How many times have we heard that traditional TV broadcasts will continue to outrank OTT services because of live appointment TV? Humans are generally social animals so we want to experience events together, whether it’s cultural or sporting, or even something like the airing of a popular television drama such as Game of Thrones. And because of their social significance these events are unlikely to change.
But the way that we watch TV has. Audiences now want programming wherever they are and on any device. Yes, they’ll gravitate towards the biggest screen available, but the means of delivering TV content to that screen is now varied and relies almost entirely on internet delivery, whether it’s using smart TVs, STBs, streaming devices or apps on games consoles. Now, millions of people can be watching a live event away from the traditional broadcast. Cord-cutters to some, connected audiences to others – this is what we call Big Live OTT.
Onboarding and then streaming to huge numbers of viewers has always been a challenge. But one of the big differences to the first round of internet-delivered platforms is that Big Live OTT services are now supported by smarter origin and delivery systems. This means that the days of live streams being delivered two or three minutes behind the main broadcast are long gone. In fact, Amazon’s Jim De Lorenzo said at a conference last November that the Prime Video service was able to deliver streams of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football to fans faster than the traditional broadcast. And new technologies have emerged to help spread the load of millions of users starting to watch the same show at the same time.
It’s not just performance that makes internet-delivered services attractive to users. The reality is that they allow operators to create TV experiences that go far beyond broadcast.
What’s possible with live OTT TV?
This beyond-broadcast experience has been made possible with better, more accessible content delivery technology. Sports can be shown at 4K with higher frame rates, for example. When delivering TV programming to multiple platforms, service operators can easily insert personalized ads to specific groups or demographics of viewers. At the same time, platform analytics allow operators to use insights into audience behavior to change service operation, creating the best user-first live OTT experience for viewers.
Not only this but as the cost for distribution rights continues to rise, investments made into the production and delivery of programming need to be protected. This is much easier to achieve within an OTT delivery network because user-specific forensic watermarks can be added to live streams. These can then be used to identify pirates if a signal gets illegally distributed. None of this functionality is available with traditional broadcast-only delivery.
Live OTT’s biggest challenge
In order to deliver these experiences, the live distribution network that is used to distribute programming has to operate to the highest standard. Whatever the big live OTT event, social audiences have big expectations. Nothing is more important to a sports fan’s party than making sure they’re able to watch the game, as it happens. If audiences are waiting to find out the result to a show, distributors can’t afford delays or glitches.
Edgeware worked out last year that it only takes a live stream to be delayed by 13 seconds for a tweet to reveal an incident and potentially spoil the action. As an audience that uses social media during live events, those 13 seconds are enough to completely ruin the overall viewing experience. To avoid these delays, live delivery networks have to be rock-solid and operate as designed, no matter how many people are using a network at once.
The most crucial time for the network to do this is during the onboarding that happens at the start of an event. Typically, 50-60 percent of client requests come within the first two minutes of the start of a major event. For something like the Super Bowl or a World Series, that could be millions of people logging on to a single service at once. This is enough to put a big strain on any delivery network. By building a dedicated network for IP-delivered TV service distribution, content providers can overcome this challenge.
Using dedicated networks to onboard users
Renting capacity on a general-purpose content delivery network means that live OTT services will be delivered by a third-party, so delays and latency are completely outside the control of the rights holder and service provider. Dedicated networks however give users better control over their programming, allowing them to onboard huge numbers of viewers while delivering a service with the lowest latency.
The network should be able to predict user requests as they begin to ramp up – i.e at the start of an event. The network can then balance the expected load across the network’s servers so a single server doesn’t become overloaded when another has available capacity. This speeds up the overall delivery for anyone requesting the live programming.
TV-dedicated content delivery networks will also better manage requests for content between the delivery server and the content owners’ origin. Instead of registering every single network request for program segments, it will consolidate these and only ask for content to be sent once. This saves capacity on the origin server and the backhaul network, creating a more efficient delivery process.
Meeting the OTT challenge
Audiences rely on internet-led TV services more than they ever have and this reliance is only going to increase. The service providers and broadcasters delivering that TV understand more than ever that distributing big live OTT events is just as important as their other broadcasts. By retaining complete control of their programming, onboarding millions of users becomes easier and service providers can make sure live programming is delivered without delays, glitches or buffering.