The linchpin point in Media – Software Defined Network Management of Content Distribution – Amazon buys Elemental

Amazon today announced their acquisition of Elemental for a half a billion dollars. Besides making the executive team quite wealthy (along side their investor group), Amazon signals a pure play in getting in to the networks of the worlds carriers, operators and broadcasters (as a side note, it had been rumored that COMCAST was mulling around buying them, but this is a much smarter move).

Amazon will now be able to roll out even more services via their massive cloud service and will now have a better position to advance their not only their PRIME programming, but also TWITCH out over all IP networks becoming even more of an on-line/IP force in home media entertainment and possibly the sixth network creating a new category of acronyms  - PON – the “Prime Online Network?”

While Elemental does have a good system for the media and entertainment industry players to advance content to all devices live or on-demand by ingesting and transcoding the content to be played out on PCs, smart phones, tablets, and TVs. What they really have and what is more than likely driving this acquisition is more than 700 media customers – as previously mentioned carriers, operators, and broadcasters, but also great over-the-top TV (OTT) offerings such as the BBC’s iPlayer, CNNGo, ESPN Score Center, HBO Go, MSNBC Shift, and Sky Go & Sky Now. As well as cuing up to be the support for the world’s first 4K Ultra HD services including those that were delivered by the BBC during the 2014 World Cup – the holy grail of the business – live sports.

These customers are the real value, providing a fabulous Trojan horse scenario for AMAZON into the world’s homes.

There will now be a lot of activity in this category due to this acquisition.

Heads up!

P.S. There’s a couple of others companies similar to Elemental that have just as great (if not better tech) with great customers, however, they’re not nearby to AMAZON in the Northwest region of the US (ie Sweden).  But that’s a whole other discussion.

What do we need to do for newTV

The first and foremost aspect of an improved business model in the IP space is the size of viewer/user base, their engagement level and their having content available that meets their interest…consequently consuming it.

The first and foremost aspect of an improved business model in the IP space is the size of viewer/user base, their engagement level and their having content available that meets their interest…consequently consuming it.

Whether it’s a new OTT or VOD service, finding, capturing and motivating user interest and consumption is critical for success. Many components drive this success: network efficiency, infrastructure upgrades, ingesting/transcoding, workflow logistics of the content, licensing/rights…of my, and then and perhaps most importantly knowing your audience through data is key

So, taking all of this in account, we need to take a look at really, where’s the money. So, where’s the money? The return (ROI)? All of this is certainly popular and no question driving the industry, and investors are willing to invest to be a part of the 2nd coming of the TV golden age. But….

The media and entertainment marketplace is and has been involved in a momentous shift in connecting to new audiences on multiple IP-connected devices providing efficient connections and transparent media associations through the use behavior no matter where in the world they may be or device.

New engagements are creating a new entertainment experience not only on the primary screen, but also on companion devices such as tablets and mobile phones, which are cued-up to benefit both from a fixed finer network as well as via LTE multi-cast with data intelligent networks in delivering OTT, VOD and selective video channels – ie. …
Direct to the consumer.

These new business models are rapidly accelerating and shifting (kicking and screaming – it won’t go away) old ones – ie. Television programming and it’s main driver – advertising….in a good way.

Whether you are offering entertainment, education, or political fodder, retaining and offering a great connection and value is a critical success factor.

So, we’re now shaving cords, shifting EPG’s expanding content bundles – personal selections, driving new delivery windows (to be expected), all creating tremendous new business models

Random thoughts…. VOD/OTT is changing fast into the new TV – understanding the technology is key.

Technology is driving shifts in the pay TV marketplace that are having a profound impact on consumer behavior and the dynamics of competition. For all carriers and MSOs albeit fixed or mobile, these changes require an entirely new approach to accessing and delivering content ie. VOD. These changes bring with it major new operational and infrastructure challenges.

