VC-1 Is Dead: Open Standards Finally Winning the Battle Against Proprietary Formats

It’s that time of the year again, where myself and the digital media team at Frost & Sullivan capture key video technology trends in the media and entertainment world. The industry has come a long way in the last three years, with the alphabet soup of walled garden formats giving way to the relative uniformity of AVC, AAC and AES-128. Granted encapsulation and streaming formats are still a complex enough mess in their own right, but that’s another post for another day.

The drive away from walled gardens towards more open standards is being driven in good measure by, surprisingly enough, Microsoft. Having announced the sunset of SmoothStreaming in 2021 and put significant energy behind DASH and open DRM interfaces for use in standards like HTML5, the company is continuing to step away from the WMV-centric media framework approach it pursued in the early 2000s. Many legacy video formats like RealPlayer and Flash have already faded away. It is perhaps a testament, however, to Microsoft’s early supremacy in the premium OTT video delivery market (although no one called it as such back then) that services like Netflix, Amazon and Rakuten continue to have VC-1 encoded content in their libraries, even though several others like Hulu and Vudu nearly ubiquitously use AVC. That said, there’s little if any incentive – we believe – for new transcoding in WMV format. Even for legacy content, we believe that either re-encoding that material or simply just-in-time transcoding it to AVC is the preferred alternative to storing and managing yet another profile, given that new connected devices are showing a clear drop year over year in support for legacy formats.

One step beyond the video essence is the streaming protocol. The debate between HTTP based streaming and UDP based streaming rages on, particularly in the context of the emergence of DASH, the sunsetting of Silverlight, the demise of Flash on mobile, and the unrelenting drumbeat of statistics that shows video traffic growing in exciting multiples year over year while
infrastructure/capacity will struggle significantly to keep pace. There are indications that even stalwart CDNs like Akamai are looking past the prevalent approach of HTTP-based streaming to look at UDP-based alternatives, at least for high-volume surge content if not more broadly. However, confidence in UDP-based and P2P-based approaches in North America – which accounts for nearly 70 percent of global OTT traffic by our estimates – seems to remain quite low.

We’re currently predicting that use of VC-1 will fade out of M&E content services (enterprise is a different story) more or less entirely within 5 years, with AVC and possibly new codecs like HEVC and Google-backed VP9 starting to make niche appearances. We thought we’d reach out to readers for their feedback on these observations and predictions – are you using VC-1 in your OTT streaming offerings today, and how do you see your codec portfolio changing over the next five years? And, are you looking at UDP-based streaming solutions for your future video streaming needs (even if it’s 4-5 years out) or are you confident that technologies like DASH are the way to go? Are there particular emerging streaming solutions that you find exciting or promising? We’ll compile all our findings in a follow up post – for now, please feel free to comment below. Or if you want to have a deeper discussion on this topic, please email me and we’ll be happy to setup a time to hear your thoughts.

Thursday Webinar – Transcoding and Prepping Content for The Multiscreen Mandate

Thursday at 2pm ET, I’ll be moderating another webinar, this time on the topic of, “Transcoding and Prepping Content for The Multiscreen Mandate.” Encoding your video is one thing; transcoding is another ball of wax entirely. As multiscreen video consumption continues to grow, how does a company with a large video library ensure the best viewing experience, especially when new devices — and their wide array of screen sizes and operating systems — continue to enter the playing field? We’ll discuss workflows and on-prem and cloud solutions that offer ease, efficiency, and cost savings for your video publishing, on demand and live. Join iStreamPlanet, Akamai, Adobe, and Ooyala to learn about:

  • The top three challenges facing content owners and distributors in delivering multiscreen services
  • Secure, cloud-based media processing that offers high quality content preparation through an efficient turnkey media solution
  • One-stop content preparation and packaging for multiple platforms for both live and on-demand media
  • Supporting a wide range of source codecs from established broadcast codecs to newer codecs like h.264/h.265
  • Integration with a content management system and playback infrastructure to support existing and new business models

These questions and many more will be covered in this webinar so REGISTER NOW to join us for this FREE Web event.

New Findings Show Cloud Solutions Deliver an Outstanding Price-Performance Value Proposition

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 12.22.01 PMWe all know that video volume is skyrocketing, millenials are far more likely to watch video on their devices than on their primary screens, and end users are only a mouse click away from an alternative content source should your service fail to delight. Online video offerings are no longer an option for content companies – users demand their content when they want it, where they want it, and services must provide this or risk subscriber flight. However, other factors related to online video are less understood.

One of those factors is how complex online streaming is, and how quickly its parameters can change. For example, the relative volume of video consumed on portable devices such as smart phones and tablets has more than quadrupled over the last two years – the absolute value has risen by more than 500X in two years. In terms of streaming formats, Flash once dominated the scene but today is a nearly archaic format – presently HLS and HDS playing key roles, with Silverlight fading and HTML5 right around the corner. Where HD was a challenge as recently as a few years ago, today 4K is the new differentiator. The other factor is the speed with which new services must be taken online – in today’s experimental environment, services need to go live in days, but companies often spend weeks if not months procuring and deploying equipment.

