Amitabh Kumar , Director (Corporate) , Zee Essel Group
Broadcasters with linear channels as a prime offering have been adapting fast to also add on OTT offerings with the rapidly changing viewing environment. These OTT offerings include linear channels as well as catch up content. Competition with the industry majors such as Amazon Prime and Netflix has also led to the need to spice up content on OTT beyond merely linear offerings or movies to a bigger color gamut of original content in the form of dramas, soaps, and movies meant for small screen. Linear and OTT have so remained as separate domains in the broadcast facilities, where there are separate playout facilities as well as content flow chains. However, the situation is now fast changing and a fusion of the two, which was inevitable, is finally happening.
OTT - a flexible delivery medium. The OTT and Linear domains were separate because of the vast chasm in the nature of services. OTT services, produced in cloud-based facilities could be delivered as SD, HD, UHD, or HD-HDR and could target screens of all sizes down from mobile screens to the largest LED home theaters. They drew on the CDNs as the primary content replicators and distribution drivers. Linear on the other hand, with satellite or cable as delivery, has been much more restrained. Deliveries are only SD or HD and costs are disproportional as delivery moves to higher resolutions. Linear needs to follow a host of regulations on advertising, content, tariffs and delivery media.
The fusion. Having separate facilities is no longer proving to be viable for most broadcasters, especially as the OTT deliveries grow in stature and depth of content far beyond the linear offerings. The solution came in the form of cloud-based playouts which could cater to linear and OTT. Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, offers a fused media flow solution with linear or OTT deliveries from the same content files pipeline. There are multiple other solution providers as well. Today, there are many other platforms of varying sizes providing OTT platforms as a service (OTT Paas).
The technology. The technology of shift of linear or OTT playouts to the cloud is simply virtualization of automation playouts. All major vendors of traditional playouts have cloud-based versions of the application using a virtualization software such as VMware. The resulting cloud applications are fully integrated with IP networks and are scalable for delivery as well as type of content. These can accept live inputs as well and can support a wide range of graphics. It is easy to integrate cloud-based DVRs or video processing. The possibilities are endless, such as delivery of certain types of content to gaming networks or onto social media networks which are increasingly embracing video content.
The shift. The shift had started in 2015 with Disney and Turner moving to cloud-based services, embracing the new processes and skillsets The community grew with NFL, major leagues, Turner broadcasting and many others and the number keeps on growing. The services can be reengineered and innovated endlessly with no legacy to hold them back. Not the least of these is the ability to connect to mobile operators worldwide and provide an integrated linear and OTT offering with white labeling multiple types of social, community, enterprise as well as commercial networks with a single media flow chain.
The innovation engine. Moving to the cloud has also started the innovation engine which can now fire on all fronts. This includes video processing for languages, UIs, home gateways, media management, use of AI and machine learning and in general offering multiple services which have the same origin as a content file but entirely different offering as a customer product. These help broadcasters span the entire range of customers and service offerings, leaving behind their old shell of a linear only broadcaster and grow revenues. The fusion of linear and OTT has just begun and a hair-raising journey can be expected as innovators make the cloud their playground.