Encoding & Transcoding 2018: Part 2
Bitmovin was founded by two Austrian PhD video codec researchers who worked on the team that developed the MPEG-DASH standard. The Bitmovin encoder and player resulted from their research and was commercialized in 2013.
Since then, Bitmovin has experienced rapid growth and currently provides three core products: a cloud/on-prem software encoder, a widely distributed player, and an analytics/monitoring tool that can be deployed for both media analytics and to monitor end-user QoE.
“We don’t do everything,” notes Kieran Farr, Bitmovin’s vice president of marketing. “We do the core parts that enable developers to assemble those solutions together into an end-to-end OTT or web distribution platform.”
The majority of Bitmovin’s current customers are major broadcasters and content publishers like the BBC and The New York Times. Historically, much of Bitmovin’s business has been SVOD (subscriber-based VOD) encoding, but the trend has been moving toward 24/7 live linear broadcast channels and live events encoding.
Bitmovin offers its customers the flexibility to either use Bitmovin’s managed cloud service (via AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud) or license Bitmovin’s software for deployment within their own infrastructures, often a much less costly option for content providers that have the infrastructure to use.
The Bitmovin player, which the company says receives billions of impressions each month, can take advantage of hardware decoders when available and relies on software decoding when not.
Bitmovin was founded by researchers, and its analytics tools were born from the company’s efforts to create innovative solutions to its customers’ challenges. That can be particularly difficult when the messages from customers are mixed.
“We now are seeing very different priorities from the publishers,” says Farr. “We see one set of publishers saying we need zero latency. The other set of publishers say we need maximum efficiency… those are polar opposites.”
In any case, analytics is becoming a more critical piece of the streaming puzzle throughout the industry.
“[These analytics tools] give us a level of visibility that we never had before,” notes Farr. “For the first time… we now have actionable insights that we can actually do something with to improve the quality of experience.”
For example, Bitmovin’s analytics tools can help companies isolate where problems are originating, whether at the ISP, at the CDN, or with the encode.
All of which inspires Farr to note, “Where I think we’re going to see a lot of growth for Bitmovin in the next six months is with analytics.”
Cisco is one of a few technology conglomerates (others include Verizon and Ericsson) that play a significant role in the streaming media space. At this year’s IBC, two of the largest global conglomerates, Cisco and Ericsson, announced the spin-offs of their video units.
Cisco’s Service Provider Video Software Solutions (SPVSS)business was purchased by Permira Funds, a global private equity firm, for a reported $1 billion, and is being rebranded as Synamedia. The new company will be based in London and will focus on helping telcos, media companies, and pay TV providers optimize their current infrastructures while expanding their OTT solutions.Until the rebranding has been completed sometime in 2019, Cisco video will still be Cisco.
Cisco has built a strong reputation as a developer of appliances, and there are more than 24,000 units of its Digital Content Manager (DCM) series of encoding appliances in the field. The appliance is limited to AVC/H.264 and MPEG-2 encoding, but Cisco has been dipping its toe in the software waters with the introduction of its vDCM virtual encoder that includes its own optimized version of HEVC.
While more than 90^% of Cisco’s video encoding business is still H.264, the less than 10^ that is HEVC is based on a software codec developed in-house. (Cisco’s WebEx and Telepresence units used HEVC to drive down bandwidth in those applications. The video unit took that core HEVC codec and adapted it to the broadcast industry.)
“The move from appliances to software has been going on for a long time, but pure cloud, in the way you easily deploy yet another channel … that whole game is very much in play right now,” says Morten Rasmussen, Cisco senior product manager for video compression.“We are still seeing quite a bit of interest in doing it on-prem with our larger customers.
“It’s pretty expensive to have a 24/7 channel on AWS, and large companies have their own infrastructures already,” adds Rasmussen. “The model might be to do something on-prem with some disaster recovery or to be able to spin up very fast some important programming … not necessarily the full line-up.”
Driven by the reality that live CAE is much more difficult than VOD, Cisco has developed a Smart Rate Control technology that takes advantage of its patented Stream Video Quality (SVQ) monitoring and analysis tool to minimize bandwidth while maximizing quality.
“SVQ assesses in real time the quality achieved by the encoder. It’s an integral part of Smart Rate Control,” says Rasmussen. “It’s integrated into the encoder and takes very little extra CPU … We don’t charge for it. If you buy our encoder, you get this included.”
Rasmussen explains, “We analyze the video while encoding it, and make the right decisions to drop the bandwidth frame by frame, 40ms by 40ms, if that frame does not need to be encoded at the constant high bitrate. [We save] 30-40% in bandwidth as opposed to doing an ordinary constant bit rate encode.”
“You also save on storage costs for DVR applications,” adds Rasmussen. “[It’s cutting costs in multiple ways while still maintaining quality]. Everybody is doing this, but we believe we are doing it the best.”
Ericsson is the other technology multinational that showcased the spinoff of its video business at IBC, in Ericsson’s case into two distinct entities. The new Red Bee Media offers managed playout services to broadcast operators while the newly branded MediaKind handles technology development and deployment. Both units will remain under the Ericsson umbrella.
“Say [a 24/7 linear channel wants to stream] … if they want somebody to do that for them as a service, to operate it and do the playout and manage the content flow day-to-day and create the channels, that’s Red Bee’s business,” says Tony Jones, MediaKind's principal technologist. "If they want the equipment that compresses and streams it and makes them able to publish it, then that’s [MediaKind].”
Video compression is a core component of MediaKind’s business, most of which is live.
“What we’ve excelled in over the years is compression performance. It’s harder to do for live, and as a result it’s a more valuable proposition,” notes Jones. “In many cases, the VOD can achieve better quality by just taking longer, so the incremental value difference between different encoder vendors is not so great [with VOD].”
MediaKind is primarily software based, but not yet 100 percent. They still sell appliances, mainly from their previous Tandberg television business. The MediaKind technology portfolio includes additional IP from the smaller companies that Ericsson has acquired over the years. That technology includes contribution, video processing, cloud DVR, packagers and the TV platform business.
MediaKind and Red Bee will service Ericsson’s big legacy customers, including ATT, Verizon, the UK’s Sky TV and a plethora of smaller service providers. So far, MediaKind has found it hard to access nascent user-generated live content services like Facebook Live.
“The point that they start to care about the efficiency of what they’re delivering and how good it looks, then they [are] more open to opportunities for people like us. That in turn is a function of how popular it is,” notes Jones. “Once it becomes very popular, CDN costs start to go up and doing it more efficiently for the same quality becomes a tangible asset. If nobody’s watching- then who cares if it’s too much bitrate?”
MediaKind will also offer Ericsson’s Video Storage and Processing Platform (VSPP), which powers a unified solution for cloud DVR, on-demand, and time/place-shifted TV services.
“[VSPP] brings both processing and storage together with the aim of making a very high-performance cloud DVR. It does way more than that, but that’s its core value proposition,” says Jones.”
Ericsson has been supporting broadcast television for years, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t interested in cutting edge video applications. Ericsson/MediaKind has been investigating VR, and more specifically 360° video, for quite a while, even while acknowledging that 360 will probably require at least 8K resolution and headsets that are not yet up to decoding 8K video.
“We like to explore new technologies like [VR] because … it’s the means by which you discover it might be useful for a lot of other things you’re doing,” notes Jones. “Everything about 360 video affects the way that we treat the human visual system and understand it in terms of compression and video processing. So, it does feed back into knowledge about what else we might be able to use.”
Check back for part 3 on Wednesday, November 14.
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