In this new era, the ways in which content is acquired, normalized, processed and stored must be optimized to ensure subscribers have a TV-caliber viewing experience whether they are accessing their selections over the dated legacy MPEG transport system or via streams or downloads over what is known in the cable industry as the DOCSIS broadband infrastructure is key. In an environment where consumers expect time-shifted access to their favorite programs as soon as they air, carriers and MSOs must be equipped to transition live content for on-demand access much faster than ever before.

Moreover, new VOD systems and OTT offerings must be sufficiently scalable and flexible to accommodate ongoing library expansion (daily/weekly in most cases), transition to more IP-centric distribution modes, new monetization opportunities, new encoding technologies and new television formats such as Ultra High Definition (UHD) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) too.

What’s required is a system for today’s world, quite literally, for all platforms to provide all these capabilities on an out-sourced, hosted platform. Today most MSO’s/Carriers would like to plan on expanding their VOD portfolio by more than tenfold over the next two years while providing subscribers access to content from any device inside or outside the home, the MSO realized it would incur immense infrastructure costs and require new staffing with new levels of expertise if it were to take a purely in-house approach to implementing the next-generation VOD system.

Over the past several years the carriers and MSO’s have experienced firsthand the cost savings, robustness and responsiveness of managing their own services through utilization of new forms of aggregation, compression and distribution support for classic VOD.

Cable Industry challenge

In fast-growing category, with MSO’s wanting to outpace competitors in offering a premium TV service that satisfies consumer demand for a consistent, high quality experience viewing content whenever and wherever they choose there’s been limited choices. Adding to the challenge, the MSO wants to be able to bring those experiences to subscribers on newly acquired systems across an expanding footprint.

While most have built a strong classic VOD business offering several thousand movies and TV shows for access on set-top boxes, the growing trend toward time-shifted viewing of pay TV programs and the need to offer movies on a scale matching the options available from over-the-top (OTT) distributors meant the company would have to greatly expand the on-demand choices available to viewers. At the same, US centric MSO’s understood this expanded portfolio of content needed to be available to subscribers on all the devices now commonly used for viewing long-form content, including smartphones, tablets, PCs and game consoles as well as TV sets.

Classic VOD platforms are not equipped to support these requirements. Rather than relying on traditional VOD content suppliers to meet its volume scaling goals, current MSO’s need to be able to work directly with studios and TV networks to bring content on board quickly and cost effectively under a more aggressive licensing program.

Equally important, most of the MSO’s need to be able to distribute content in accord with whatever licensing terms were assigned to each file at the outset and on an ongoing basis, ensuring that it could take advantage of expanded viewing options such as “download-to-go” and direct out-of-home access to on-demand content as licensing terms evolve. Similarly, it needed to be able to take advantage of new dynamic advertising opportunities, which meant it had to have absolute assurance that ad markers were accurately conveyed in metadata associated with each file along with policies that dictate when ad slots become available for new insertions.

Going forward, all MSO’s need assurance their new VOD platforms can adjust quickly to provide them to shift and offer an OTT service directly to their viewers, as well as they would be able to accommodate a shift in distribution modes as it moves from satellite distribution with local catchers to direct high-speed terrestrial delivery over gigabit Ethernet to locally positioned private CDN (content delivery network) infrastructure.

And it needed to be equipped to readily support video processing and HEVC encoding for distribution of its content in UHD and HDR formats whenever market conditions call for a move in this direction.

Whew….as you can see there’s a lot more to “new TV” than what most think. Your local carrier, broadcaster and cable MSO really are on the cutting edge to keep you entertained when you need and want your programming.

More coming….

Comcast/TWC End – Beneficial All-Around

While, as surmised several weeks ago, the odds of this deal falling apart had climbed above 50-50, but the speed of its collapse over the past week and a half took everyone by surprise.

That’s because, until Justice and the FCC started leaking where they were heading on the deal, key participants were fighting, clinging to the notion they could successfully leverage political clout to get through the ordeal.

When the feds began dropping big hints that resistance was futile and in no one’s interest, Comcast got the message and moved to save face as best they could. Smart.

