Over-the-top (OTT) media delivery has become a must for broadcasters and other video service providers such as cable and satellite operators. Across all age groups and geographic areas, consumers are turning to streaming media on their televisions, computers, and mobile devices in remarkable numbers. Yet, while the business case for offering linear broadcast content via online platforms is proven, delivering online video is more complicated considering that it’s a completely new way of distribution.
The complexity of OTT services is one of the reasons that many video service providers are turning to OTT cloud workflows offered as a service. In the linear realm, broadcasters and other providers needed only to prepare their content for one device. The mode of delivery was completely under their control, and the formats and standards relatively well-established and well-known, even given the industry’s recent embrace of UHD and HDR. None of those things are true today for OTT content. As a new and still evolving technology, streaming media relies on standards and formats that continue to mature, as well as new workflows, hardware and software systems.
By adopting a cloud-based OTT workflow, video service providers can effectively hand off responsibility for the infrastructure and networking supporting their OTT services. They can switch from a CAPEX to an OPEX model, scaling services and associated costs along with their changing needs. Using an established cloud-based provider, they can launch new services quickly without bringing on added technical resources to maintain and manage IT infrastructure. They can experiment with streaming coverage of occasional events, knowing that the OTT provider has the capacity to scale dynamically with the spikes in viewership that can come with high-profile sports or entertainment streaming.
While working with an OTT SaaS provider offers a relatively low-risk, low-cost option for launching and maintaining OTT services, the success of this venture depends on consistent delivery of engaging content at a high quality. Monitoring is critical, particularly as there are so many new factors that can undermine quality of experience (QoE) or quality of service (QoS) and, in turn, compromise the competitiveness of the service.
Why Monitoring Is a Must for OTT
The challenge of sending high-quality signals over the public internet is one obvious reason to integrate monitoring into the cloud-based OTT workflow. Issues can arise in other parts of the delivery process, as well, as content is repurposed based on the user device, the quality/bandwidth of the delivery is changed based on the network congestion, and content is pulled by individual consumers rather than broadcast to multitudes.
While content is created in multiple versions — each encoded at a different bit rate and profile — to address varying network conditions, it also must be transcoded to multiple incompatible delivery formats — such as HLS, DASH, MSS, and HDS — to cater to a wide gamut of devices and their varying screen sizes. To ensure the security of content streams, OTT content then must be encrypted with a DRM protection scheme such as Microsoft PlayReady, Google Widevine, or Apple FairPlay.
If these factors are not addressed, and if the QoE or QoS for a particular streaming offering simply are not up to par, customers can refocus their attention and choose to view content from an array of other sources. To keep the streaming product competitive, the online delivery strategy must include monitoring at all the critical points in the workflow. All content must go through proper testing, validation, and monitoring so that any problems can be addressed proactively.
Monitoring is particularly important at the content preparation stage because the content made available to the origin server winds up being distributed to a variety of different places including CDNs and edge servers. If the quality of content is somehow compromised at the preparation stage, then issues with audio or video will propagate to all those other places to which the content is distributed.
Broadcasters today are beginning to deploy QC and monitoring probes both on-premises and in the cloud so that they can detect QoE issues for live and VOD content at each step of the workflow. Using a combination of active and passive monitoring techniques in a complementary manner, they can reduce the network jitter that can occur at the on-premises encoding step and ensure the consistency of video quality throughout packaging and distribution via the cloud.
An effective QC and monitoring system will enable the broadcaster to keep an eye on content-related, encryption-related, server-related, and delivery issues that can threaten QoE. By providing a consolidated, single-screen view of both linear and OTT workflows, the monitoring system can help to accelerate fault identification and troubleshooting.
Moving Monitoring to the Cloud
Online media delivery gives video service providers a tremendous opportunity to reach more people and monetize more of their content. But the move into OTT does not happen without some expense, whether in terms of content, infrastructure, or other costs. Thus, implementation of a cost-effective monitoring solution can help to keep costs down.
While traditional broadcast delivery generally has relied upon custom hardware solutions for common media processing tasks, today’s move toward software-based solutions brings greater efficiency and scalability to these operations while lowering costs. By taking advantage of cloud-based services, including monitoring, video service providers can start small and increase capacity or functionality as their business demands. Rather than worry about what kind of equipment to get, how many licenses to buy, or what kind of staff to put in place, they can be rest assured that the monitoring services will match the changing needs of their OTT offering.
Because monitoring service expansion is taken care of by the SaaS provider, the video service provider can focus on other important aspects of content, devoting attention and resources toward tasks that will help it better create and monetize content.