Vendor Advances Offer Proof Multi-Screen Service is Doable

David Price, VP, business development & marketing communications

David Price, VP, business development & marketing communications

October 9, 2009 – Any doubts that the technological underpinnings are in place to accommodate delivery of a next-generation multiplatform entertainment experience have been laid to rest over the past month with an outpouring of deployment-ready innovations by industry vendors.

Advanced advertising, interactive applications, TV Everywhere, Web-to-TV, everything-on-demand, social networking on the TV screen – the long-discussed list of capabilities all wrapped together in personalized presentations on advanced user interfaces are now completely doable, providing a potentially game-changing competitive edge to those service providers who are in a position to exploit the new service paradigm.

“This isn’t just proof of concept that we’re showing here,” says David Price, vice president of business development and marketing communications at Harmonic, Inc., in reference to the company’s demonstrations at the recent IBC exhibition in Amsterdam. Harmonic’s new MediaPrism convergence suite for multi-screen video delivery to the TV, PC, iPhone and other mobile devices “is in real trial deployments with a number of very significant customers.”

Indeed, a primary driver behind vendor efforts to provide highly automated asset management, transcoding and other capabilities designed to support distribution of content to any device on demand has been the cable industry’s TV Everywhere initiative, now moving rapidly from trials to commercial rollouts. Harmonic, SeaChange International, Concurrent, Ericsson and many other vendors have stepped in to streamline the operational functionalities associated with distributing TV content to PCs.

But other factors are in play as well, including the need to get long-form video on demand onto mobile devices and to support a unified experience across all devices with attendant unified advertising and on-demand functionalities. SeaChange, for example, has purchased Mobix Interactive, a U.K.-based company that provides software, content aggregation services and branded content for mobile phone operators, to facilitate extension of the SeaChange multi-platform capabilities to handhelds.

“Mobix is already providing service to mobile operators in the U.K. and South Africa and has relationships with content companies,” notes Alan Hoff, vice president of product marketing at SeaChange. “The managed services capability we’ve acquired with Mobix enables licensing and optimization of content across dozens of mobile handsets, and it optimizes the bit rate based on user access rates.

“By integrating Mobix into our Axiom on Demand open content delivery platform we’re able to unify the data base across all three platforms [TV, PC and mobile] with awareness of which assets are appropriate for each device,” Hoff continues. “If you’re watching a program on TV, you can switch to the PC and resume watching where you left off.

“Where Mobix is concerned, the most clever thing of all is the bookmarking capability. If you’ve suspended watching a video on your mobile phone, you can come back hours later and easily resume viewing where you left off. With the integration into Axiom, if you suspend on viewing on a given frame in the living room, you can resume on that frame on the mobile.”

Axiom software automates processes associated with all types of on-demand services, including content propagation, subscriber and stream management, performance reporting and monitoring, while also serving as the foundation for adding content navigation, gaming, DVD and ad targeting applications. The platform supports “a unified back office with centralized management and a unified look and feel for control and discovery across all three screens,” Hoff says. “And the other important piece is management of subscriber information, which is sourced in different ways from the PC, mobile and set-top domains. We’re aggregating and unifying customer information so that you can retain their preferences and other user-specific characteristics across all those screens.”

This includes support for cross-platform ad placement in on-demand content through the SeaChange Ad Pulse component. Hoff hints the multi-screen environment for advertising will be extended to linear programming as well. “Where this needs to go is toward a unified advertising campaign management system,” he says. “We’re not to market with that just yet, but that’s where we’re going to support maximum revenue lift across all screens.”

No company has gone further than Harmonic to maximize versatility and cost efficiencies in a multi-platform environment where multiple encoding, streaming and client solutions must be supported if content distribution is to be truly ubiquitous. Last month the company introduced its MediaPrism convergence suite for multi-screen video delivery to the TV, PC, iPhone and other mobile devices.

Already deployed by Tier 1 service providers for new mobile and Internet video service trials, MediaPrism encompasses live and offline content ingest, transformation, delivery and workflow management, Price says. The convergence suite supports a variety of emerging mobile and Internet delivery formats, including Microsoft Silverlight, Apple adaptive HTTP Live Streaming and Adobe Flash, in addition to legacy mobile video formats, existing broadcast TV and video-on-demand services.

“This is a big step beyond the traditional stuff we do,” Price says. “Combining some of our existing platforms, latest advances in transcoding and some new elements we’ve pulled together a complete multi-screen solution with work-flow management.”

The solution puts Harmonic’s CLEARcut offline and LIVEcut real-time content preparation solutions to use in capturing and preparing assets for multi-screen viewing, he notes. The transcoding component, which is crucial to achieving multi-screen efficiency, rests on the company’s new ProStream 5000 universal transcoder, a Flash memory-based server capable of transcoding up to 16 video assest simultaneously.

To support distribution efficiencies, Harmonic has debuted the StreamLiner(r) 3000 video streaming servers, a new family of high performance multimedia servers designed to deliver thousands of streams for a variety of applications including centralized VOD distribution, regional receiving agents and large-scale content delivery network (CDN) architectures.

Tying it all together is the MediaPrism Workflow Manager, which is a digital media workflow engine that automates the flow of assets throughout the content ingest, transformation and delivery process. It can control scheduling, recording and playout for the full suite of MediaPrism software, in addition to other key functions such as ADI metadata processing and interfaces, EPG parsing and secure content delivery. The platform employs a standards-based architecture that ensures interoperability with external components, including streaming servers, DRM, storage, metadata and EPG sources, Price notes.

“MediaPrism can capture live feeds, look at data from various components like the EPG (electronic programming guide) and DRM (digital rights management) and create assets for multi-platform distribution over Apple, Flash, Silverlight and legacy TV and broadband systems,” he says. “We’re integrating all of this into one streaming server, which allows the operator to avoid a multiplicity of boxes.”