H.264 Adoption Creating an International Broadcast Muddle

Now that H.264 is finally being embraced by the streaming media industry, catching up to the other industries that embraced H.264 several years ago—videoconferencing and DTV broadcasting—a new set of issues are emerging regarding the rights of streaming broadcast content.

Prior to H.264, a broadcaster had to make a conscious effort to encode content from an over-the-air analog broadcast or transcode content being shown via cable on MPEG-1 or MPEG-2, and then stream it to the web.

Now, however, as a significant number of over-the-air channels have moved to broadcasting DTV ahead of the analog TV cutoff in 2009, and have found they can use H.264 to fit multiple channels into their original broadcast frequency, it's almost an afterthought to transrate (change the H.264 bitrate) the content for simulcasting the broadcast to the internet or mobile phones.

At the same time, however, the move to separately sell internet broadcast rights versus traditional broadcast rights is also gathering steam, with the side effect of creating a muddle for those broadcasters who "can" simultaneously stream content versus those who "may" stream content.

In much the same way that we followed the saga of online radio station streaming, through both the Acacia and SHOUTcast eras, video streaming of broadcast content is about to hit a very bumpy road.

Consider the announcement this week by the International Olympic Committee: It has, for the first time, separately sold broadcasting rights over TV and over such new media as the Internet and mobile phones. A great licensing coup, no doubt, but one that's already causing an unintended issue within China and Macao.

"CCTV was granted the exclusive rights to conduct live streaming of the August Olympics in the Chinese mainland and Macao over the internet and mobile phones," said Hu Zhanfan, vice president of CCTV International, the company that won the rights of live streaming of the Olympics in both China and Macao, the former Portuguese colony near Hong Kong.

So what? Well, if you happen to be a TV broadcaster that also happens to have a license that allows you to stream your TV broadcast to the web, you might want to check whether you can stream this content. CCTV says you can't unless you are authorized by the company.

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