Video: State of the Streaming Market 2021

Streaming Media is back to take the pulse of the Streaming market following on from their recent, mid-year survey measuring the impact of the pandemic. This is the third annual snapshot of the state of the streaming market which will be published by Streaming Media in March. To give us this sneak peak, Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen is joined by colleague Tim Siglin and Harmonic Inc.’s Robert Gambino,

They start off with a look at the demographics of the respondents. It’s no surprise that North America is well represented as Streaming Media is US-based and both the USA and Canada have very strong broadcast markets in terms of publishers and vendors. Europe is represented to the tune of 14% and South America’s representation has doubled which is in line with other trends showing notable growth in the South American market. In terms of individuals, exec-level and ‘engineering’ respondents were equally balanced with a few changes in the types of institutions represented. Education and houses of worship have both grown in representation since the last survey.

Of responding companies, 66% said that they both create and distribute content, a percentage that continues to grow. This is indicative, the panel says, of the barrier to entry of distribution continuing to fall. CDNs are relatively low cost and the time to market can be measured in weeks. Answering which type of streaming they are involved in, live and on-demand were almost equal for the first time in this survey’s history. Robert says that he’s seen a lot of companies taking to using the cloud to deliver popups but also that streaming ecosystems are better attuned to live video than they used to be.

Reading the news, it seems that there’s a large migration into the cloud, but is that shown in the data? When asked about their plans to move to the cloud, around a third had already moved but only a quarter said they had no plans. This means there is plenty of room for growth for both cloud platforms and vendors. In terms of the service itself, video quality was the top ‘challenge’ identified followed by latency, scalability and buffering respectively. Robert points out better codecs delivering lower bitrates helps alleviate all of these problems as well as time to play, bandwidth and storage costs.

There have been a lot of talks on dynamic server-side ad insertion in 2020 including for use with targetted advertising, but who’s actually adopting it. Over half of respondents indicated they weren’t going to move into that sphere and that’s likely because many governmental and educational services don’t need advertising to start with. But 10% are planning to implement it within the next 12 months which represents a doubling of adoption, so growth is not slow. Robert’s experience is that many people in ad sales are still used to selling on aggregate and don’t understand the power of targetted advertising and, indeed, how it works. Education, he feels, is key to continuing growth.

The panel finishes by discussing what companies hope to get out of the move to virtualised or cloud infrastructure. Flexibility comes in just above reliability with cost savings only being third. Robert comes back to pop-up channels which, based on the release of a new film or a sports event, have proved popular and are a good example of the flexibility that companies can easily access and monetise. There are a number of companies that are heavily investing in private cloud as well those who are migrating to public cloud. Either way, these benefits are available to companies who invest and, as we’re seeing in South America, cloud can offer an easy on-ramp to expanding both scale and feature-set of your infrastructure without large Capex projects. Thus it’s the flexibility of the solution which is driving expansion and improvements in quality and production values.

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Tim Siglin Tim Siglin
Contributing Editor, Streaming Media Magazine
Founding Executive Director, HelpMeStream
Robert Gambino Robert Gambino
Director of Solutions,
Harmonic Inc.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen Moderator: Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen
Editor, Streaming Media

Video: Managing Unplanned Media Transitions in DASH Live Streaming

In live sports, a cut to or from ads can happen at a moment’s notice. Whilst not an issue for over-the-air broadcast, when you’re streaming it can be tough to get the ‘switch’ message out to the client in time. Server-side ad insertion is usually achieved by manipulating a manifest for a customer. This allows insertion of ads without having to encode the video into the programme video and allows for personalisation.

David Romrell from CommScope starts by giving an overview of how SSAI works and where players can get tripped up by going a little ahead. This talk looks at how to deal with unexpected breaks, for instance when play finishes abruptly, and for early recalls where, say, something interesting happens on pitch and the break is abandoned. There is in-band signalling of events possible within MPEG dash, but this will only work when the player hasn’t gone ahead of time so it’s not to be relied upon in this scenario.

Players can ‘go ahead’ because of the MPD (Media Presentation Description). David walks us through the anatomy of an MPD showing how it lays out a template for extrapolating the chunk name for future chunks. It also provides a heartbeat for how often the client needs to check for an updated playlist known as the MUP. This minimum update period needs to be set to balance between allowing the client some autonomy and being able to make moment-to-moment changes.

David walks through a scenario with an early return showing how a player may get confused and, at best, cause a bandwidth spike and a double hit on the CDN. At worst, the stream will rebuffer and jump. To avoid this, we see 4 options offered by David. One is to issue new periods the moment they’re known about. Even if the media list is empty, this at least signals that there’s a change coming up. This method works but the less warning there is, the less effective it is. A second idea is to ensure that ads aren’t advertised ahead of the packager which stops the player going ahead and downloading content early. The last two, we look at in more detail.

Using and @availabilityStartTime (AST) are looked at in a little more detail. The UTCTiming technique adapts the to the timing presented by the packager and pauses the ads clock which works well other than for clients which ignore this indicator. Lastly, adjusting the AST shifts the downloading times is a simplistic constant shift which doesn’t adapt to the packager rate.

