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Multi-screen TV will be one of the dominant themes for Mobile World Congress next week despite the fact that the mobile environment only makes up one-third of the holy TV trinity. Multi-screen plays into the hands of Pay TV operators who already have established content offers. Increasingly, they can take advantage of the trend towards ‘over-the-top’ video delivery to smartphones and tablets, and the desire for subscription content owners to protect their existing pay business, by establishing ‘TV Everywhere’ offers that tie multi-screen viewing to the main TV subscription. They could also offer new stand-alone subscriptions or PPV offers to completely new customers.
For Pay TV operators, the big opportunity is to extend their reach, reduce churn and generate new revenues. The challenge is how to deliver the services at reasonable cost and that points towards the need to rationalise service delivery so that operational teams and video headend functions are not replicated for each distribution platform. One company that believes it is well placed to help operators meet the multi-screen challenge is RGB Networks, whose VMG (Video Multiprocessing Gateway) provides the basis for a converged headend that can cover IP video distribution to mobiles, the PC and IP set-top boxes.
Jef Graham, Chairman and CEO of RGB Networks, says the VMG is unique in its ability to cater for all multi-screen video requirements in the same chassis. This was made possible by the company’s acquisition of RipCode last summer and the integration of its mobile video capabilities into the VMG. The result is a telco-grade chassis with hot-swappable modules and 5×9 reliability that can also take care of the transcoding and packaging requirements for the multitude of different mobile devices operators will need to target.
Graham points out that as service providers look to provide more of their channels or on-demand content beyond the set-top box, a key challenge for the multi-screen environment will be scalability. “It won’t just be a case of taking in one video feed and sending out an SD and HD version, but sending out lots of different formats and resolutions. Scale will become much more important.”
RGB Networks believes the natural evolution is to manage a large part of the video processing for all screens in one location. Eliminating different video ‘silos’ for the separate delivery networks leads to operational simplicity. There are core video processing efficiencies that can be leveraged. For example, the VMG can transcode a channel using just 4 Watts of power. But putting more of your eggs in the same basket means operators will expect carrier-class reliability, too.
The VMG can take account of the transcoding and packaging (chunking video and wrapping it according to the end device) requirements for multi-screen delivery. However, RGB Networks can also separate the transcoding from the packaging functions to take account of multiple network architectures.
For example, transcoding can be performed at the centre of the network with packaging performed at the edge, harnessing the efficiencies of centralized hardware transcoding but delaying the segmentation of each channel stream into multiple bit rate options (which are then split into chunks to meet the needs of adaptive bit rate streaming) until as late as possible. This approach saves core bandwidth.
In some cases, national channels could be transcoded at the centre and local channels introduced and transcoded at the edge, where the packaging also occurs. For some applications that need a lower cost solution, software rather than hardware transcoding can be performed at the edge alongside the packaging. These various configurations are taken into account with the company’s VMG and TransAct Packager.
Graham says that in most cases, service providers today are prioritising a particular second screen, with the US market putting the emphasis on PC-TV and European markets tending to put mobile delivery first. In all cases, operators are looking for a video delivery solution that can cater for their third screen in future. Video delivery to the set-top box is still treated as a separate entity but RGB Networks is confident there will be a migration of ‘classic’ video into a fully converged headend infrastructure.
Graham believes the first step in that migration could be the conversion of long-tail channels into IP, for delivery to IP set-top boxes. “Where there are lots of channels and 80% of the audience is watching 20% of the channels, you have a long-tail that is valuable for advertising revenue but which uses huge amounts of bandwidth for the viewers they attract,” he says. “One of the trends we are seeing is to take this long-tail and put it into IP video. This hybrid approach solves the bandwidth problem.”
RGB is using Mobile World Congress to demonstrate the ability of its VMG/TransAct Packager solution to deliver video to multiple mobile devices including an iPad, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy Tab, as well as a laptop PC and a large-screen HDTV. This demonstration illustrates the ease with which video services providers can deliver premium content, in MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/H.264 formats, simultaneously to any device. The demonstration will also showcase the VMG’s ad insertion capabilities, showing how providers can extend their existing advertising strategies to incorporate any type of video-enabled device.