Broadly speaking, there are two main alternative ways for a multiscreen service provider to leverage the benefits of software-defined video and virtualisation. In the first operations model, they build their own virtualised distribution platform, as in a do-it-yourself (DIY) model. This can be characterised as a ‘next-generation’ operations model, since it is now beginning to replace the previous, first-generation one (that is, the headend-centric, hardware-based playout systems traditionally deployed by broadcasters and Pay TV operators).
In the second mode of deployment, the multiscreen video provider simply outsources OTT delivery to an online video platform – or OVP – offering its own, cloud-based, virtualised delivery platform, generally on a rental or software-as-a-service basis – described here as the ‘OVP model’.
There is an argument that virtualisation will turbo-charge best-of-breed flexibility – but only for those multiscreen providers who take the DIY operations path. Does this theory stand up?
Steve Christian, SVP Marketing at connected video revenue security specialist Verimatrix, thinks the operator-vendor dynamic will shift in multiscreen TV. He says one of the key advantages of the DIY set-up, in addition to the obvious level of control it implies, is that the shift from hardware- to software-defined video delivery has the potential to encourage a ‘best-of-breed’ approach to the vendors supplying the different elements of the OTT video delivery chain.
“You’ve got a lot more choices and building blocks than you used to have,” he explains, “plus the ability to mix-and-match best-of-breed within those software building blocks to offer pretty much the right scale of service that you want to deliver.”
Damien Lucas, CTO and Co-Founder of the French OTT video solutions provider Anevia, comments: “It’s clear that this best-of-breed approach is probably a competitive one: it’s probably a much more agile operations model, too, because it opens up a lot of possible features, and possible business and pricing models.”
One example Lucas cites is encoding, which he says is one of the first things that operators will seek to virtualise in this model. “Nowadays, encoding is full software, so they can invest in the hardware platform knowing that this is an investment that they will keep, and they can then change from one provider to another provider in terms of encoding software. Encoding is moving very fast and the one that used to be the best encoder on the market [yesterday] may not be the best today.”
Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy at video delivery infrastructure giant Harmonic, suggests that virtualisation puts other pressures on vendors, like Harmonic – for example, to disaggregate their product set: “I think that whilst we do offer the recognised products as software functionalities, increasingly people are drilling down to those in terms of individual applications. In many cases that involves us re-defining how we clump functionalities together or how we actually sell those into the market.”
Not everyone agrees that turbo-charged ‘best of breed’ will be an outcome from DIY virtualised operations. John Bishop, CTO, Media Business at leading CDN provider Akamai, believes “the whole notion of swapping vendors is one of those double-edged swords. When you get down to it, and you start looking at forklifting any kind of functionality out and something else in, it always creates some pain. The way you interface to them is slightly different; the way they respond is slightly different. Managing multi-vendor creates an awful lot of headaches.”
Erwan Nedellec, Senior Expert on TV Technical Solutions at French telco Orange, accepts that – in theory – virtualisation of headend processes should make it easier to choose and swap vendors, but argues that “in practice, I think it is not true. Changing your vendors every two months is very costly, you need to integrate their new solution in your system, even if it is a software-based solution. Interoperability issues are still the same either with virtualisation or not.”
He concludes: “The best-of-breed approach is an important trend in the TV ecosystem, specifically for the tier-one telco, because it is the best way to stay innovative and to keep some control on what you offer – but I think it is decoupled from the virtualisation debate.”
This question seems to split opinion down the middle. We spoke privately with a senior consultant and another tier-one Pay TV operator who do think that virtualisation will make it easier to choose and change vendors when using the next-generation DIY operations model. But a third major European Pay TV provider said off-the-record that there is no significant benefit, although it does make it relatively simple to test the claims of new (to them) software vendors (who would like to become suppliers) in a non-production test environment that is virtualised.
The debate about the impact of DIY virtualised operations models on best-of-breed flexibility matters, because if the generally larger operators using this model can dynamically change and re-configure the components in their multiscreen video delivery chain, in response to changing customer requirements and evolving technologies, that is a long-term competitive benefit.
If, in addition, you happen to believe that the OVP model is essentially a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, it follows that best-of-breed capabilities only accrue to adopters of the ‘next-generation’ DIY operations model. Their flexibility is amplified and the choice between DIY and the low-OpEx, outsourced OVP model becomes more dramatic.
However, some online video solution providers contest the assumption that the OVP approach is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that is unable to offer its users the flexibility to implement their own vendor choices.
“I’m not so sure a private cloud necessarily gives someone more control,” says Rahul Puri, General Manager at Sweden-based Magine Digital Media, which offers cloud-based TV services. “I think it gives the illusion of control, to be honest; I don’t believe it actually gives you any more control.”
Rahul claims that Magine’s own platform illustrates that point. “We have built a platform that is actually, from the ground up, based on flexibility and openness,” he explains. “At all parts of the value-chain we have a set of APIs and SDKs that can be integrated with third-party solution supports. But for content owners and operators that just want a fully end-to-end solution, we offer that as well.”
James Holding, Technology and Delivery Director at Simplestream, a leading provider of live OTT and VOD streaming solutions (including its own white-label OVP product, the Cloud TV Platform), also maintains that his platform has the capacity to plug in components from particular vendors when customers ask for it. In this situation Simplestream will listen to their particular requirements and, in effect, recommend its own ‘best-of-breed’ solution.
“Every client is slightly different, but we are able to pick and choose from our previous learning and rollouts what is right for them. This allows us to determine, in our view, what technology is best for the client.”
So does a virtualized DIY operations model provide a ‘best-of-breed’ advantage over an outsourced OVP initiative or not? You can read more thoughts on this subject, including assertions that the OVP market is becoming more flexible, in the new Videonet report: ‘Next-generation multiscreen operations – how big is the fork in the road?’
This report outlines the benefits of a do-it-yourself operations model and the advantages of outsourcing OTT delivery to an OVP that offers its own cloud-based, virtualised delivery infrastructure. It looks for evidence that these represent a significant point of divergence on the road to next-generation TV operations, affecting the future technology choices available to multiscreen providers. You can read what some major Pay TV operators and leading vendors and consultants told us, both off and on the record, on this subject.
You can find the (free) report here.