Home Analysis Revolutionary streaming distribution technology is pitched as a CDN replacement

Revolutionary streaming distribution technology is pitched as a CDN replacement

The Eluvio Content Fabric decomposes video into its basic elements and then rebuilds it. Photo, iStock/Vertigo3d
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Eluvio has unveiled what it claims is a game-changer for streaming video: an entirely new way of distributing content over the Internet that effectively decomposes video streams or files during ingest and then reconstitutes them at an edge node when client devices request live/linear channels or on-demand programming. Between these two points, the content is distributed and stored in its most basic form, broken down into base elements like binary data (media), metadata and the code needed for composing the streams or files at the edge.

For every consumer that requests a video stream, the base elements needed to create it are drawn from the nodes that contain them. The stream is assembled from scratch, just-in-time, to provide chunked and packetized standard ABR video in the format and bit rate needed, with the appropriate DRM.

No changes are made to content (whether live or file-based) before it is ingested into what is called the ‘Eluvio Content Fabric’. And no changes are needed on client devices, since the outputs from the edge nodes are normal streaming video (e.g. DASH and HLS).

Berkeley, California based Eluvio contrasts this to the way CDNs work, where complete video files and streams are held in origin servers and moved across the Internet and stored/cached at the edge. The company claims that its new architecture eliminates the file duplication that is typical of the CDN model and so saves on storage and bandwidth, resulting in lower costs.

The Eluvio Content Fabric can be used to publish any content type and can be harnessed by the production community as well as those distributing to consumers. Some publishers are interested in servicing full length masters, for example. This solution is for much more than adaptive bit rate streaming to multiscreen devices.

But for media owners that need to serve content directly to consumers, this is, on paper, a potential successor to CDNs. Eluvio provides an end-to-end ‘as-a-service’ solution for content owners and aggregators. Thus, Eluvio is responsible for the media processing needed to decompose video streams into their base elements, and the processing needed to assemble streams for client devices – the latter being a more familiar process that includes transcoding, packaging and the addition of DRM.

Eluvio is responsible for moving the base media elements across the Internet, using its global software overlay network. The storage and compute capacity that is needed, spread across multiple nodes in a decentralised architecture, is all provided by the company, although it is possible for third-party resources to be integrated into the fabric.

Thus, an Eluvio customer could add a node, or even a third-party like a telco could add nodes and get compensated for this, with the work performed by that node measured and remunerated. This is not something that happens today, but it is possible going forwards, Michelle Munson, CEO and Co-Founder of Eluvio, revealed recently.

Eluvio literature confirms that “distributors can offset distribution costs by contributing bandwidth or compute resources.” The company already has enough infrastructure to pitch to the biggest media companies, with nodes on multiple continents.

The Eluvio Content Fabric, which is built on standard IP, is infinitely scalable, the company claims. It includes a data layer and an application layer, with the possibility for third-party vendors to provide media applications via APIs. Media applications could include transcoding, watermarking or ad insertion, as examples.

Munson says her company is radically streamlining the traditional media distribution workflow. “There is a profound simplification, and that leads to the efficiencies,” she says.

Core technology building blocks include:

  • Content routing that is led by machine learning, resulting in the use of the highest bandwidth and lowest latency paths
  • Programmable, just-in-time media delivery
  • Trustless content protection
  • Scalable smart contracts for multi-party transactions.

Any kind of live or file-based video can be ingested into the Eluvio Content Fabric. If the content is destined to be an ABR output from the edge (e.g. serving consumer multiscreen devices or connected TV devices) the fabric creates a high bit rate version of the source media during ingest – a mezzanine format. Sometimes the mezzanine could be the same bit rate as the original source content; sometimes it will be less, in which case it is transcoded downwards.

The publisher controls a configurable profile that will determine the mezzanine bit rate used plus other characteristics like the bit rate ladder served (from the edge), the aspect ratio, DRM, etc.

The mezzanine is then decomposed into what are, in effect, a collection of base elements. These fundamental ‘elements’ (the binary media data, metadata and code as noted above, plus blockchain ledger smart contracts) are all protected using zero trust encryption.

The key point about the base elements is that they are flexible and reusable, in the sense that the same elements can be used to create multiple different stream or file outputs at the edge. This is how the bandwidth and storage savings are achieved. “A fundamental point about how the fabric works is that you never see the duplication of data that is inherent in file representations,” Munson declares.

