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Exploring The New VOD Landscape

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Video on Demand (VoD) is increasingly gathering around the largest consumer platforms. Retailers such as Netflix, Hulu and iTunes have become household names and account for a huge slice of total internet traffic – Netflix alone accounts for 35% of peak internet traffic in the US, writes Matt Bowman, Commercial Director, RR Media.

Despite the appeal, content owners familiar with publishing content on smaller platforms may find that their content isn't suitable for the largest retailers for reasons ranging from editorial through to technical standards. Content owners face a range of challenges in preparing their content for the biggest names, where the delivery requirements are markedly different.

What's the difference?
Both the complexity of delivery and the maturity of the technical services on offer vary widely between smaller platforms and services such as Netflix. Smaller platforms often refine their processes during the course of delivery, so while they may have decided upon a player and a codec, the viewer experience may not be optimised to the required standard.

Concerns have ranged from unearthing issues with the acquired video content through to changing bit rates and encoding profiles to improve the overall customer experience. We have worked with several platforms to optimise the process and have proactively changed and created the whole on-boarding process. Whilst time consuming for the facilities involved, the benefits are technical partnerships as opposed to supplier relations, with the conclusion of working together to support the viewer experience – which is why we are all in the industry in the first place.

The larger platforms are more robust in their delivery specifications and these can be very complex in terms of associated assets. Indeed, some platforms now require multiple language assets both as text files, dubbed versions, closed captions or subtitles for the hard of hearing etc. These platforms mitigate the difficulties by offering preferred supplier programmes to ensure the facilities are aligned with the platforms expectations; Netflix and iTunes for example.

The Challenges Ahead...
Older content was never future proofed for the online experience, as the environment did not exist. This does not reduce the user's desire to view the content, but does offer technical challenges to achieve technical acceptance. Locating the senior teams that will allow legacy content on the service where it may be in conflict to specification is problematic, let alone working through content that is made up of archive material and has aspect ratio changes, dirt, scratching as source.

Further challenges include native frame rate masters being married to language assets made to a different standard i.e. PAL and NTSC. Handling of interlaced content is also an issue, as the US based platforms only accept progressive content, whereas all UK created title sequences are interlaced. The .xml sidecars are dramatically more complex for the mature platforms and require automated processes and checks to manage the delivery.

Developers can also face rejections in pushing content to the large VoD retailers. An example is the rejection of content for intentional artistic direction, when the facility explains the nature of the content, the response can often be: "Baton says no" rather than understanding and respecting the artistic integrity of the content, which often is what made the content desirable.

Finally, the biggest challenge in preparing content for platforms is metadata. This requires considerable effort from distributors and in turn facilities. There are wide ranging methods used to collate the metadata but that isn't the end of the function, as the facilities have to take the data and manipulate this information into an appropriate schema for the platform, which are never the same.

What does 2015 hold?
The big shifts in terms of VOD are across two main areas, the first being linear channel provision with the second focusing on relationships with production companies, distributors and live content rights.

The linear channel provision and associated catch up services are moving the relationships away from the distribution community and towards the broadcasters themselves. Rather than buying a series directly from the rights holder the VOD house instead acquires the transmission feed and encodes this on the fly to the adaptive bit rates for the consumers. This content is then streamed, sometimes with bespoke advertising to subscribers of the linear channels. The interaction in this environment can be interrogated and analysed to a far greater depth than the transmission feed, which offers a new lucrative advertising opportunity.

Production and live events are not necessarily linked but are changing. We have seen Netflix become a production company and commissioning body for content. The whispers coming from the US studios is that this evolution will provide a new set of challenges, requiring them to work far more closely with Netflix going forward.

Live events have always been a challenge in the IP domain however; encoder improvements, CDN management and clever code have allowed entry into this previously walled garden. Some traditional VOD suppliers are now delivering live sports streams for in-line betting. Latency is the key concern here as if users can bet during a match its essential they cannot know the result of a move for obvious reasons. Once coupled with Big Data analytics, the potential in this market is huge as a revenue generator. Events of particular interest to the user are being pushed with one-click betting, coupled with bespoke advertising to active viewers.


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