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Business engagement: TAG enables high quality OTT service without compromise

By Shirish Nadkarni

Broadcasting – and the technology that underpins it – is in the midst of a profound change. Purpose-built facilities are reaching the end of their useful life. There is no longer a need to build expensive rooms full of racks of equipment that serve just one single purpose.

Systems built with software are transforming the economics of the industry.

“Legacy distribution systems are infrastructure centric and hardware-based. Trying to cantilever them to new requirements isn’t really progress – it’s trying to extend the life of something that should be evolved,” says Peter Wharton, Chief Strategy Officer of TAG Video Systems.

“We need technology that looks far beyond today. That technology is software-defined media supply chain and is at the heart of the OTT (Over The Top) revolution.

“OTT is the modern way of delivering content to consumers over the internet, bypassing traditional broadcast, cable and satellite to home delivery. OTT is built on scalable and adaptable web-centric platforms that can only be achieved using software-based systems.” 

The foregoing statements give rise to a number of very basic, and potentially uncomfortable, questions:

What is the imperative to change decades of highly reliable infrastructure and working methods? 

“Essentially, because consumer expectations have moved on and at a pace that current systems cannot match,” says Wharton. “Businesses will fail to compete if they do not adapt.”

Since television began, he adds, it has been a one-way delivery. Broadcast means the transmission of content from a single point to all possible endpoints within reach on the network whether that is by satellite or cable. 

Sure enough, cable TV revolutionised content choice – cable stations could be aggregated in a cable headend or bundled into a channel bouquet distributed through a coax tree ultimately to a TV via a set top box. Some home recording (for playback) became possible and the number of channels exploded but the bulk of programming remained scheduled, pushed to the viewer, with next to no chance for the consumer to interact.

“The hardware centric nature of the infrastructure meant production workflows remained static,” says Wharton. “This has defined generations of TV production, transmission and consumption.

“Consumers now expect a multiple-choice of content and to choose the time and method of its consumption. They want to watch what they want, where, when and on what device.

“There is also the expectation of upgrading the experience to new formats including HD to 4K to 8K, High Dynamic Range and superior audio. Innovations like these will not stop being developed and consumers expect the latest tech to be on their screens.”

The problem is that legacy systems are increasingly insufficient to meet these requirements. The broadcast model uses specialised technology, designed for a purpose and unique (therefore expensive) to our industry. It is too rigid to react to consumer expectations at anything like the speed required for business success. Especially when there is an alternative.

“OTT is how media is streamed to viewers over the internet and is rapidly becoming the dominant method of enjoying video,” Wharton points out. “It is enabled by technologies such as HLS and ABR that overcome the obstacles of delivering video content smoothly over an unmanaged network using chunked file transfer of content over HTTP. 

“OTT adapts to changing network conditions using adaptive bitrates giving consumers a high quality experience. OTT delivery systems are designed for reliability and scale with the ability to add additional capacity and serve more customers on demand, typically using cloud-based servers and content delivery networks (CDNs) that match capability and costs to actual consumption.

“This allows OTT to rapidly scale in any direction to meet changing demand, something that the prior dedicated infrastructure environments cannot match.”

So, what is the catch?

“Content owners strive to maintain quality of service and quality of experience across this multitude of encoding formats, delivery systems, CDNs, encryption technologies, client players and devices,” Wharton explains.

“To monitor this incredibly complex platform end-to-end requires solutions that can scale as needed and adjust the effort and cost of monitoring at each node in the delivery system to value of the content passing through that node, often scaling to monitor hundreds —  sometimes thousands — of channels and nodes without compromising real-time error detection.”

Specialised tools are required that can monitor real time, at scale, across the enterprise and media supply chain, providing deep probing, analytics and real-time visualisation at any crucial point in a signal path. 

Wharton says that these tools accelerate the operators’ ability to provide root cause analysis of failures and minimise time to recovery. Most importantly, they need to be economical, matching cost to consumption and the value of the content at each node in the workflow.

Such monitoring requires a business philosophy in the same way that moving to IP and the cloud is less a technical decision than a strategic necessity to provide business enablement, build infrastructure on demand and drive new revenue opportunities for the future.

How many servers will be needed to monitor all streams?

“This is one of the most popular questions we get,” says Wharton. “Of course, the answer will depend on your application. We have the capability to monitor over 400 types of events and thresholds, and are currently monitoring 100,000 probing points in different workflows worldwide.

“And here’s the good news — we have created a special tool to help you get an estimate (please consult TAG engineers prior to any hardware purchase). Check it out:

Does this solution work in the cloud?

“Yes!” says Wharton. “The TAG platform can run on cloud instances just as easily as it runs on bare metal. You can learn more here:

Do you support cloud implementations for live production for work-from-home applications?

Wharton asserts, “Yes. The two main challenges of cloud live production implementations for work-from-home applications are getting the uncompressed sources to the cloud and delivering the Mosaic Output to the home.

“The TAG platform JPEG-XS which can be used to deliver high-quality production content to the cloud where bandwidth limitations apply and can also provide the mosaic output as Zixi and/or HLS streams to be delivered to the home over the public Internet.”

And finally, a question by the ultra-cautious: Can I try the platform before I purchase?

“Absolutely!,” says Wharton with a smile. “Do you know all our existing clients tried the system before choosing TAG?

“Okay, all but one! You can apply for a free 90-day trial:  ”

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