By Fredrik Andersson, SVP Strategy and Solutions, Accedo
Recognised as one of the biggest accolades from the industry, we were this year delighted to be given the even greater honour of being chosen as the industry ‘innovations’ expert, selecting the companies ‘Which Caught My Eye’.
If you read my pre-IBC blog, then you will know I chose to focus mainly on pay TV innovation. That is because there is just so much evolving in this sector. As the pay TV industry races to keep up with changing consumer behaviour, we are seeing some interesting developments aimed at enabling that.
One of the biggest challenges for pay TV has been the technical fragmentation in the legacy STB environments. Today, consumers are watching a combination of Over-the-Top (OTT) and broadcast content and they are expecting access to their favorite apps. However, only a fraction of the STBs on the market as capable of giving consumers a taste of OTT and even when they do, the customer experience are in most cases far from great.
That is why Google was my first stop at IBC. Android TV seamlessly blends OTT and broadcast content onto one horizontal platform that can be easily and simply added to any set-top-box. The combination of an attractive platform and the proliferation of broadband to the home means that this will take off in a big way over the coming months.
For me, Roku is offering pay-TV providers a low cost horizontal platform with access to OTT experiences. It enables live streaming together with targeted, interactive, and measurable advertising, something that will be crucial to enable monetization.
Google is successful now, because it is more flexible towards operators allowing them to customise the platform. Whereas Roku is successful at building a low-cost environment. Both of these platforms will be instrumental in disrupting the pay TV industry and as we discussed during my recap session at IBC, in a few year’s time, this is where people will say that PayTV disruption started.
Even with those platforms in place, there remain some challenges with streaming. One of the most talked about is that of latency. According to BBC Research and Development, many services have up to 30 seconds delays streaming. This often goes unnoticed, but for live events, especially sports matches, this becomes a massive problem for the user experience. Let’s face it, no-one wants to hear the groans or cheers from neighbours before seeing the goal themselves. Ultimately, as OTT is growing, so are our expectations as consumers. We simply expect it to work as good, and as fast, as any other TV broadcast.
BBC Research and Development was demonstrating its solution for reducing latency. It does this using MPEG Dash chunks so that the content is delivered in bite-sized pieces, which in turn reduces the build-up of latency. This type of technology will become critical so it was really nice to see a company doing this well, with the Dash stream even arriving ahead of the satellite signal.
Another big challenge for video content owners is that most video encoding, hosting, and streaming platforms are inflexible and unwieldy. With more and more providers trying to go OTT, each of their needs are extremely unique and a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work. That is why Mux had to be on the list in my mind. It is a very flexible platform which allows providers to create their own workflows using APIs.
The Amazon Web Services (AWS) sports platform is the perfect example of the power of combining AWS with AWS Elemental. The AI capabilities within AWS are able to capture and recognise events within a sports events. Using the Elemental stack, footage can then be created automatically for highlight reels etc. Rather than having a whole team of people managing and editing a football game, this can all be done using software. This is pretty exciting for live sports coverage.
On a totally different but equally innovative note, I was really impressed by the demo on the Duelbox stand. It is enabling second screen gaming in a way not seen before. Although second screening is not new, what Duelbox as done is made it doable for even the small players, because it is all run as software-as-a-service. A customer can just logon to the website and create a game show, without having to download or install anything. By moving a lot of the complexity to the cloud, the company has drastically reduced the cost and shown that innovation is not always about being first, but right.
You can’t talk about innovation without mentioning VR and one company with something really innovative to show at IBC was Facebook and its Oculus headset.
It is the first standalone headset where you don’t need to insert your phone or plug it into a PC and it is cheap – less than $200 so I might even put it on my Christmas list. However, it is not just the headset itself that is unique, but also the whole approach to Oculus TV. Facebook has realised that people spend 70% of the time watching media content on the platform. Facebook has responded to that by making it possible for media companies to re-use their Android TV apps to get onto Oculus TV. This, combined with the cost of the headset means that Facebook is democratizing the VR experience for both the consumers and the media companies. I think we will start to see some really good VR experiences being launched thanks to this.
Last but not least, I visited a company revolutionising the creation of 3D characters. Volucap has developed a way to easily and cost-efficiently capture 3D footage of actors and objects. Having a realistic human character inside a 3D environment is a real game-changer, but until now has been far too expensive to create. I, for one, was really impressed when I donned the headset and interacted with the characters on the show floor.
One thing was clear, IBC did not fall short on innovation. Although some of the things being demonstrated this year were sexy, most of it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t game changers. In five years many of the companies we know today won’t exist or at least not in the form we know them today.
If you missed my session at IBC, you can now watch the video here.