HEVC Advance Says They Will “Adjust Fees” For Licensing HEVC Patents

It looks like patent licensing administrator HEVC Advance has finally realized that the fees they are charging content owners to license patents from their pool are too high. In a press release announcing that integrated circuit designer MediaTek has agreed to join HEVC Advance, they also mention that they have, “received significant market feedback, particularly on content fees, and will adjust fees to support widespread use of HEVC”. They haven’t yet said how the fee structure will change, but mention that HEVC Advance is actively soliciting input from market participants and considering adjustments to arrive at a royalty structure that enables continued and rapid adoption of HEVC. [see: New Patent Pool Wants 0.5% Of Every Content Owner/Distributor’s Gross Revenue For Higher Quality Video]

It’s a bit of a confusing message as they say they will “consider” adjusting fees, but then later say they “will adjust” them. Either way, it sounds like the companies that make up HEVC Advance are coming to their senses and realizing the rates they are charging are not ones that content owners are willing to pay. [see: Companies Should Reject Licensing Terms From HEVC Advance Patent Pool] I’ve reached out to HEVC Advance to see if they are willing to share more details, but I don’t expect them to be able to say too much right now. Either way this is good news for the industry as I have heard from numerous content owners who made it clear to me that they did not plan to pay the current fees to HEVC Advance and that they would fight any lawsuit brought against them by the patent holders. Lawsuits help no one, so coming to terms that both sides can agree on, that are actually fair, is a much better way to do it and the approach that HEVC Advance should have taken from day one.

Amazon Highlights HEVC Support With New Fire TV Streaming Box

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 11.39.31 AMTo date, HEVC has been a term that’s primarily used by those in the content, broadcast and video ecosystem industries. Very few consumers know what HEVC is outside of those who are tech nerds or video quality fanatics. But that may change over time as Amazon is now promoting the value of HEVC to consumers and the impact it has on video quality. In conjunction with Amazon’s announcement of upgraded Fire TV and streaming stick hardware, the company specifically calls out HEVC on the Fire TV product page.

Amazon notes that their Fire TV box is “built to support High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC).” Amazon explains that, “HEVC is approximately 2x more efficient at encoding video than the current industry standard, which means less bandwidth is needed to deliver high-quality video streams. As a result, the majority of Fire TV customers will now experience more high-quality, 1080p streams from Amazon Video.” Interesting. To date I haven’t seen any streaming device manufacturer highlight HEVC and use it as a selling point. Most consumers still won’t pick up on what HEVC is, but over time HEVC will become a better known technology if CE manufactures highlight HEVC’s value.

As much as I like what Amazon is doing in highlighting HEVC, I don’t like the confusion they are creating around 4K and over-the-air terminology. The new Fire TV box supports 4K streaming, the first sub-$99 box in the market to do so. Even the new Apple TV box doesn’t support 4K yet. And while we still have many years before 4K really matters to the public, getting more 4K capable devices in the market, at a $99 price point is a good start. But Amazon is creating some confusion around their support for 4K.

On the Fire TV page, Amazon says that the, “all-new Amazon Fire TV now supports 4K Ultra HD for true-to-life picture quality. Watch high-definition 1080p streams on Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu and more, even without a 4K TV.” Why bring up 4K TV’s when discussing 1080p? Using both of those terms, in the same sentence will only create confusion amongst many consumers. Amazon also calls out “cord cutters” and says if you want local channels, you can “add an HD antenna to your home entertainment system.” Amazon even provides a link on the Fire TV page to an antenna you can add to your cart. Consumers will take that to mean you can add an OTA antenna to Fire TV, which you can’t. Many think of the Fire TV as their “home entertainment system”, as Amazon calls it, so why even call out HD Antenna’s when Fire TV can’t pull in or record anything OTA? All that does is add more confusion for consumers, who already have a lot of choices in the market when it comes to content services and streaming hardware.

Verizon Still Scamming Customers: Tries To “Upsell” Me To 75Mbps, To Get Better Quality Netflix/iPhone Streaming

This afternoon I called FiOS tech support to ask them to stop sending me emails about the pope’s schedule of when he is on TV and what channel to watch. Verizon provides no unsubscribe link and offers customers no way to opt out, so you have to call them to make the emails stop. I was transferred from tech support to sales who said they would remove me, but also told me that I should consider upgrading my 50Mbps service to 75Mbps a month as I was told that Verizon considers me a “heavy user” of their services. When I asked the rep how Verizon defines a “heavy user”, I was told that in the last 30 days, I have had 8 unique devices connect to my Internet connection. The rep also told me that I average between 30Mbps and 130Mbps a month, which of course makes no sense.

