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Vidnet 2021: Technological advancements are a two-way street

OTT platforms are adopting newer technology for an improved service.

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New Delhi: The unprecedented growth and breakthrough of OTT platforms in Coronavirus-struck 2020 has been undeniably unprecedented. Streamers worldwide have reported a huge spike in traffic, with folks shelling out bucks hand over fist to keep themselves entertained in the age of social distancing. Though content is a key factor in the OTT equation of success, another crucial variable is that of technology.

As the reach and depth of streaming platforms increases, there is an imminent need to ensure that their backend mechanism is top-notch to ensure content security, confidentiality of user details and transactions, and the streaming experience across devices is seamlessly smooth. The latter is extremely important because the streaming services are now present in sachet formats for mobile usage, bundling packs and independently where all both television, laptops and mobile options are available.

Industry experts came together to dissect emerging technological interventions in the streaming space at Indiantelevision.com’s flagship event Vidnet, organised in association with Tallycon, Bitmovin, Contiloe, Mipcom and Miptv. Panellists included Bitmovin CTO Christopher Mueller, Eros Now CTO Lokesh Chauhan, Viacom18 Digital Ventures head of product and growth Rohit Tikmany, and Malayala Manorama Television general manager - digital Sathyajith Divakaran, with Indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari acting as moderator.

Wanvari opened the session with the pressing matter of users’ demand in terms of technology. Mueller shared that in 2020, a lot of people shifted to operational efficiency. “They were looking at newer technology but back then, they did not care so much and did not need this incremental improvement. The year and restrictions forced people into that.”

He further mentioned that the hunger of viewers  for a better experience just expedited including enhanced HDR, Dolby Vision and audio ATMOS and others. “The thing about this market is that it has a lot of problems that need to be solved – this is what is most exciting for our teams, the problems we encountered in 2020 and solving them with innovative solutions,” added Mueller.

As traffic and consumption rose, so did the problems. And while technology is indispensable, it is no magic wand that can troubleshoot with a wave. Sometimes, the solutions are there but the platform doesn’t have the means to implement them. At other times, demand can outstrip what is available. More often than not, it’s a two-way street that requires the service providers and consumers to meet in the middle. Given this state of affairs, the panellists had some interesting takes on whether technology is keeping pace or lagging with respect to consumer requirements

Chauhan was of the view that at times, technology is evolving faster than he can keep up with it. “Innovation and experimentation is something we have to aggressively invest in. But there are areas we keep lagging in sometimes. I’m unable to put out HDR as of yet. India does not have that many connected devices. We need to push for an HDR-first strategy. TV consumption, smart set-top box, Fire stick consumption all of that is growing. But as yet TVs in India have not undergone a major cycle of upgrade. People are experimenting with 4K TV but it’s a very basic one that doesn’t come with out of box support for US-standard, be it HDR10 or Dolby,” he mused.

Mueller stated that in some cases, they have to play catch-up with swiftly evolving trends. “Adoption of codecs  and experienceS  was increasing to a point where CDNS, players and storage capacities were exceeded. So we had to optimise the whole streaming workflow. The codec side is a classic example where standardisation is always open.”

Further, he pointed out the VVC and AV2 issues that need rectification along with device fragmentation issues. No one has come up with a solution to this challenge that can be deployed in a rapidly changing market. “It is a very interesting challenge as new devices are regularly coming on a month on month basis – phones, TVs and other devices. The consumer wants a similar experience on all these devices and always in the best quality, so time to market these devices is crucial and this in my perspective is a challenge that is ahead of all of us,” shared Mueller.

By contrast, Tikmany was of the firm view that user needs (latent, implied, explicit) are shifting faster than even technology can manage. “Technology is lagging. We still use the same username-password system designed 25 years ago. As we expand into the hinterlands, streaming quality is lagging. The tech and codec is there but it’s all not able to add up to give the users a wonderful experience.”

Divakaran was also of a similar mind, stating that the technology is already there, and it boils down to putting it together for the end user.

In the next segment, Wanvari called on the panellists to offer a glimpse at the technological advancements they’re working on and what R&D is going in this realm.

“An Innovation in the security space that we’re looking at is definitely forensic watermarking. It takes a lot of money and time to produce this content so you want to protect it. I haven’t seen blockchain coming up, however,” said Mueller.

Chauhan added that they are working with blockchain for their AVOD play. From a content protection perspective, his team did experiment with some new technology but the test cases are not yet evolved right now.

Tikmany further added they are looking at the THETA network closely as it is the most exciting decentralised solution they have seen so far and is also based on tokens. It rewards users by giving them freemium content for serving as edges on decentralised distribution system. It is basically like a BitTorrent or Napster but for legal video streaming. “The streaming issues that we mentioned previously there might be a play there and we might have a play in the decentralised solution within two years,” added Tikmany.

However, in order to adapt to these changes, there needs to be a change in the mindset. “The tech is never a problem but the barriers to adoption are in one's mind. And of course, we need to prove value and improve quality of service for our users and reduce the streaming costs and bottleneck,” concluded Tikmany. 

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