways from IBC worth paying attention to.
There is no denying streaming is king at IBC this year. There was not a single booth that didn’t have language around “OTT”, “SVOD” and “Streaming” on its walls. Yes, consumers stream more with every year, but the traditional broadcast industry is often keeping the “business as usual” countenance. It was clear this started to change.
OTT delivery platforms are everywhere
Only a short while ago, streaming video was considered a complimentary service. Focused mainly on user generated content (UGC) and free content, the OTT offering was not perceived as an additional revenue generator for broadcasters, and only served as an answer to viewing migration on connected devices. Bundles of traditional subscription package and “TV Everywhere” started to gain traction.
Nowadays, almost every major broadcaster and content service provider offers an OTT experience, not only as a complimentary service, but also as a stand-alone subscription service. From the “TV Everywhere” offering to skinny OTT bundles, the entire industry is looking to attract new audiences while providing a variety of subscription packages to fit any individual’s particular needs and budget. To name a few, Sky launched its contract-free Now TV combo, Disney announced the future availability of ESPN for cord-cutters that will not require a cable subscription, and HBO has been offering both HBO Go! and HBO Now! for OTT-only users for some time now.
Based on these trends, it’s clear that streaming services are now considered to be future revenue growth engines for those companies, meaning that their streaming platforms need to be wrapped-up and fast. While having a broad expertise in content creation, traditional distribution and monetization, a lot of content service providers lack the resources or the knowledge to build and operate their OTT platforms in-house.
This creates a tremendous opportunity for streaming platform developers. Almost half of the IBC exhibition halls were packed with companies that provide solutions for OTT delivery. From mobile apps developers, cloud-based management services, infrastructure solutions, media players, ad insertion and management, online portals, optimization tools, complete end-to-end solutions, out-of-the-box or customized- they were all there.
At Giraffic, we’ve been seeing a great interest from content service providers to improve the overall quality of experience of their OTT services. After all, as streaming business became a billions of dollars market, online viewing experience is not a subject to take lightly any longer. This is why at IBC we announced the availability of our Adaptive Video Acceleration (AVA) technology for content service providers and OTT delivery platform developers. By integrating the new AVA SDK into their apps they will be able to improve live and VOD streaming quality and thus achieve better engagement and higher subscribers retention.
Live streaming is the new king, in 4K VR
The way live events are delivered to consumers’ screens is changing. What is surprising though, is not that live streaming gains momentum among consumers for their social interactions, but rather how quickly it is being adopted as a broadcast alternative. Despite several aspects of the technology being immature for mainstream adoption, as the industry experts claim, the chances of coming across a major event without live streaming capabilities are low. Live streaming adoption by broadcasters is definitely changing viewing habits. As an example, the Rio Olympics live stream made records, while TV ratings dropped.
All the companies we met with, including platform developers, infrastructure suppliers and analytics vendors, presented solutions to support live streaming, positioning it as ‘the next big thing’. The live stream momentum wasn’t limited to a standard format, but was also combined with 4K VR capabilities. However, in the near future, most companies are prioritizing live streaming capabilities across mobile and connected devices over VR. The reason being, is 4K delivery remains constrained by bandwidth limitations, despite proliferation of broadband networks and adaptive bitrate streaming adoption. We created the AVA SDK to remove these limitations, in order to accelerate live and 4K streams across all mobile and connected devices and enable them to achieve the desired streaming quality.
Everyone has a dashboard- so what?
Analytics capabilities are crucial for monitoring customer engagement and trends within the streaming business. A lot of dedicated companies showcased their intelligence tools during the IBC, while almost every streaming platform company or media player developer had some kind of dashboard included in the service as well. The operational analytics are mostly done on the network side, examining the infrastructure performance in various locations across the video delivery chain. But it is a very crowded space, similar to the OTT platform vendors, and lacks differentiation.
The comprehensive engagement analytics, however, is still a tough nut to crack. There are multiple solutions tracking what users are streaming and for how long, when the viewer abandoned the stream, and what are the potential operational reasons for that occurrence. These reasons can include start-up time, buffering, low quality-of-experience/low quality-of-service and more. However, very few provide a true insight on the content itself. The analytics tools track the engagement with content owned only by a certain service provider, but for obvious reasons, the competing service provider’s data cannot be disclosed. Basically, each provider gets to see each own performance and engagement data.
The most interesting unsolved mystery in consumer streaming habits is where the viewers go after they finish watching your content. Are they turning to alternative streaming services? Reading an article online, or turn to social media? As it appears, the industry still lacks the comprehensive tool to gain deeper and personal understanding of streaming audience, in order to be able offer consumers more personalized experiences. Although such ability is highly valued by the content creators, as we wrote in our wrap blog post of our Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) roundtable with Hollywood executives.
Seeing the evolution of IBC over the years from traditional broadcast to such a strong emphasis on streaming video is largely indicative of how different content consumption will be in the near future. Only time will tell what the themes and innovations dominate the conversation at next year’s conference, but it definitely will be around the fascinating world of streaming.