Edgeware’s Chief Product and Technology Officer, Johan Bolin, discusses how the Swedish-based TV CDN provider has evolved since it was founded in 2004, and predicts how on-demand viewing and connectivity will continue to reshape viewing habits in the coming years.
-Describe Edgeware and the company’s core focus.
Edgeware spent its first 15 years developing products to solve internet issues to enable the delivery of video content. We introduced our video-optimised content delivery network (CDN) portfolio that enables the delivery of modern TV and video services from the edge of the network and at huge scale.
Over the years, we have increasingly been working to modify the TV stream in order to make TV work on a variety of devices and screens glitch-free. This includes personalising the stream for the user through dynamic ad insertion, made possible by our increasingly popular segmentation, packaging and Ad Enabler products.
We’ve recently made our award-winning content processing technology available through the Edgeware Cloud Service, which allows users to benefit from Edgeware’s technology expertise and cloud hosting in one entity.
Our content processing technologies such as Virtual Channel Creation and Cavena-based OCR subtitling – giving customers everything they need to prepare TV content for OTT delivery – are also included in the cloud service.
Edgeware currently has more than 200 customers in 70 countries around the world and is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, with staff across Europe, Asia and the Americas.
-When was the company founded and how has its strategy changed since then?
When the company was founded in 2004, the main strategy was to help telecoms operators roll out a TV service with DSL and FTTH broadband and triple-play proposition. This service was PayTV via IPTV.
Edgeware initially focused on the large amount of data required for VOD time-shift capabilities. Our CDN and Live-to-VOD products began to address its challenges, including the huge volumes of unicast video traffic – especially when the linear base service evolved with IP-enabled capabilities. The solution was storing the most popular content far out at the edge of the network. But at this time, our focus remained on IPTV.
With more connected portable devices coming to market, and broadband speed increasing, our focus expanded over time to also cover HTTP delivery for TVE and OTT. It introduced another product area, one that addresses the preparation and adaptation of video required for OTT TV distribution. This includes segmentation of the video stream and packaging of the segment into HTTP protocols.
The emergence of OTT and growing number of broadcasters going direct-to-consumer opened up an opportunity to expand our portfolio with ad insertion capabilities. As the evolution towards HTTP and OTT delivery continues, more and more people were asking, and continue to ask, how TV can be transformed with internet and digitalisation.
Our latest contribution to this shift is our Virtual Channel Creation solution, which makes it possible to create theme-based and targeted linear channels by effectively addressing user segments by interests, demographic and location in order to improve the viewing experience as well as ad stickiness. Our key capabilities in the segmentation process has motivated our latest developments, such as enabling glitch-free personalised ads, theme-based channels and the delivery of live OTT content.
-Who do you see as your biggest competitors and how do you differentiate yourself?
We operate in a very competitive space, from international CDN and cloud platform providers such as Akamai, CenturyLink and AWS, to solution providers and generalists with wide portfolios and end-to-end propositions. There’s also a continuous flow of new software companies and open source alternatives coming on the scene.
In the IPTV domain, differentiation is based on performance, scalability and TCO (total cost of ownership). It’s embedded within our DNA; we use it to stand out. However, the HTTP and OTT domain is different. New values such as flexibility, speed of innovation and how easy the solution is to integrate and orchestrate are increasingly important. It’s key to differentiate your offering by having unique features and functionality.
With 15 years of experience delivering video over IP networks, we have a lot of competence and innovations facilitating the delivery, but also expertise in how the TV concept can be evolved.
-What do you see as the biggest opportunities in the video / technology space and what are the biggest challenges?
Discussions about how digitalisation will change how you work and result in lower operational costs are frequent yet perfectly valid. It is, however, not the most important discussion to have. The biggest opportunity with digitalisation is transforming the concept of TV.
IP and digitalisation allow you to create a direct, interactive relationship with the viewer. You can adapt and personalise the experience while capitalising your brand and content. You can utilise different screens and formats across different platforms by connecting an online TV with the web and social media. It can be described as unbundling technically in order to personalise, and then unbundling conceptually from the TV set in order to capitalise across platforms.
However, bandwidth is one persistent challenge. Broadband must be built out to manage the traffic, which can take time. The other challenge is managing all streams in multi-network and multi-CDN environments, while being able to measure and manage the quality. In a fiercely competitive industry, it’s important to innovate in terms of format and service, but when doing so, not fail in delivering the expected quality, which remains very high.
-What innovation or development do you think has had the biggest impact on the video market as it stands today?
Time-shift capabilities changed the way people consume TV, from being tied to a viewing timeframe to having the option to watch whenever suitable.
Multi-screen capabilities have also greatly influenced today’s video market. The singular screen TV set has been made redundant thanks to portable devices, such as smartphones and tablets, which take TV content anywhere at any time.
-How do you think the video market and viewing habits will look five years from now?
A combination of international giants with greater budgets will ramp up fiction and entertainment formats, complemented by local news providers, documentaries and drama with smaller budgets. We’ll see the borders between classical print and TV blur as newspapers increasingly use video, as well as social media networks publishing premium video.
Eventually, and given developments and its direction over the last few years, TV will grow to become a social media product. And with mobile phones enabling owners to capture content quickly and easily, we anticipate user-generated content will greatly motivate this. This will differ quite a bit depending on market and age group. However, it’s clear where we are going. In evolved markets with good broadband, age groups and segments (20-50 years old) will choose streaming TV over the internet by default, regardless of content genre.
As on-demand viewing increases, live events will be the main driver behind linear viewing. Alternatively, a personalised linear channel, like a personalised playlist, will be stitched together for the viewer. New TV formats will increasingly utilise the opportunity to personalise, but also interact – opening new modes of storytelling and ways to enjoy sports and e-sports.
Portable devices will gain ground as alternative screens both for short(er) form content, especially for small kids where the touchscreen element adds an interactive dimension to the viewing. Large TV screens will remain the preferred screen of choice for premium content thanks to its lean-back sofa experience, implying that portable screens are compliments rather than alternatives.