If the rep was talking throughput, I max out at 50Mbps, there is no way I could be at 130Mbps. And if she was talking total bits delivered, 130MB would be almost nothing. I asked her if she was talking speed or throughput, but she didn’t know. She told me that based on my usage, I would get better quality Netflix streaming if I went from my current 50Mbps a month plan, to 75Mbps a month and wanted me to upgrade due to “current special offers”. When I asked her to explain to me how I would get better quality, she said if the Netflix movie were 75Mbps in size, it would download faster on a 75Mbps connection than my current 50Mbps connection.

Of course we all know that Netflix doesn’t download anything, so her example is totally bogus. I explained this to the rep and pointed her to Netflix’s ISP Speed Index chart that shows for the month of August, Netflix streams delivered over Verizon averaged 3.64Mbps. So even if I had 8 devices all streaming Netflix at once, I would be at 29.12Mbps, still well below my current 50Mbps that I pay for each month. I’ve streamed HBO from 10 devices in my home, all at the same time, without any problems on my 50Mbps a month plan. Of course, the rep didn’t know what the Netflix’s ISP Speed Index chart was and still kept saying the word “download” in reference to Netflix.

Not to be deterred, the rep then asked me if I had the new iPhone 6 and told me I should upgrade to 75Mbps if I did, as she said the new iPhone has “faster technology” that would work better if I had 75Mbps. Of course, she could not explain to me what the faster technology actually was and just used high-level and generic terms that mean nothing. When I again asked her to explain to me the difference between speed and throughput, she didn’t have an answer. This is the same Verizon FiOS scam I wrote about in April of this year.

Time after time, I keep getting this same pitch from Verizon, trying to get me to upgrade my service based on a flat-out lie of “better”, “faster”, or “smoother” Netflix streaming. And why don’t their reps know the difference between speed and throughput?! Speed is the rate at which packets get from one location to another. Throughput is the average rate of successful message delivery over a communication channel. Simply saying the rep did not know or was not educated enough is not an excuse! When reps don’t know the basics, they will make stuff up. They have a responsibility to be accurate and set proper expectations with consumers as well as received the right kind of training on the services they are selling. If you think Netflix is “downloading” movies you should NOT be selling Internet services.

Last time I blogged about this, Verizon said it was an isolated incident. It’s not. It’s widespread and I’ve gotten the same pitch four times now, all from different people inside the FiOS department. If Verizon is going to continue to deny to the media that they are actively trying to upsell consumers based on a lie, then I am going to start recording my calls with Verizon reps and posting them here on my blog, for everyone to hear. That will make it much harder for Verizon to say it’s an isolated incident. I am putting Verizon on notice that from here on out, every call I have with anyone in the FiOS group will be recorded.

If someone from the FTC is reading this, please contact me. Verizon needs to be forced to stop this practice as the definition of a scam is, “to swindle someone by means of a trick”. That’s definitely what Verizon is doing; trying to “trick” consumers and many who don’t know better and don’t understand the technology will fall for it, and pay for something they do not need.

Server Side Ad Stitching Finds A Home In Live and Catch-up

Server-side ad insertion has normally been about tackling the problems of ad blocking and device fragmentation. But we are now seeing platform shifts that change the sweet spot of ad stitching towards live and catch up TV. Client side ad SDKs have grown in sophistication, the platforms they run have become more capable and the transition to native apps brings tools for platform normalization. This enables publishers to deliver VOD client side ads very effectively. Even with these improvements, client SDKs don’t deliver a live broadcast experience for live or catch up TV. This shift to focus on live imposes some additional requirements outside of ad stitching’s traditional ad block and device fragmentation coverage, such as frame accurate inserts, and high performance in a real-time live broadcast environment.

To frame the discussion it’s important to understand why client side fulfillment is desirable in the first place. Fulfilling ads on the client satisfies two main areas user authenticity and interactivity. Interactive components, such as clickable ads, companions can largely be accomplished with more complex server side ad stitching solutions but as the client side SDK grows in complexity, publishers are quickly left asking why they are not using a client side SDK in the first place. This problem is mostly negated where the player and ad stitching are coming from the same vendor since they will be pre-integrated. Authenticity methods are more difficult to satisfy server side since hybrid systems only give you partial coverage if the server is ultimately making the fulfillment request on behalf of the user.

