Guest Comment: Why OTT providers should consider next-generation compression technologies

Rémi Beaudouin, VP Marketing, ATEME

Everyone acknowledges the paradigm shift currently happening in user’s viewing habits, writes Rémi Beaudouin, VP Marketing, ATEME. The concept of ‘anytime, anywhere, any device (ATAWAD)’ now fully applies to this industry, as a recent piece of research from Qualtrics has pointed out. On-demand OTT content has overtaken live TV, with Netflix becoming the most popular viewing method of choice.

With the increase of linear and on-demand OTT services from new and traditional companies, competition is fierce. To stand out, the main advantage by far for such operators is obviously their catalogue, but they also can’t neglect quality of service, which has become a must. Catalogue-wise, you can either choose to buy or produce your own content (or both, according to Netflix’s strategy). Should you have the best content, you still need a decent quality of service, sometimes even more than decent with regards to the increasing expectations of consumers (4K/HDR/HFR content, for example). It has never been more important for businesses to prioritise their quality of service if they want to reach a customer base of millions.

The equation is not easy: delivering higher resolution content to an increasing number of users within the same bandwidth capacity. So why not invest in network capacity then? Well, with users paying a $10 monthly subscription fee on average for a single platform, OTT operators have limited network investment capacity – this often costs millions of dollars – which can make it difficult to remain or become sustainable.

This is where video compression enters the game. For a given piece of content, operators drastically reduce the bandwidth they need to deliver the video to the users. Within the same bandwidth, you can either increase video quality or serve more viewers simultaneously (and sometimes operators do both). This is a win-win for businesses, as it means they can continue growing their OTT offering while achieving a sustainable business model — smaller costs and faster growth equals fast profit.

Some of the latest codecs such as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) and AV1 (AOMedia Video 1) can provide up to 50% bandwidth gain when compared to H.264 for a given video quality. While HEVC is a well-known compression standard that has been on the marketplace for several years now, AV1 is a work-in-progress that has been developed by the Alliance for Open Media as an open, royalty-free codec applicable for broadcast and OTT workflows and is scheduled to be released in early 2018.

The latest research in this field is focusing on the potential of cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to shrink the size of the content even more in order to further improve the efficiency of bandwidth capacity. This amazing feature optimizes video encoding profiles by analyzing video stream complexity in real time and recommending the encoding parameters to apply to get a constant quality rate across content. It’s a major switch from a ‘Constant Bit Rate’ approach to a ‘Constant Quality Rate’ one. Compression gains are huge – between 30 and 60% – it’s codec and resolution agnostic, and it’s done without any CPU penalty, meaning you don’t have to modify your IT architecture to integrate this feature. Based on machine learning, the more you encode content, the more your database grows, and therefore the more you can optimize the next encoding.

As OTT and on-demand platforms continue to take hold of viewers across the world, the video compression technology used in the background is integral to their success. This is why, with no sign of the OTT craze slowing down, businesses must consider it a top priority when designing, implementing and going live with their own bespoke platforms.

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