MPEG DASH and Connected TV will Rule 2012

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Unlike their heroes Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, many of today’s technology leaders are often too busy martialling public policy and the markets to really be focused on the long game. Most corporations are in bear mode, defending their existence rather than ensuring their future.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when on the smaller end of the market we have never seen so many individuals able to reach their customers so directly and so adeptly, with so much innovation and with such nimble agility that they can survive almost any storm, like an arctic moss.

So as 2011 draws to a close, let's reflect on some streaming trends this year.

During the first quarter everything was preoccupied with HTML5 and reaching Android and iPad. Later in the year, there was even a seeming shift of position from Adobe, with a few tentative steps into the void outside its own bubble.

By the end of the year, the focused changed from HTML5 to MPEG-DASH as the next stage of standardisation for reaching browsers.

But this time we don’t have a voice-elect to zeitgeist a standard such as MPEG-DASH yet. That standard, as it is at the moment, has to look ahead, but constrained by the business issues its adherents face. It has to look ahead to where video and the user will interface—not just on the web browsers we are familiar with on the desktop or tablet, but those on phones and on TVs and kiosks and digital signage devices, too.

Each of these delivery targets has slightly different requirements today, and in the future it’s important that the streaming data transports between those machines can carry not only one- or two-way audio and video but also metadata; rights information; accessibility media such as subtitles; in-stream data that controls other elements of the playback device (be it applications or elements within applications); response information for user feedback, chat, social networking, etc.; monitoring and system information such as quality of service and user experience; personalised information about the viewer; e-commerce interfaces; encryption; addressing (for multicast too), and so on….

Fortunately the standard has already found a broad way forward but reportedly got a bit log-jammed, mainly by the complication that Mozilla is open source and so cannot buy into MPEG-LA licensing for the H.264 codec.

Concerns about submarine patents aside, Google’s open WebM video codec is broadly up to the job, and Mozilla can use that. As I wrote a few months ago (and I felt like a lone voice at the time) Google’s move to buy and give this codec away, whatever its own commercial tactics, was healthy for the sector over all since it has at the very least kept alive Mozilla which is an important challenger to the mainstream proprietary browsers’ market share. Diversity is a good thing.

So as we look into 2012 we have a few things to watch:

  • How will Mozilla and MPEG-LA resolve the codec issue vis a vis MPEG DASH? If they can’t, then we will be assured of a dual codec streaming media market for quite some time
  • Once that issue is resolved, there is little to prevent MPEG-DASH from becoming the common standard for transport and playback, and  all the server vendors and CDNs will rapidly add MPEG-DASH compliance.
  • This will further commoditise the CDN space, extending CDNs' current differentiation propositions.
  • Looking elsewhere, the number of OVPs has stabilised. Keeping up with Android display formatting alone is enough to put folks off, I think!
  • Enterprises are getting serious about video. Really serious. And they are starting to bring it in house much more often. Next year will see some keen innovation in this space.
  • 2012 should be the year the walls fall down. OTT, connected TV… whatever you want to call it, “if it ain't connected its legacy”….

I expect Apple to start something in the TV space that will establish a new battleground for the visionaries in many companies, and we will see a revolution in home entertainment, powered by the internet.

I think 2012 will be a vintage year for streaming media, and I think Steve Jobs will RIP with a smile on his face knowing he started a warm fire!

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