A look at the impacts of Covid-19 from the perspective of Disney+ and ESPN+. In this talk Eric Klein from Disney Streaming Services gives his view on the changes and learnings he saw as Covid hit and as it continues. He first comments on the increase in ‘initial streams’ as the lockdowns hit with Austria topping the list with a 44% increase of time spent streaming within a just a 48-hour period and in the US, Comcast has reported an uptick of 38% in general streaming and web video consumption. Overall fixed broadband networks tended to do better with the peaks than mobile broadband, whereas mobile internet which is quite common in Italy was observed to be suffering.
Content providers played their part to help with the congestion in adjusting to the situation by altering video profiles and changing starting bitrates as part of an industry-wide response. And it’s this element of everybody playing their part which seems to be the secret sauce behind Eric’s statement that “the internet is more resilient than everybody thought”. Eric goes on to point out that such networks are designed to deal with these situations as the first question is always “what’s your peak traffic going to be”. Whilst someone’s estimates may be off, the point is that networks are provisioned for peaks so when many peak forecasts come to pass, their average is usually within the network’s capabilities. The exceptions come on last-mile links which are much more fixed than provisioning of uplink ports and router backplane bandwidth within datacentres.
Eric points out the benefits of open caching, a specification in development within the Streaming Video Alliance. Open caching allows for an interoperable way of delivering files into ISP, modelled around popular data, so that services can cache data much closer to customers. By doing this, Eric points to data which has shown an ability to deliver an up to 15% increase in bandwidth as well as a 30% decrease in ‘customer-impacting events.
This video looks at the whole streaming stack asking what’s now, what trends are coming to the fore and how are things going to be done better in the future? Whatever part of the stack you’re optimising, it’s vital to have a way to measure the QoE (Quality of Experience) of the viewer. In most workflows, there is a lot of work done to implement redundancy so that the viewer sees no impact despite problems happening upstream.
The Streaming Video Alliance’s Jason Thibeault diggs deeper with Harmonic’s Thierry Fautier, Brenton Ough from Touchstream, SSIMWAVE’s Hojatollah Yeganeh and Damien Lucas from Ateme.
Talking about Codecs, Thierry makes the point that only 7% of devices can currently support AV1 and with 10 billion devices in the world supporting AVC, he sees a lot of benefit in continuing to optimise this rather than waiting for VVC support to be commonplace. When asked to identify trends in the marketplace, moving to the cloud was identified as a big influencer that is driving the ability to scale but also the functions themselves. Gone are the days, Brenton says, that vendors ‘lift and shift’ into the cloud. Rather, the products are becoming cloud-native which is a vital step to enable functions and products which take full advantage of the cloud such as being able to swap the order of functions in a workflow. Just-in-time packaging is cited as one example.
Other changes are that server-side ad insertion (SSAI) is a lot better in the cloud and sub partitioning of viewers, where you do deliver different ads to different people, is more practical. Real-time access to CDN data allowing you near-immediate feedback into your streaming process is also a game-changer that is increasingly available.
Open Caching is discussed on the panel as a vital step forward and one of many areas where standardisation is desperately needed. ISPs are fed up, we hear, of each service bringing their own caching box and it’s time that ISPs took a cloud-based approach to their infrastructure and enabled multiple use servers, potentially containerised, to ease this ‘bring your own box’ mentality and to take back control of their internal infrastructure.
HDR gets a brief mention in light of the Euro soccer championships currently on air and the Japan Olympics soon to be. Thierry says 38% of Euro viewership is over OTT and HDR is increasingly common, though SDR is still in the majority. HDR is more complex than just upping the resolution and requires much more care over which screen it’s watched. This makes adopting HDR more difficult which may be one reason that adoption is not yet higher.
The discussion ends with a Q&A after talking about uses for ‘edge’ processing which the panel agrees is a really important part of cloud delivery. Processing API requests at the edge, doing SSAI or content blackouts are other examples of where the lower-latency response of edge compute works really well in the workflow.
The 5G rollout has started in earnest in the UK, North America, Asia and many other regions. As with any new tech rollout, it takes time and currently centres on densely populated areas, but tests and trials are already underway in TV productions to find out whether 5G can actually help improve workflows. Burnt by the bandwidth collapse of 4G in densely populated locations, there’s hope amongst broadcasters that the higher throughput and bandwidth slicing will, this time, deliver the high bandwidth, reliable connectivity that the industry needs.
Jason Thibeault from the Streaming Video Alliance join’s Zixi’s Eric Bolten to talk to Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen who moderates this discussion on how well 5G is standing up to the hype. For a deeper look at 5G, including understanding the mix of low frequencies (as used in 2G, 3G and 4G) and high, Ultra Wide Band (UWB) frequencies referred to in this talk, check out our article which does a deep dive on 5G covering roll out of infrastructure and many of the technologies that make it work.
Eric starts by discussing trials he’s been working on in including one which delivered 8K at 100Mbps over 5G. He sees 5G as being very useful to productions whether on location or on set. He’s been working to test routers and determine the maximum throughput possible which we already know is in excess of 100Mbps, likely in the gigabits. Whilst rollouts have started and there’s plenty of advertising surrounding 5G, the saturation in the market of 5G-capable phones is simply not there but that’s no reason for broadcasters of film crews not to use it. 30 markets in the US are planning to be 5G enabled and all the major telcos in the UK are rolling the technology out which is already in around 200 cities and towns. It’s clear that 5G is seen as a strategic technology for governments and telcos alike.