In a recent discussion I had with Michael Dale at Kaltura, which just announced an ad-stitching collaboration with WeatherNationTV, we discussed why the traditional strong points of ad stitching are losing favor. As Michael pointed out, while ad blocking tools have increased in capability, their ability to target closed platforms such as OTT streaming devices and native applications on iOS and Android has been limited. As video consumption continues it’s aggressive transition to these devices ad blocking is less of a reason to use ad stitching.

Additionally in desktop environments there are emerging solutions such as “secret media” that work around ad blockers while retaining client side fulfillment. Ad blocking on the router level with “Tomato” firmware or AdBlock Plus supplied blacklists, is a complicated technical task, and has been made more complex with the transition to https everywhere. For example iOS 9 recommends using https only for new apps. While lots of press is given to iOS 9 “ad block” support, it probably will have little impact on video experiences taking place in native apps, and ad playback within non-native was already hampered by Apple’s iOS native controls.

Device fragmentation was universally recognized as an inhibitor towards high quality consumer media delivery, and has largely been addressed by several industry infinitives. The transition to native application runtimes has enabled publishers to include their own “players” with first class Ad integration. For example Google’s exoPlayer on Android provides both HLS normalization and a reference DoubleClick integration and online video platforms have heavily invested in native player SDKs for easy video app creation. There is still a valid argument per fragmentation on streaming devices and smart TV’s. But even here, we are increasingly seeing “capable enough” HTML5 runtimes via hbbTV initiative, and on popular streaming devices such as Chromecast and Fire TV. The evolution of these platforms, to include a capable HTML5 runtime, enables syndication of player run-times and player business logic.

Live is a different story. Unlike VOD where fulfillment delays have a negligible impact on the user experience in a live broadcast frame accurate cuts are important as live content comes back from commercial break to immediate critical content. Likewise catchup-TV infrastructure can require block out or ad inserts on-top of existing ads prior to the content being segmented and re-ingested as “VOD” content. The value of client side heuristic for ad beaconing, interactivity are still important so working with a live ad stitching solution that is integrated with the player is important. This integration enables the player to consume ad timing, companion click through and ad viewing beacon targets from the server and handle them appropriately client side. Because native SDK integration is already needed for addressing fragmentation and client side ads, a holistic solution covering both client side and server side ad interactivity is important towards controlling integration costs for publishers that are streaming both live and VOD content.

Because of these unique requirements, live ad stitching is critical component as part of an overall solution that includes native SDKs and client side fulfillment for publishers and service providers that are making ad monetize live and VOD content available within distribution to native devices and set top boxes. And with all the recent vendor acquisitions in the market, especially around live linear workflows, ad stitching for live is going to become even more important in the monetization discussion moving forward.

iOS 9 Download Traffic Peaks At 13Tbps Across 70 Telco & University Networks

For the past few days, transparent caching provider PeerApp has been monitoring apple.com activity for almost 70 of their telco and university customers across the globe. [Updated 9/21: PeerApp says that the 70 customers do not include their Tier 1 customers.] Not surprisingly, around 1pm ET on Wednesday after iOS 9 was released, combined traffic from iOS 9 downloads spiked to almost 13Gbps 13Tbps. Nearly 80% (over 10Tbps) of this traffic is being delivered through PeerApp’s cache, avoiding congesting of the operator and University network. Looking at individual systems, PeerApp said they are seeing speed improvements on the order to 10-20x; meaning customers served by their caches are getting the apple.com traffic 10-20x faster from cache. One University in particular is experiencing up to 100x speed improvement in downloads.

peerapp-appleIn conversations I’ve had with some ISPs in the U.S., iOS 9 downloads have been accounting for anywhere between 8%-15% of traffic inside their network. Since this isn’t the first time ISPs have had to deal with iOS downloads most are well setup to handle the spike and use caches to deal with the extra traffic. I don’t know the breakdown on the percentage of downloads Apple is handing via their own CDN, but like iOS 8, they are using a combination of their own CDN and third-party CDN providers. Downloads appear to be going smoothly for most consumers, with very few complaints and amongst the 12 devices I personally upgraded to iOS 9, the download and install process was quick and painless.