Ironically, I believe TWC comes out of this in a much stronger position than they had going in 18 months ago, this is not only because their stock value has appreciated significantly, but also because Comcast has been neutralized as an unstoppable force in dictating the evolution of the industry. A very big and key recognition.

According to sources, many key players had formulated a pretty clear roadmap for how the industry was going to proceed when this closed this week with dominoes falling in several directions on the assumption this deal was going to go through.

Now a new consensus will have to be reached following a new round of horse trading, this is especially good for TWC now occupying a significant seat at the strategic table.

I’d expect TWC to take advantage of the collapse of the Charter/Bright House deal to make its own bid for Bright House, which would then make its acquisition by Charter a much bigger deal or, in the event TWC can’t get the price it wants from Charter, leave TWC in a stronger position with Bright House in the fold vis a vis the other top tier operators.

Rutledge and Malone have a very different takes on how to evolve in IP migration, technically and strategically, than what Comcast does, so we’ll now see greater opportunity for vendors than before in their efforts to contribute support for that migration.

Overall, this is a very good development from PADEM’s clients perspective. The key thing now is to keep on top of the evolving scenario and make sure all of your clients too stay on the mind’s of industry strategists as they sort through tech options.

Waiting for the dust to settle on the deal-making front may slow things down a bit in the near term, but it will be a more open, competitive and profitable market.

TV entertainment measurement market changed forever today

On a consistent basis over the last few years Nielsen’s been scoffed at for not staying current, stumbling along trying to slow their erosion and continue their dominance in television/video viewing measurement…without much luck. Keeping a target firmly positioned on them.

Well, they just may have made a move to help stem this erosion and move the market forward as well.

Today Nielsen will begin measuring audiences of the major OTT providers like Netflix and Amazon, providing these services (and you know there’ll be others) actual insight into how their content is being viewed and streamed for the first time.

Curiously, Nielsen will conduct this research without the consent of these OTT companies starting in December by measuring the audio streams of content delivered over the Internet. Very clever.

The initial capturing is said to be “not that comprehensive” due to technological limitations especially data streamed over mobile networks.

But…..this is a great move from low-risk company who is trying to keep pace with a rapidly eroding belief in the market that their model can’t stay current.

Since Netflix will not share its viewing/streaming data and who carry’s into licensing meetings a huge stick, no huge club, this information if made openly available (I’m sure through subscription) will be quite valuable.

Now, the door has opened ever so slightly for other IP video measurement efforts being deployed – Ooyala, Adobe, Kantar (recent acquisition of Civolution’s audio tracking division), even Rentrak into being potential viable and accepted replacements.

It’s a good day, the market has just shifted.

More in the coming days…..

Litmus test in the EU – Reality sets in for TV

I had a headsup yesterday regarding a shift that was about to take place in France with one of their TV networks.

The French 24-hour news channel LCI is likely to close at the end of the year.

This follows a controversial decision by the CSA not to allow it, along with Paris Première and Planet +, to move from a subscription to FTA, ad-funded DTT service, according to BroadbandTV News.

What’s key is, especially in the years of my following France and the EU, and their unique decisions in the media technology marketplace, is that in many ways France is a litmus test in how media and especially new applications/media are consumed.

As a market here in the states, no for that matter globally, we’ve been evangelizing how the ad market will just grow as we bring new eyeballs to new devices. Of course intelligent targeting is key and the extension of programing to ancillary devices will only further new offerings.

But is it really true? Does this affect the programmers and their content creation and distribution – especially in driving eyeballs to that programming to create the viewership that the ad model needs to rely on.

“In a detailed statement, the CSA says it considered requests for the three channels, operated by TF1 (LCI), M6 (Paris Première) and Canal+ (Planet+) to modify their method of funding, in accordance with of a law passed in September 1986 and amended in November 2013.” The decision is based on the state of the advertising market, financial position of existing free DTT channels and the supply and consumer demand for TV.

These three areas are really interesting and key.

