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The State of Live Video 2018
Live keeps pay TV in the game; piracy and scalability issues dog streaming; remote production comes of age; and the battle over sports rights has barely begun.
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Growth of premium video is continuing apace across all devices and platforms, with viewers particularly embracing live digital content. The importance of user experience, TV-quality content and devices that allow “linear-style” viewing were also evident across the year.

According to a Cisco report, live video is quickly becoming the fastest-growing segment of internet video, and is expected to grow from just 3 percent of all internet video traffic in 2016 to about 13 percent by 2021.

“While VOD has been a dominant part of OTT video services, live video is now enjoying a renaissance in the online space,” Parks Associates’ senior director of research Brett Sappington said in an Ooyala press release.

While the growth of live video in Europe (up 12 percent on 2016) was slower than the 40 percent rise charted in the US, ad management vendor FreeWheel suggests “that broadcasters are becoming more willing to experiment with content type.”

Another piece of research, sponsored by Yospace and conducted by consultancy MTM, found that live event programming—including sports and reality TV—is playing a major role in the popularity of live, IP-delivered television, accounting for about 70 percent of simulcast viewing on broadcasters’ OTT video services in the UK. On a wider scale, live and linear TV accounts for 60 percent of total video viewing in the UK market.

“Live appears to be still alive in the digital era,” concluded consultants at Deloitte. “And it may always be the case that people use technology to enhance live consumption rather than avoid it.”

The demand for scheduled television was reflected in a slew of announcements:

  • Amazon launched Amazon Channels, a suite of live TV channels featuring content from Eurosport, MGM, ITV, and others.
  • Amazon beat Sky Sports to a £30 million, 5-year deal to broadcast ATP tennis tournaments outside of the Grand Slams from 2019 in the UK.
  • Twitter signed 16 live-streaming deals, spanning concerts, sport and drama.
  • YouTube offered several UEFA Champions League matches (and seems likely to launch premium service YouTube Red in Europe in 2018, though some predict the launch may not happen).

Looking to expand on its US live-sports inventory, which includes the broadcast of Major League Baseball games and Mexican soccer matches, Facebook bid $600 million and lost (to Star India, paying over $2.6 billion) the rights to air cricket’s Indian Premier League tournament, but its ambitions seem even bigger. It is pitching its new premium video service, Watch, as a destination for reality TV and live sports. Soft-launched in North America in the autumn and presumably destined for Europe in 2018, Watch is building on Facebook’s strong community-based networks.

“What is interesting is that community is built into sports,” Daniel Danker (right), Facebook’s product director, told an IBC 2017 audience. “It taps into fandom and national pride. We also see that when you can see comments alongside the game it gives a shared sense experience, knowing that others are connecting is what makes [the event] special.”

One billion people use Facebook Groups each month. “These are people who aren’t necessarily your friends, but you share a connection,” Danker explained. “Increasingly, there are groups built around video.”

There are widespread predictions that Facebook, Amazon, and Google will dramatically scale up their investments in live TV. In particular, the acquisition of rights to premium live events among these companies is expected to increase significantly.

And of those rights, none is larger in Europe than the English Premier League’s (EPL). The current 3-year deal that ends in 2019, for domestic coverage alone, is worth over £5 billion to the EPL, with Sky Sports retaining the lion’s share. Premiership football has been the bedrock of Sky’s growth in the UK, but whether it will have the stomach to fend off the ambitions of an Amazon or Discovery—which is in the process of reinventing itself as an online play—remains to be seen. The sealed-envelope bids for the next tranche of rights comes to a head in 2018.

Pay TV Fights Back

The consumer’s evergreen demand for live programming and a continuing desire to view it on the largest screen available—arguably with the best service—does, however, make the commercial prospects for operator-owned linear and live IP-delivered TV more positive than many predicated a couple of years back.

Operators can employ a number of lines of attack against social media network and OTT giants. Yospace, for example, thinks live programming still holds significant value, and that the untapped advertising potential of live IP-delivered TV “must be realised in the near future in order to counter the threat posed by major internet media companies.” It advocates introducing dynamic ad insertion.

A related route is to on-board third-party subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, and/or to offer more live linear services online, including developing apps and tools that allow consumers to experience content on displays other than the primary screen.

Pay TV providers, including Sky, Swisscom, and Vodafone, are already doing this. Vodafone, for example, offers HBO exclusively in Spain, carries Sky’s OTT offer on its platform in Italy, and partners with Netflix in territories including Spain and Italy.

Indeed, Vodafone conceives the conventional distinction between millennials as “cord nevers” and the older generation’s traditional pay TV inertia as misleading. “It’s more useful to think of the split along linear and nonlinear lines where live sport is essentially linear and makes sense on the larger screen,” says Nuno Sanches, group head of fixed product development.