Jason talks about 5G’s application in stadia because it solves problems for both the on-location viewers but also the production team themselves. One of the biggest benefits of 5G is the ultra-low-latency. Having 5G cameras keeps wireless video in the milliseconds using low-latency codecs like JPEG XS then delivery to fans within the stadium can also be within milliseconds meaning the longest delay in the whole system is the media workflow required for mixing the video, adding audio and graphics. The panel discusses how this can become a strong selling point for the venue itself. Even supporters who don’t go into the stadium itself can come to an adjacent location for good food, drinks a whole load of like-minded people, massive screens and a second-screen experience like nothing available at home. On top of all of that, on-site betting will be possible, enabled by the low latency.
Moving away from the stadium, North America has already seen some interest in linking the IP-native ATSC 3.0 broadcast network to the 5G network providing backhaul capabilities for telcos and benefits for broadcasters. If this is shown to be practical, it shows just how available IP will become in the medium-term future.
Jason summarises the near-term financial benefits in two ways: the opportunity for revenue generation by delivering better video quality and faster advertising but most significantly he sees getting rid of the need for satellite backhaul as being the biggest immediate cost saver for many broadcast companies. This won’t all be possible on day one, remembering that to get the major bandwidths, UWB 5G is needed which is subject to a slower roll-out. UWB uses high-frequency RF, 24Ghz and above, which has very little penetration and relies on line-of-sight links. This means that even a single wall can block the signal but those that can pick it up will get gigabits of throughput.
The panel concludes by answering a number of questions from the audience on 5G’s benefit over fibre to the home, the benefits of abstracting the network out of workflows and much more.
The pandemic has obviously hurt live broadcaster, sports particularly but as the world starts its slow fight back to normality we’re seeing sports back on the menu. How has streaming suffered and benefited? This video looks at how technology has changed in response, how pirating of content changed, how close we are to business as usual.
Jason Thibeault from the Streaming Video Alliance brings together Andrew Pope from Friend MTS, Brandon Farley from Streaming Global, SSIMWAVE’s Carlos Bacquet, Synamedia’s Nick Fielibert and Will Penson with Conviva to get an overview of the industry’s response to the pandemic over the last year and its plans for the future.
The streaming industry has a range of companies including generalist publishers, like many broadcasters and specialists such as DAZN and NFL Gamepass. During the pandemic, the generalist publishers were able to rely more on their other genres and back catalogues or even news which saw a big increase in interest. This is not to say that the pandemic made life easy for anyone. Sports broadcasters were undoubtedly hit, though companies such as DAZN who show a massive range of sports were able dig deep in less mainstream sports from around the world in contrast with services such as NFL Game Pass which can’t show any new games if the season is postponed. We’ve heard previously how esports benefited from the pandemic
The panel discusses the changes seen over the last year. Mixed views on security with one company seeing little increase in security requests, another seeing a boost in requests for auditing and similar so that people could be ready for when sports streaming was ‘back’. There was a renewed interest in how to make sports streaming better where better for some means better scaling, for others, lower latency, whereas many others are looking to bake in consistency and quality; “you can’t get away with ‘ok’ anymore.”
SSIMWAVE pointed out that some customers were having problems keeping the channel quality high and were even changing encoder settings to deal with the re-runs of their older footage which was less good quality than today’s sharp 1080p coverage. “Broadcast has set the quality mark” and streaming is trying to achieve parity. Netflix has shown that good quality goes on good devices. They’re not alone being a streaming service 50 per cent of whose content is watched on TVs rather than streaming devices. When your content lands on a TV, there’s no room for compromise on quality.
Crucially, the panel agrees that the pandemic has not been a driver for change. Rather, it’s been an accelerant of the intended change already desired and even planned for. If you take the age-old problem of bandwidth in a house with a number of people active with streaming, video calls and other internet usage, any bitrate you can cut out is helpful to everyone.
Next, Carlos from Conviva takes us through graphs for the US market showing how sports streaming dropped 60% at the beginning of the lockdowns only to rebound after spectator-free sporting events started up now running at around 50% higher than before March 2020. News has shown a massive uptick and currently retains a similar increase as sports, the main difference being that it continues to be very volatile. The difficulties of maintaining news output throughout the pandemic are discussed in this video from the RTS.
Before hearing the panel’s predictions, we hear their thoughts on the challenges in improving. One issue highlighted is that sports is much more complex to encode than other genres, for instance, news. In fact, tests show that some sports content scores 25% less than news for quality, according to SSIMWAVE, acknowledging that snooker is less challenging than sailing. Delivering top-quality sports content remains a challenge particularly as the drive for low-latency is requiring smaller and smaller segment sizes which restrict your options for GOP length and bandwidth.
To keep things looking good, the panel suggests content-aware encoding where machine learning analyses the video and provides feedback to the encoder settings. Region of interest coding is another prospect for sports where close-ups tend to want more detail in the centre as you look at the player but wide shots intent to capture all detail. WebRTC has been talked about a lot, but not many implementations have been seen. The panel makes the point that advances in scalability have been noticeable for CDNs specialising in WebRTC but scalability lags behind other tech by, perhaps, 3 times. An alternative, Synamedia points out, is HESP. Created by THEOPlayer, HESP delivers low latency, chunked streaming and very low ‘channel change’ times.
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