On the first point, the CSA concluded that no significant market recovery – TV ad revenues have dropped sharply – is expected in the short terms and the medium term outlook still remains uncertain.

On the second, the financial situation of several free channels remains fragile, especially those not backed by a large group/corporation. Moreover, HD channels authorized in 2012 are still in their growth phase, so a ways away from being able to contribute.

On the third, the arrival of one or more free channels is unlikely to result in a significant increase in the use of TV in a market for example Paris that is already served by 25 such services.

Looking specifically at each of the three channels, the CSA said that the transformation of LCI into an ad-funded service could destabilize the two existing news channels.

In the case of Paris Première, it would probably affect the economic and financial viability of the other free DTT channels.

Meanwhile, Planet+ as a second documentary channel would be somewhat premature, given that the first channel has not yet achieved “financial balance.”

I see this move as the first real example in the TV world of waking up.

As an industry we can not continue to bring loosing market offerings just to stay “hip” in the market, or for that matter free content to the viewer to stay in competition with YouTube’s viewership, or IP simple/cheap connected boxes as enablers to extract that content – which who may potentially become0 the next Aereo’s.

Our technology can now bring TV/video programming across most, if not all platforms exceedingly well.

This move in France, perhaps as in years past, is something that we should be keenly aware of.

For those of us that remember when Mintel, BBC’s first red button or Canal+’s interactive STB platform and how they made a difference, the French market’s a tremendous leader in helping the rest of the world wake up.

Let’s see if the industry is awake and recognizes a real example on how we need to deliver real solutions that drives real business.

Just a thought.

MWC – Mobile World Congress was HOT!

At this year’s Mobile World Congress’s Grand Show floor in Barcelona was very grand. In fact, NAB, IBC, CES will be hard pressed to hold a candle to how outstanding the booths were at this show.

All the trinkets, er a phones and mobile devices easily rival all the gadgets at CES and the advances in networking are every bit if not more so than at IBC or NAB. I can’t say whether Siggraph or even E3 in the most recent years can compete, especially with all of the European flare. But there is one thing that is for sure, and that is that this years MWC was filled with hopes, dreams and thousands of individuals chasing theirs. AND that Video is THE compelling offering on whatever platform or device is being used.

- Announcement that went under the radar that’s important:

RealNetwork’s SurePlay. A very interesting and compelling video storage and player that enables automatic transcoding and somewhat simultaneous playback directly from their network which is now being packaged as a cloud and being called the video equivalent of Dropbox. Very slick in the evolution of the video marketplace as it is becoming more and more apparent, video is now the first choice in one-to-one communication,. This new product offering consequently is hoping to provide users with a very clean way to manage and enjoy their videos. In fact, it is becoming more and more apparent that products that make this transition easy, efficient and easily accessible are going to be very valuable.

- Rolling thunder – Ford’s connected cars

Connected Cars are a live and well. Where ever you went the wave of the future had a car attached. Of course the cars were electric, or some hybrid of sort, but what was very apparent where we were going as a culture. Fully connected, entertainment resource management, driving safety, and for that matter fashion centric. Even your sunglasses connected into to the car to assist you. Yes, Tesla was there (to be expected) but to me the car of the future was from Ford.

- Wearables –

Of course just like at CES a whole section of health conscience devices were at the ready. The most impressive booth was Fitbit a san Francisco company. If you went to CES, you can’t fault them for being presenting pretty much the same look since it was just a couple of weeks ago. But, they were out in force and really showing off their new colors and devices.

- The really cool, but not popular product;

SONY’s Xperia Z2 tablet. Really thin and light (6.4mm – 626g – that ‘s lighter than the thinnest iPad) and designed for either WiFi or LTE. Has a really fast microprocessor and fantastic display. The buzz around the SONY booth only was rivaled by NOKIA’s which is always the spot to be seen (especially this year with their really nice low-cost Xphones). Combine this new offering with SONY’s What’s New app which is a fast widget searching all the SONY libraries, it’s very compelling. The talk though was around whether SONY had the marketing moxie to pull it off. Sad.