Recent analysis by Ampere identified the two most valuable types of consumer that operators should be targeting. These included a sport-loving, high-spending category of people who predominantly watch scheduled viewing live or via DVR, referred to as “TV Traditionalists.”

Ampere recommends that the TV industry work toward an integrated user experience (UX) that encompasses traditional scheduled TV alongside apps and other services like catch-up TV.

Fox was faced with this scenario a couple of years ago, when it began to boil down its 17 network options to the five of today: Fox, FX, National Geographic, Fox Sports, and Fox News.

“Viewers still had to go to all sorts of different places to get Fox content—some is on Hulu, some on Netflix, others on a TV anywhere service,” explained Brian Sullivan, president and COO, Digital Consumer Group, Fox at IBC 2017. So the company began bringing all of that content back together into a single, branded space. “The aim is to marry the power of apps with the power of a TV experience—meaning full-screen video and simple navigation with machine learning capabilities for discovery.”

While consumers are getting the widest range and highest-quality content from drama and sports in this “golden age of TV,” the fragmented premium content offer of “skinny” operator bundles and SVOD is believed to be causing user frustration due to the time it costs them to find content.

A report by OC&C Strategy Consultants reveals that viewers feel overwhelmed by the number of services: “Even among under-35s, 40 percent of viewers agree that the amount of choice is confusing, and this increases to nearly 50 percent among over 55s.”

“The average user is confronted with myriad services from Netflix and linear broadcast to VOD services and YouTube,” says Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, senior director product marketing at UX software developer Nagra. “All of this combines to create a labyrinth of menus across multiple apps and services. Users need to be able to switch between these services effortlessly with a simple, uncluttered, and engaging interface that doesn’t overwhelm them with options. At the same time, user interfaces also need to create a bridge between content silos—searching for one particular piece of content shouldn’t entail accessing multiple apps.”

In turn, this is prompting a re-aggregation of content and services with pay TV operators that are well-placed to capitalise, even if it is unlikely that a super-aggregator will emerge. The genie is out of the bottle.

“Cost is now much more driven by the value of the experience and not by the volume of content,” says Jon Walkenhorst, CTO, Connected Home, Technicolor. “They are becoming their own primary curator, and there’s no turning back. Families may all gather together around a TV, but they will be consuming different content at the same time. In this world, anytime is prime time.”

IP Production Evolution

Germane to the future of much of the broadcast industry is the ratification of SMPTE standard 2110 for moving audio and video around as separate streams. The standard, which will be finalised this spring, should permit a greater take-up of IP infrastructure and interoperable equipment.

“Thanks to the SDI-to-IP bridging support provided by SMPTE ST 2110, broadcasters can take an incremental approach by building new islands of IP-centric operations while continuing to rely on legacy equipment elsewhere,” lobby group AIMS states in its 2017 report, “Guidelines to Preparing Broadcast Facilities for IP-Based Live TV Production.”

The AIMS agenda does not end with 2110. The latest objective provides a common means of identifying and registering devices across all workflows and locations based on the Network Media Open Specifications (NMOS) IS-04 developed by the Advanced Media Workflow Association.

As the industry get to grips with IP, a fundamental shift in production is emerging. In live outside broadcast this is notable in the ability to decentralise operations away from the venue with different production elements being contributed from diverse geographical locations. This can only be achieved where suitable guaranteed bandwidth of appropriate latency exists, but this capacity is improving year on year.

A report by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) and Ooyala suggests that, by 2022, more than half of today’s video-production environments will recognise greater business benefits, efficiencies, and return on investment by adopting IP. Its survey included ITV, Sky, BBC, and Sony, and concluded that the gains would be made by companies adopting strategies around internet-first distribution, live streaming, single-camera shooting (companies accessing on-site footage via the cloud), media management, and cloud playout.

“The fact is, the move to IP has inherent benefits for many processes, but only specific environments will see the greatest benefits and highest returns today,” DPP managing director Mark Harrison (right) said upon the report’s April 2017 release. “Within a few years, IP infrastructure may be essential in doing business because of the impact it is having across media companies and distribution.”

The mammoth broadcast trucks run by all the leading suppliers will travel to premium sports events for some time, in part because squeezing 4K UHD over IP contribution links is currently unreliable and expensive. What you may save on not sending crew to a venue is used up on connectivity.

Nonetheless, the BBC’s plan to cover an additional 1,000 hours of sport per year is predicated on the cost efficiencies of IP and remote production. It will stream live coverage of mostly niche sports like the British Basketball League, snowboarding, and Women’s Super League football to iPlayer and the BBC website using a streamlined production that, in some cases, will be a single camera controlled remotely via web browser.