David Ronca has had a long history in the industry and is most known for his time at Netflix where he was pivotal in the inception and implementation of many technologies. Because Netflix was one of the first companies streaming video on the internet, and at a global scale, they are responsible for many innovations that the industry as a whole benefits from today and are the recipient of 7 technical Emmys. David is often pictured holding an Emmy awarded to Netflix for their role in the standardisation and promotion of Japanese subtitles one of the less-talked-about innovations in contrast to VMAF, Per-Title encoding and per-shot encoding.
In this video, talking to John Porterfield, David talks about the early days at Netflix when it was pivoting from emailing DVDs to streaming. He talks about the move from Windows-based applications to cross-platform technologies, at the time Microsoft Silverlight which was a big direction shift for Netflix and for him. The first Silverlight implementation within Netflix was also the first adaptive bitrate (ABR) version of Netflix which is where David found he next calling within Netflix writing code to synchronise the segments after DRM.
The PS3, David recalls, was the worlds most powerful Blu-ray player and part of the Blu-ray spec is a Java implementation. David recounts the six months he spent in a team of three working to implement a full adaptive bitrate streaming application within Blu-ray’s Java implementation. This was done in order to get around some contractual issues and worked by extending the features which were built into Blu-ray for downloading new trailers to show instead of those on disc. This YouTube review from 2009 shows a slick interface slowed down by the speed of the internet connection.
David also talks about his close work with and respect for Netflix colleague Anne Aaron who has been featured previously on The Broadcast Knowledge. He goes on to talk about the inception of VMAF which is a metric for computationally determining the quality of video developed by Netflix as they didn’t feel that any of the current metrics such as PSRN and MS-SSIM captured the human opinion of video well enough. It’s widely understood that PSNR has its place but can give very different results to subjective evaluations. And, indeed, VMAF also is not perfect as David mentions. However, using VMAF well and understanding its limits results in a much more accurate description of quality than with many other metrics and unlike competing metrics such as SSIMWAVE’s SSIMPLUS, is open source and royalty-free.
David concludes his talk with John saying that high-quality, well-delivered streaming is now everywhere. The struggles of the early years have resulted in a lot of well-learned lessons by the industry at large. This commoditisation is welcome and shows a maturity in the industry that begs the question about where the puck is going to next. For David, he sees environmental sustainability to be one of the key goals. Both environmentally and financially, he says that streaming providers will now want to maximise the output-per-watt of their data centres. Data centre power is currently 3% of all global power consumption and is forecast to reach up to 20%. Looking to newer codecs is one way to achieve a reduction in power consumption. David spoke about AV1 last time he spoke with John which delivers lower bitrate with high computation requirements. At hyperscale, using dedicated ASIC chips to do the encoding is one way to drive down power consumption. An alternative route is new MPEG codec LCEVC which delivers better-than-AVC performance in software at much-reduced power consumption. With the prevalence of video – both for entertainment and outside, for example, body cams – moving to more power-efficient codecs and codec implementations seems the obvious and moral move.
Life’s certainly changed during 2020 and 2021, so far, is only cementing those changes. Who are the winners and who are the losers? Jon Giegengack joins John Porterfield to discuss the work Entertainment Research’s doing to understand the changing market.
I think we’re all aware that the pandemic is ravaging some market sectors and even some whole economies. At the same time, staying at home is allowing some families who are still in work, to save money. Jon explains that their polling shows that around a quarter of US consumers have dropped a service, whereas around a third have added one which mirrors the mixed stories we hear of lost jobs juxtaposed against ‘super savers’ who are investing their new-found wealth.
Jon’s view is that one key change that will last long beyond the pandemic is this adoption of streaming platforms. Premium video on demand is what people are interested in and is only buoyed by people’s investments in TVs during the pandemic, laptops, mobile devices etc. Furthermore, the pandemic has forced the hand of companies to move forward with their home distribution plans. Warner Brothers, for example, will be releasing their new films both at the cinema and on HBO Max at the same time at no extra cost to the subscribers. Whilst they may change their approach in 2022, this will have brought forward their plans and may also encourage others to do similar. It’s also another motivation for people to invest in their own home-viewing environment which will, in turn, encourage them to double down on their interest in viewing theatrical releases at home.
People do care about quality. They are forgiving when the quality isn’t there, but research shows that the majority of video watched on Netflix is done on a TV which is a big shift from its early days of streaming. Jon’s research shows that second screens tend to be used for YouTube-style videos and that time spent watching there doesn’t reduce hour-for-hour time in front of the TV.
This sounds like it’s great news all round. But the research shows that in the US it’s Netflix which is the main beneficiary of this change racking up a 49% increase in subscribers with Disney+, Hulu and Prime coming after. For TV providers, the news isn’t so good. vMPVDs such as YouTube Live and Hulu Live saw a 50% decrease and conventional TV cable/satellite providers saw a 32% drop.