- The better late than never, or surprise we’re here too offering;

The MobiTV and Jabil HDMI dongle to drive wireless content delivery into the home. Of course there’s a number of these devices out already in the market probably most notably Chromecast and for that matter the DUNE Digital TV stick, MobiTV’s drive to stay active perhaps is the real story. Jabil is a very strong partner in its ability to manufacture and distribute great products, so it will take real sales and BD capabilities to advance. When questioned as to what content, programming, licensing deals anything was brought up the conversation turned to how great the dongle was. This unfortunately makes one wonder what the real offering is. What’s probably the other great point to this is that TV Everywhere is VERY real and the race is on to provide ‘good’ solutions at this time to get a foot print via a low-cost, initial entry into the home.

- TOP Announcement: Really smart offering:

Ericsson’s CDN Plug-in Ecosystem.

What’s always been the best way to advance a category is to be the enabler. Help all ships rise is a time proven path to success. Whether you’re a content provider, a mobile platform, a table, a wall display, a dongle, STB or whatever, the content of choice has to effectively get to you. Let the wars rage in the licensing of the content and the programming metaphors and devices, the war will be settled by having the networks transparently and with stability deliver what you want, when you want it. Ericsson’s identified this and has at the heart of this being a partner with operators in providing a global “plug-in” that will drive a full–on network, multi-device delivery ecosystem.

The Ericsson Media Network Delivery System is designed to facilitate effective, migratable and evolutionary networks infrastructures. This ability will allow an operator to swap in or out components of their networks to stay up to date with the needs of their markets. At the pace of viewer/user needs it is VERY difficult to continually stay current. By having a scaling design that any operator can make fast adjustments is a real benefit and service.

This was the biggest announcement at the show.

Is LTE Broadcast finally the offering we’ve been looking for?

If LTE broadcasting proves right, we may be about ready to see a big shift in mobile video viewing efficiencies, creating what we might want to call the new “mob((ile)” based video excitement?

LTE broadcasting broadcasts a single stream, yes a single stream, allowing an unlimited number of enabled users in IP broadcast areas to receive live and broad-based content, on-demand. It can ensure a high-quality viewer experience while making the most efficient use of spectrum. This is especially true in environments such as stadiums, public venues and for that matter in communities where subscriber densities can reach extremely high levels. As we move forward broadcasting content over IP/wireless could prove to be the best way to deliver a consistent and reliable user experience.

As an example, a recent trial by Telstra in Australia proved that Ericsson’s LTE Broadcast solution worked incredibly well in a contained environment of a stadium. Telstra was able to instead of using around 2GB of data per user to stream “one” content channel of a cricket game, they were able to serve ALL of LTE Broadcast users, with 3 concurrent streams requiring a total of around 6GB for the entire broadcast. All of the users all at the same time all receiving the same content. Virtually enabling mass delivery of live programming. This success clearly shows how efficient this new spectrum is and has great potential to move us forward in delivering new programming models and services in dedicated environments.

What’s fairly amazing is that without LTE Broadcast, each of the users at the cricket match would have needed to receive an individual data stream for the content and the quality would obviously been eroded due to being be dependent on the number of users in the cell area.

So, as the demand for IP delivery of video increase, new OTT services and potentially “mob” based viewing (the old TV model) of new programming is demanded, it will be key that there is better network efficiency.

Congratulations to the team from Telstra and Ericsson! We may be seeing a major shift in how we efficiently deliver on the demand of new broadcast models directly to each person in the audience.

Aereo TV – Why it’s important

First off, Aereo TV is truly an innovative service.

They have figured out how to bring local television to an internet crowd that really doesn’t want to be connected up to a cable or satellite line. Not to say that this is entirely a good thing, it’s just another option and isn’t that what we all now live for….vast amounts of choices and opinions?