This constant disruption of technical workflows, coupled with the need for agility, creates difficult challenges for content companies to grapple with. Soaring volumes, fluctuating requirements and elusive monetization are a tough combination to handle in a financially sustainable manner. Cloud-based online workflow solutions can go a long way in mitigating these challenges. Since vendors of online video services specialize in this specific business, they can devote much higher levels of resources towards optimizing their online video workflows, stay closely in tune with changing requirements and latest innovations, and can amortize the costs of innovation and scale across a number of customers. As a result, content owners can reap the benefits of rapid time to market with new online products, near-zero CAPEX and comparable OPEX when all factors related to the total cost of ownership are considered. Having realized that many content companies underestimate the true cost of on-premises workflows and are unduly wary of the usage-based pricing models typical of the cloud, Frost & Sullivan worked on a white paper in partnership with iStreamPlanet to quantify and compare the actual costs of on premises and cloud-based workflows. You can download and see the results of the study in the paper here.

One surprising finding was that the economics work out not only in use cases related to capacity spikes – such as short-term coverage of sports tournaments or elections, or sudden events that result in viral video consumption – but also in the case of 24×7 linear live channels. In other words, even if a content company had adequate space in their data center to host transcoding and streaming equipment for a full range of 100-200 content channels (which, it turns out, most companies actually do not have), it is more cost efficient to host that workflow in the cloud. The case is even more compelling for small and medium-sized content companies whose viewership is small enough or content volume is small enough that the overhead of on-premises installation would be very difficult to recoup from uncertain online revenues. Another surprising finding is that cloud-based solutions can pay for themselves simply in terms of minimizing opportunity cost associated with the long delays that on-premises deployment inevitably incurs.

All this aside, not all cloud implementations are created equal. When choosing a cloud partner, it’s important to ensure that the solution has been architected from the ground up to be optimized for the cloud and to handle the fluid nature of its underlying computational resources. Broadcast quality SLAs and excellent quality of experience remain must-have features for competitive services, and this can only be achieved when your vendor provides robust industrial-grade solutions. Fortunately for the industry, the maturity of available solutions is growing even as costs continue to fall, making the business case for moving online video workflows to the cloud increasingly stronger. You can download the whitepaper for free here.

Majority Of Mobile Video Viewing Still Under 3 Minutes In Length

This morning Ooyala issued its Q2 2014 Global Video Index Report, providing insights into video viewing trends on mobile, desktop, tablet and TV screens. Not surprisingly to anyone, multi-screen video consumption is growing and in the past year, mobile video viewing has more than doubled to become over 25% of all online viewing. While that’s impressive growth, the data also shows that the majority of users who watch video on mobiles devices are still consuming short-form clips, under three minutes in length. As the report details, viewers are looking to big screens for big chunks of their entertainment. Here are some highlights from the report, but to get the full picture I suggest you download it.

  • On connected TVs, viewers spent 65% of their time watching videos 30 minutes or longer; and over half of that time (54%) was with content longer than 60 minutes.
  • On tablets, viewers spent 23% of their time watching video of 30–60 minutes in length, more than on any other device.
  • 81% of time watched on the largest screen, connected TVs, was with videos longer than 10 minutes.
  • Mobile video share has increased 127% year-over- year and 400% in the past two years.

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Transparent Caching Provider PeerApp Now Has 450 Deployments, New CEO

Transparent caching provide PeerApp has been pretty quiet over the past year, with new startup Qwilt seemingly getting all of the attention in the transparent caching space. Still the leader in the market, based on revenue, PeerApp is looking to accelerate their business and has a made a lot of new executive hires recently, including the appointment of a new CEO in June. This morning, the company announced they have added 50 new customers since the start of the year, and that their solution is now deployed at over 450 network operators and enterprises worldwide. The company also disclosed that many customers are managing 100-500 Gigabit capacity on PeerApp’s platform.

As I detailed in my last transparent caching report, I have some concerns around the long-term viability of the transparent cache as a stand-alone product. Content delivery and Web acceleration vendors are moving towards integrating transparent caching technology into a broader set of Web-optimization platforms. This will create a bigger ecosystem, faster deployment, and more traction for the technology as a whole, but it will also cause transparent caching to no longer be thought of as a stand-alone offering in the market. Vendors will need to move up the stack with their offerings and integrate their platforms into larger delivery ecosystems.

The other problem transparent caching vendors are encountering is the amount of HTTPS traffic (YouTube) that can’t be cached, deployed caches by Netflix directly, and the absolute destruction of per Mbps pricing that makes expanding the business very price sensitive. However, the good news is that the global transparent caching industry is still healthy and I expect it to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30.2% from 2012 to 2017. Content delivery on the web is constantly changing, requiring caches that must intelligently and dynamically identify and adapt to shifting content access patterns. Higher-quality video is coming, live video is exploding, operators are demanding better QoE and the market for transparent caching solutions is only going to accelerate.