David concludes saying there is plenty of flexibility for implementation in DASH, that UTCTiming or AST shift can deliver the consistent client experience we are looking for but that the lower the latency, the more severe the trade-offs in these unplanned scenarios.

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Download the presentation

Dave Romrell David Romrell
Engineering Fellow,
Advance Research Group,

Video: Harness SSAI’s Superpowers

Server-side Ad Insertion (SSAI) is a great option for streaming services delivering video to a wide variety of devices and for those who need to avoid ad blockers. Whilst ad insertion can happen in the player, this mechanism can be interfered with allowing users to avoid ads. Whilst client-side ad insertion can much more easily create a unique stream for each client, dynamic SSAI can now do the same with a better user experience.

This panel from the OTT Leadership Summit at Streaming Media West 2019 brings together Disney, WarnerMerdia and Crunchyroll to share their experiences with SSAI. They discuss beaconing, ad standards, scaling, SCTE and more.

Beaconing goes hand in hand with ad playback providing metrics on what happened. When you perform certain actions, the player will reach out to a URL. This can be used to indicate such things as users skipping or pausing a video. The beacon information can then be used to verify how much of which ads were seen by whom and charge advertisers accordingly.

The panel moves on to discussing scaling using live sports as an example and cover questions to ask vendors to ensure you and they are ready for maximum scale. Bandwidth, is declared the biggest challenge, but a less obvious problem is that your upstream ad providers can’t always scale well. If you rely on calls from your server to others, then it’s vital to understand their scaling capacity and strategy. They discuss issues with losing beacons when operating at scale and the need for detailed logging and debugging in order to spot errors and reconcile the results.

Some time is next spent on VPAID and VAST 4 which are both messaging specifications to allow ad servers to tell applications which ads to play. The panel discusses the pros and cons in their use for SSAI where the stitcher needs to reach out to and ad server in real time to find out which ads to play.

At the end of the discussion, the panel takes questions from the floor but not before discussing SCTE Markers and ‘content conditioning’ which surrounds taking care of your source videos and encoder such that the two assets fit together properly at I-frame boundaries.

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Robert Jameson Robert Jameson
Technical Director, Media Enablement
Turner | WarnerMedia
Stephen Gray Stephen Gray
Director, Ad Tech Systems
Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International
Michael Dale Michael Dale
VP Engineering,
Nadine Krefetz Nadine Krefetz
Consultant, Reality Software
Contributing Editor, Streaming Media

Video: Doing Server-Side Ad Insertion on Live Sports for 25.3M Concurrent Users

Delivering ads successfully is done by some services by having the client insert the different ads, and some by inserting the ads at the server end. The choice of which to use requires knowing your customers and how they are most likely to receive your streams. With the prevalence of ad blockers, businesses find the many customers never see the client-side inserted ads. Inserting ads at the server, therefore allows you to get around this as even the ads look like they are a continuation of the same video feed.

The downside of server-side ad insertion (SSAI), whilst rendering the ads unblockable, restricts the ads you can place. Theoretically, in client-side ad insertion, each user can have their own advert. With SSAI, to do that you would need to create a new stream per user which becomes much more computationally hungry. So the sweet spot comes in between the two where viewers are grouped into categories so that only a few tens of streams, for example, are needed to match ten demographics identified to advertisers. This is known as ‘dynamic SSAI’.

Ashutosh Agrawal took to the stage at the Demuxed SF 2019 conference to explain how Hotstar used dynamic SSAI to deliver targeted ads to their 25 million viewers. As an example of your understanding of your viewers driving your choice of ad-delivery technology, Ashutosh explains that close to 85% of their viewing is on mobile and much of that has marginal reception. In hostile network conditions, the requirement for the player to be downloading ads in the background doesn’t work well since the network can only just about support the live video, so a background download pushes the ABR quality down and could even create pausing and rebuffering. It’s for this reason that Hotstar decided that server-side was the way to go.

Ashutosh takes us through how Hotstar approached this large event. In India, cricket is a very popular game which lasts for up to 8 hours a day. This gives rise to a large number of breaks, over 100, which add up to over an hour’s advertising in total so it’s clear to see why this is a massive opportunity for optimisation. Static ad insertion reacts to SCTE 35 markers inserted. This can work well in the sense that for a 40 seconds SCTE marker, the platform can ad an approx 40-second ad or two 20 second ads. However, it isn’t flexible enough to deal with the times when there are far more people watching than that ad agency has paid for which means that Hotstar would end up delivering more viewers than necessary. It would be better for those viewers to see a different ad, triggered by SCTE 35.

As discussed above, doing SSAI for each person is a scalability and cost nightmare, so we quickly see that Targeted SSAI is the way forward. This allows different cohorts of users to be identified. Each cohort will receive its own virtual feed with their own adverts. We then see the architecture of the system showing how the CDN is used. For scaling, we see that they use a cache rather than a database.

Nginx then gets a namecheck as Ashutosh explains how they provide caching, including an nginx memory cache, to deal with up to 50% of the overall load, shared with the CDN if necessary. He then finishes with a look at the best practices they have learnt and what Ashutosh sees is the future for this technique.

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Ashutosh Agrawal Ashutosh Agrawal
Evangelist/Architect – CTO’s Office,