Lastly, John discussed the impact on the content itself by the content where presenters have had to find ways of delivering TV from home taking many leaves from YouTubers to make sure they and their surroundings look good. This homely feel has been appreciated in some programmes leaving viewers with a closer connection to the presenters which may leave the door open to continuing some parts of programming like this in the future.
The streaming community is one of the most vibrant in the broadcast, media & entertainment with many examples of individuals and companies sharing knowledge and working together. The Streaming Video Alliance is a great example of this continued effort to ‘make streaming video better’, a group of, now, 90 companies that are working together to push the industry forward.
Streaming Video Alliance executive director, Jason Thibeault, discusses their work with John Porterfield on the JP’sChalkTalks YouTube channel. A technology consortium not unlike the VSF, AIMS, IABM or SMPTE, Jason says that the SVA doesn’t work on standards since the fast-paced iterations of the streaming industry don’t match the relatively long standardisation timelines. Naturally, that’s not to say streaming doesn’t need standards. SCTE 35 and 224 ad markers are vital to many workflows and the whole foundation from codecs to IT technologies such as HTTP and TCP is based on standards. But we see from the success of TCP and HTTP what the end game of the Streaming Video Alliance is. These standards laid down a way for any company to interoperate with another and now we don’t consider the possibility that a piece of networking kit speaking TCP won’t work with another. Jason explains that the key for the SVA is enabling interoperabiloty and removing vendor lock-in. This creates a healthier industry which is better for streaming providors and vendors.
John asks about how 2020 saw progress streaming. Jason explains that much of the growth seen due to the pandemic was actually the result of a lot of work that was already ongoing meaning that many companies were already working on scaling up for the future; the future came early. Going into the year, there was a lot of talk about low latency streaming, and there still is, but SVA members were cognisant of the fact they still couldn’t guarantee a consistent experience which they’d much prefer over low-latency. This reliability and resilience question deals with repeatability of experience and, for example, playback remaining stable in one ABR rung.
Jason looks ahead at 2021 talking about the work being produced by the alliance. Live streaming end-to-end best practice is being examined and will be released as a published document. Follow up validation in the lab of the recommendations is then planned with any learnings going back into the original document. Another piece of work is examining how new technologies out of the streaming industry can be adopted such as 5G and the push to the edge. Particularly in edge computing, there is a lot of potential which simply hasn’t been explored yet. On the interoperability theme, the group’s Open Caching guidance will continue to be expanded. Open caching opens the possibility of putting your cache in the edge. Jason asks where the boundary of the edge is as there is work ongoing examining pushing open caching out even to the smart TV.
There are few people who should build their own CDN, contends Steve Miller-Jones from Limelight Networks. If you want to send a parcel, you use a parcel delivery service. So if you want to stream video, use a content delivery network tuned for video. This video looks at the benefits of using CDNs.
John Porterfield welcomes Steve to YouTube channel JP’sChalkTalks and starting with a basic outline of CDNs. Steve explains that the aim of the CDN is to re-deliver the same content as many times as possible by itself without having to go back to a central store, or even back to the publisher to get the video chunk that’s been requested. If your player is a few seconds behind someone else’s who lives in the same geography, then the CDN should be able to deliver you those same chunks almost instantly from somewhere geographically close to you.
Steve explains that in the Limelight State of Online Video 2020 Annual Report rebuffering remains the main frustration with streaming services and, remaining at approx 44% for the last 3 years when taken as a global average. Contrary to popular belief, the older generation is more tolerant of rebuffering than younger viewers.
As well as maintaining a steady feed, low-latency is remaining important. Limelight is able to deliver CMAF down to around a 3-second latency or WebRTC with sub-second latency. To go along with this sub-second video streaming, Limelight also offer sub-second data sharing between players which Steve explains is a important feature allowing services to develop interactivity, quizzes, community engagement and many other business cases.
Lastly Steve outlines the importance of Edge computing as a future growth area for CDNs. The first iteration of cloud computing was a success by taking computing into central locations and away from individual businesses. This worked well for many for financial reasons, because it freed organisations up from managing some aspects of their own infrastructure and enabled scaling of services. However, the logic of what happened next was always done in this one central place. If you’re in Australia and the cloud location is in the EU, then that’s a long wait until you get the result of the decision that needs to be made. Edge computing allows small parts of logic to live in the closest part of a CDN to you. This could well mean that the majority of a service’s infrastructure is in the US, but some of the CDN be it CloudFront, Limelight or another will be in Australia itself meaning pushing as much of your services as you can to the edge will result in significant improvements in speed/latency reduction.
VP Strategy & Industry,
JP’sChalkTalks YouTube Channel
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