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Making the Case for Government-Mandated Online Video Standards
Will there ever be one ring to rule them all? it's time for the online video industry to take a page from TV and create interoperable standards.

If you have your finger on the pulse of the online video industry, then you probably already know that it’s no trivial task to start streaming content. Getting your service up and running can involve cobbling together a lot of different pieces from a very big ecosystem, from encoding to monetization to measurement. And, for the most part, scaling those kinds of solutions can be difficult. An increasing number of users can significantly strain architectures composed of components that don’t natively communicate with each other. Many of the individual services needed to stream video implement their technologies using proprietary methods, putting the onus on the service provider to link them all together.

There are two ways to solve this problem. The first is to try an all-in-one solution such as Kaltura, NeuLion, Verizon Digital Media Services, MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media), or now even IBM. The benefits are pretty obvious: You not only receive integrated services, but you have a single vendor; you reach the market faster; and you can probably deliver a single, consistent experience across devices. Still, there are drawbacks. First, you are locked into a specific way of implementing your video streaming service that may or may not include best-in-breed technologies. And second, it’s nearly impossible to swap out one technology for another because they are all integrated and supported by the vendor.

The other solution is for the service provider to source the technologies individually and connect them together. But in that case, as I mentioned earlier, the tools don’t inherently interoperate. That makes integration harder. More importantly, it makes providing a consistent experience for audiences difficult at best.

But what’s the underlying issue? Why aren’t all services—such as measurement, delivery, encoding, and discovery—implemented in the same way? The answer is simple: a lack of standards.

Right now, the video streaming industry is a veritable Wild West. The broadcast industry is governed by a number of standards, making the experience of watching TV the same regardless if you are sitting on your couch or at the local bar. However, there are no standards for video streaming services, so the delivery experience for consumers is all over the map.

But there just might be a ray of hope—the Streaming Video Alliance (SVA). This organization formed to help the industry implement a video streaming service that scales architecturally and economically and to decide how the individual technologies should operate. If everyone in the industry conformed to the guidelines or standards put out by an organization like the SVA, building and running an online video streaming service would be simple—the tools would all work the same way and, hopefully, interoperate much easier, ultimately providing a consistent experience regardless of service provider.

The SVA’s first step was listening to its 40-plus member companies from across the video streaming ecosystem discuss the need for standards. But the SVA is doing more than talking now. The SVA’s working groups are producing best practices and guidelines that help shape how a video streaming service should operate.

Here’s the million-dollar question: Is that enough? In order to ensure the consistent experience that video streaming needs to deliver to audiences, perhaps standards must be developed and even mandated by government agencies. As the world of television transitions from linear broadcast to streaming, it only makes sense for legislative bodies to get involved. And the best way for that to happen is for the legislative bodies to support standards the industry itself defines.

The time to forge that One Ring is now. The SVA is taking a leadership role in defining how video streaming will become a natural replacement for traditional television broadcast. Without organizations like the SVA, I fear video streaming may remain just a curious oddity, relegated to the sidelines.

This article originally ran in the Autumn 2016 European issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Will There Ever Be One Ring to Rule Them All?”