The rise and rise of over-the-top has opened up new opportunities for broadcasters. Yet, argues, Per Lindgren, senior vice president, live OTT for Net Insight, ‘true’ OTT live streaming opens up a wealth of possibilities that were simply not possible before.
Last September, Twitter began to live stream the first of a series of NFL Thursday Night Football games. Landing the rights to this premium sports property was a major coup for the social network and an acknowledgement by the NFL that its fans expected to engage with the game online.
Although Twitter received plaudits for the video quality, it ran headfirst into speed-related flaws and negative trending hashtags that threatened to scupper not only its relationship with the NFL but long-term plans to become the home for live content. It was a match between the Buffalo Bills and the Jets that drew the first Twitter simulcast, and in perhaps the most stark example of the biggest flaw, the flood of posts coming in about Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin streaking down
the field for an 84-yard touchdown arrived several minutes before the accompanying video.
The disparity in the speed of posts by fans and the Twitter video itself compared with the action broadcast on CBS was immediately mocked by users. One of them, @RyanG73, noted, “Dude sitting next to me is watching and his stream is 3-4 seconds faster than mine so this is awkward.”
There are a couple things worth pointing out about this high-profile experience. The first is the central role social media is playing in the viewing habits of consumers around live events. According to Nielsen’s 2016 Social Media Report, in the US last autumn, social TV activity peaked on Sundays as audiences took to social media to talk about NFL games, specials and Sunday series. Nearly half (43%) of weekly Facebook activity and a third (33%) of weekly Twitter activity occurred on Sundays. On Facebook, the next-busiest day was Saturday – a day known for college football and pro baseball. The second point is that while over-the-top (OTT) video has shaken established business models and created completely new ones, its main limitation around live streaming is the lack of synchronisation.
Traditional OTT solutions are created for the on-demand viewing of services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, relying on buffering to maintain a high quality of experience (QoE). These file-based workflows deliberately introduce latency, ranging from seconds to minutes, resulting in a lack of sync between individual OTT devices as well as a delayed experience compared with linear broadcast. It’s no problem for viewers binge-watching on-demand content, but it kills the potential of live content. It means that even two people in the same room viewing live video over different devices, yet on the same mobile network, will not receive the same content at the exact same time.
It’s not just live sports either; award shows and social media go hand-in-hand. This year’s Eurovision Song Contest, for example, generated nearly two million tweets during its live broadcast. Social interaction is a growing part of entertainment that lets viewers share the experience – unless they’re watching OTT.
True OTT live streaming suddenly opens up a wealth of possibilities that were simply not possible before. This includes multiple synchronised feeds and genuine picture-in-picture. On an iPad you can typically display up to four synchronised streams simultaneously.
Millennials expect an engaging, immersive experience, enabled by the interactive nature of the second screen – their first screen. These people demand full control over the OTT experience, opening up opportunities for multi-camera, multi-view applications where viewers can choose their favourite athlete, race car or camera angle. Nowhere is this more compelling than in motorsport. Viewers can access synchronised live streams from driver cams in each race car as well as live streams from strategic positions around the track. They can choose to view multiple cameras, from multiple cars, at the same time, directing their own experience throughout the entire race. To elevate the experience even further, live streams can be complemented with real-time statistics and data from both drivers and cars, resulting in a truly engaging and immersive experience.
For content owners and rights holders, such systems also open up a new monetisation opportunity of their existing content that does not cannibalise traditional TV rights, but on the contrary, complements the traditional viewing experience. The additional revenue can come from subscription or new ad channels, enhanced by product placement and sponsor opportunities with personalised calls to action.
There are, though, technologies that deliver true live OTT. Net Insight’s Sye was built as a software streaming solution with a scalable and robust back-end, built to support large-scale live events. It is deployed within the content delivery network, typically after the transcode stage and can exist side-by-side with an on-demand service. There is tolerance for packet loss, round trip delays, jitter, and geographical distance is significantly higher than traditional OTT streaming solutions. Long fat pipe problems can be made non-existent, opening up the potential for a CDN infrastructure with fewer edge nodes supporting larger geographical areas.
Sye also harmonises live OTT with the linear broadcast. Conventional broadcast TV lags generally 8 to 10 seconds behind real time. That’s just physics; the signal cannot transmit any faster over satellite or cable networks. But that time can be used to Sye’s advantage. Since Sye can deliver streams at ultra-low delay below three seconds, it can align OTT exactly with the local televised broadcast and ensure a synchronised delivery to all devices. What this means is that the customer experience can be improved the in two ways; maintaining the highest ABR profile longer; and eliminating the spinning wheel of delay when switching between different streams, resulting in a TV-like channel switching experience.
And if all this sounds too good to be true then think again. This autumn, the Pirelli World Challenge, North America’s top production car-based racing championship, is primed for launch with all of these capabilities. Integrating Sye with AerNow, a global platform for rendering immersive universal live experiences, the championship says it will be able deliver a synchronised, ultra-low delay live streaming solution that enhances the motor sport fan experience with immersive OTT capabilities.
The solution allows all fans to see the same live content at the same time. This creates a superior social experience where fans can stay connected to their online communities without having to worry about spoiling the experience for everyone else.