For those of you who do not know what Aereo is, it’s a service that rents to you a small antennae (about the size of a dime) and DVR capabilities specifically to that user for $8 USD a month. It allows you to access local streaming content that you would normally have to pay much more for if they had to go the satellite, cable, or telecom provider. In fact, broadcasters have sued Aereo for copyright violations to stop them (which was over ruled), and now the Supreme Court has been called upon to decide whether or not those allegations are true.

If the Supreme Court rules in Aereo’s favor, the decision will change the face of the television landscape forever (and of course there’ll be all kinds of new little boxes promising all kinds of new services).

Then ALL media companies that have anything to do with television rebroadcasting will be impacted…in fact, they’ll probably threaten to “pick up their ball(s) and go home.” Harrumph, probably shouting as they leave the courtroom…”if I can’t control the viewers then I do not want to play.”

So, what does this mean to the industry? There are two major, MAJOR impacts for the TV industry if Aereo is ruled to be a legal service 1) Aereo TV would be a benefit to the existing cable, satellite, and telecom providers, they would now have the opportunity to do the same thing. In fact, some program distributors have reportedly already been in talks with Aereo to develop partnerships. And 2) probably the biggest impact – the content programmers would have their business model destroyed . Cable and satellite folks would now be able to offer services at prices far below the existing price points because of lower retransmission costs. It could also result in expanding their customer bases because of lower prices which wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

The challenge then would be the response of content providers such as CBS or FOX. Fox and others have already said that if Aereo wins the battle they’ll only offer their content on their own cable channels. Back to if you can’t beat them…join them.

Now that’s somewhat important as it would mean that there would be no content for Aereo to pick up and stream to others. Well, that’s defeating isn’t it.

Cable channels can’t be accessed by an antennae in the way broadcast channels can. The problem with that option is that fewer people watch cable, and all of the major networks would take a financial hit. Fewer new programs, probably lower quality programming….so I suppose we’d need to get ready for Reality programming at all hours.

For satellite content distributors like DirecTV, it would have a similar impact to that of cable companies like Comcast. In the case of DirecTV, it could either make a deal with Aereo or it could copy the Aereo by offering perhaps new a la carte offerings at inexpensive prices. The reason that the packages could be low cost from all offerings would be because it would no longer have to pay high-priced retransmission fees to content providers.

Now to the heart of the matter: re-transmission fees
 If Aereo wins it’s a big hit on re-transmission fees. RT fees are what content distributors like Comcast must pay in order to offer TV shows to consumers. Retransmission fees provide content providers the means to create, if they were to be lowered in value then the entire TV content industry’s revenue would shrink. Reality programming becomes our programming.

Advertising will remain under pressure too because you can fast forward with Aereo through all of the advertising. DVR on steroids.

Consumers don’t hold the content providers and distributors in high esteem at this time, and if an alternative means to accessing content is provided at a much better price then it’s inevitable that people will run to those services. If that happens, it’s the content providers that will take the biggest hit.

Another perspective in all of this is that there’s somewhat of “I told you so” by the Net Neutrality folks, and that means the ones that could really help everyone create new business models are the broadband network providers. IPTV platforms, cable platforms would probably be a good position and possibly need to consider new service tiers – internet only (email, information/search) or high speed – television quality speeds.

So, we’re about to directly experience a shift in the market that will take us openly into the next chapter or in some ways stall us for a little while longer while all of us get ready for the next level.

The Future of TV Advertising

This past month while in London I had the opportunity to attend a very compelling summit based entirely on the what if’s of the advertising industry, and the ‘real’ of reality in new business models.

FutureTV Advertising discussed numerous issues and opportunities, but where it all netted out was even with all the tremendous technology available – CIVOLUTION, Gracenote, CISCO, that there still need to be the capability to generate second by second management and monitoring of both the viewing, but also, the programming that the viewer wants, when they want it.

Sounds simple right? Well it’s not, The computing power required to capture, store and analyze the VAST amounts of data is no small task. Consequently the companies that have the capability to do this, i.e. CISCO are in a very good position.

Yet the data capture groups are too.

More to come….