The fabric removes the need to create additional copies of files. Eluvio confirms in its literature: “Live, linear, on-demand or hybrid channel combinations are served from the same source without pre-generating or distributing any files or versions across the network or storage facilities.”

When a client device requests content, consumable media is composed just-in-time from the fundamental elements, using a programmable software engine and the media applications inside the fabric. This means there is no need to archive multiple versions of the same programme in order to offer different language options, for example, where each of those language versions is ready for all popular platforms with the right DRM and available in multiple bit rate options.

“The fabric is radically different to a CDN because what we are sending over the network is not the final output but only the source parts, and we only send them once,” Munson explains.

Content is distributed through the Eluvio fabric in real-time with what is claimed to be broadcast-standard ultra-low latency. What little delay there is comes from standard Internet requirements; Munson says the process of decomposing and recomposing streams adds nothing to latency.

Within the Eluvio architecture, every node is an edge node capable of serving video directly to a client device. This is where the base elements are gathered and built into the typical video stream that plays out from edges. Transcoding, packaging and encryption is therefore performed on the (edge) node for the unique new streams/files that are being created.

When a consumer hits ‘play’ on their device, the client routes the request to a URL which then directs the client to the node that is best equipped to serve the video. The ‘best node’ is chosen purely on the basis of performance, not whether it has any of the base elements stored there already. Thus, the client request goes to the node offering the best bandwidth and lowest latency.

The first/best node then performs a content look-up. If it has all the base elements needed, it can start assembling the video stream. If not, it fetches the elements it needs, most likely from one other node (as the fabric uses a decentralised caching architecture), although they could be gathered up from multiple nodes. In theory, any element could be found on any node in the network. The system finds and retrieves the elements it needs instantly. All of this is a just-in-time operation.

Once all the base elements are available, the media applications can be performed, like transcoding, packaging and DRM wrapping. The video and manifest file is then played out.

The core principle behind the efficiencies of the Eluvio approach is that much of what you find in different versions of streamed video, aimed at different platforms, for example, is common.

Metadata is stored with the base elements – which Eluvio also refers to as content objects. This metadata includes time-coded tags and it is fully reusable by any tool or process that interacts with the Eluvio Content Fabric. Eluvio explains: “Metadata and runnable code stored with the video/asset are read and bound to the output content on demand, at the time of the request.

“This creates the ultimate flexibility for programming and availability windows, which can be updated without remaking or redistributing any new versions.”

Eluvio has made it clear that its managed service solution is not just about increasing the efficiency of distribution. The company believes this new approach enables more personalisation of media and will also help to monetise it, and this is where the use of blockchain comes to the fore. For example, every media asset (even when in base element form) has a built-in blockchain contract that controls access to the content, subject to user rights.

This forms the basis for content transactions. A blockchain ledger records the life of the content, from version history to usage rights, authorisations and even audience reporting. This ledger is provable and tamper-free, Eluvio says.

Eluvio has revealed that it is collaborating with various content providers to refine the features of the platform, including proof-of-concepts involving live content. An IBC demonstration showed a live feed from a tier-one broadcaster via the Eluvio Content Fabric.

MGM Studios is one of the users. The content owner is using the Eluvio Content Fabric for streaming to multiscreen devices, including via TV Everywhere services, where Eluvio has replaced typical CDN services. MGM is making use of transcoding, multi-format encryption and DRM plus access control and audience reporting. Jim Crosby, SVP Digital at MGM Studios, said in September: “The deployment of the Eluvio Content Fabric started as an experiment to test this promising new technology, and it has exceeded expectations.

“It has delivered ultra-fast video loading, high quality playback, and a cost-efficient solution eliminating separate aggregation, transcoding and CDN services. With its blockchain, it gives us the ability to transact business directly on the content. We look forward to more to come with Eluvio.”

The Eluvio Content Fabric has taken two years to develop. Michelle Munson says the bandwidth and storage savings, with associated cost reductions, are not the main benefit. The biggest win for customers is the simplification of operations. She compares her company’s technology to a smartphone that has taken on multiple functions that were once performed by different devices, including feature phones, cameras and music players.

Eluvio views its approach to content distribution as transformational. Now we must wait to see if this is, indeed, the CDN replacement the company believes it is.

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