Concurrent Puts Linear Content, On-the-Fly Transcoding into Play for TV Everywhere

October 8, 2009 – On-demand platform supplier Concurrent is bringing to market advances that allow operators to employ the vendor’s MediaHawk technology to deliver on-demand and broadcast linear content to all devices, obviating the need for separate storage and pre-formatting of content for set-tops, PCs and mobile phones.

Concurrent’s approach is designed not only to facilitate the first phases of the TV Everywhere agenda but to ensure there’s a seamless and cost-effective migration path to mobile and network PVR services, explains Concurrent chief marketing officer David King. Referencing a demonstration of new advances at the recent IBC conference in Amsterdam, King says these functionalities allow operators to offer a unified navigation experience complete with recommendation engines and support for subscriber control over shifts in viewing from one device to another or for determining whether content goes to set-top DVR or nPVR.

“We’re running all these capabilities on general purpose servers, allowing us to deliver content to all devices from one server,” King says. “In the case of live broadcast content, this means you have to be able to do transcoding in real time rather than batch re-encoding. So we’re doing this on the fly for all categories of content on all screens.

“The consumer says, ‘Here’s my interest; recommend to me what other content might be available,'” he continues. “It doesn’t matter whether the subscriber is at home, traveling or at the office, whether it’s broadcast programming or streamed from servers.”

This flexibility has important implications for ad placements, which can be personalized by device and location as well as by user demographics. “Other suppliers sell servers specific to delivering content to the TV or the PC or mobile,” King adds. “Because all we sell is software, you’re utilizing general purpose servers and storage with a choice of solid state or spinning media.”

This is especially important for service providers who already are operating on-demand services from the field-deployed MediaHawk platform. By year’s end Concurrent will introduce for general availability a software upgrade supporting the first step in the TV Everywhere migration, which is streaming of content from existing server resources to the PC, King says. “We’re doing trials at this point,” he adds, noting that Concurrent’s customers are not yet ready to begin experimenting with mobile as part of the TV Everywhere paradigm.

While TV Everywhere initiatives so far have been built around positioning of individual programming components in on-demand mode for delivery over broadband to users’ PCs, Concurrent’s video-to-PC software upgrade for the MediaHawk platform adds the option of delivering live broadcast content, which would significantly change the strategic approach to TV Everywhere. This approach would allow users to access live broadcast and on-demand content through a PC with no additional hardware requirements, King notes, thereby creating an environment where service distinctions based on which devices are used to access content would begin to disappear. “This will open up a powerful second screen for video through which the operators can create new commercial models that drive both subscription and advertising revenue,” King asserts.

Research firm The Diffusion Group recently surveyed users on their willingness to pay for a service that offers access to all subscription content on PCs and found that of the 43 percent of adult broadband users who stated they were interested in a TV-to-PC service, 66 percent stated they were willing to pay ten dollars or more per month for the service. The intensity of demand for PC access to high-level content is also underscored by findings from industry analyst firm SNL Kagan, which predicts that close to 60 percent of professionally created paid content will be viewed online within the 10-year outlook.

“Broadband operators are well-positioned to offer and monetize high-quality video online because they already have the infrastructure necessary for commercial grade content aggregation and delivery,” King says. And, of course, to the extent they don’t seize this opportunity, they risk losing subscribers to those who do.

In that light, it would appear the availability of linear broadcast programming in the TV-to-PC strategy will become essential, even if it’s not part of the current TV Everywhere game plans. “With video to the PC, broadband providers will be able to expand their commercial models around broadcast video just as satellite radio expanded its access to broadcast radio content through subscription models that include online and mobile device listening options,” King says.

The Concurrent strategy also assumes there will be ever greater embrace of nPVR by service providers now that the legal restrictions have been cleared. As previously reported (August, p. 1), Comcast executives have made clear they view nPVR as a major opportunity, which puts the MSO on course to be an early driver in this arena along with Cablevision, the MSO which won the U.S. appeals court case on the issue.

King argues the distinctions between today’s Start Over types of services, which make broadcast content available for viewing for a limited time in on-demand mode, and nPVR, which requires that each piece of content be stored individually as each user dictates, will go away as content owners grow more comfortable with the idea of making time-shifting a ubiquitously available option with all programming. Today the distinction arises out of the fact that Start Over is deemed unique from DVR functionality and therefore requires content owner licensing whereas nPVR as a precise replication of the unlicensed DVR recording process does not.

Programmers’ embrace of network-based universal time shifting would do away with the storage and other inefficiencies of nPVR and provide a means by which programmers and operators alike could benefit from revenues generated from dynamic addressable ad placements in programming accessed in time-shift mode, King notes. And for both sides network-based time shifting provides a much greater level of control and tie-in with consumer experience than today’s home-based recording, he adds.

“If I can keep the content in the network and know you’re an authenticated subscriber accessing that content, I have a great deal more control and provide a stronger incentive for subscribers to stay connected,” he says. All of this plays to the strengths of an infrastructure that can be leveraged to deliver any type of content to any type of device any time, he adds.

Where monetization is concerned Concurrent’s Media Data and Advertising Solutions platform has been designed to allow operators to keep pace with opportunities as they emerge with new distribution strategies like TV Everywhere, King observes. In a new development aimed at enhancing the usefulness of advanced advertising capabilities the company has introduced Centralized Data Warehouse, a cross-services data storage and correlation solution that allows broadband operators to consolidate the collection, storage, and correlation of census-level media data from broadcast, on-demand and online video consumption.

CDW provides advertising stakeholders access to the four-dimensional data views of subscriber consumption, content consumption, operational reporting and advertising campaign performance while eliminating the need for multiple media data warehouses and simplifying access to enable analytics and reporting, King notes. CDW is now commercially available for VOD services and will support and integrate linear and interactive data before the year is out. Mobile and online data support will be available in the first half of 2010.