Olympics Shaping Up To Be OTT’s Moonshot

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

There’s more at stake than a lot of nations’ pride and the U.K. economy with this year’s Olympics.
As we report on p. 1 of this issue, the 2012 Games are pushing the envelope in online distribution technology with some 3,000 hours of live event coverage to be streamed throughout the world through a complex array of distribution strategies led by major broadcasters and the International Olympics Committee. Nothing like this has ever been attempted.

Some major broadcasters, including BBC, NBC, South America’s Terra Networks, Canada’s CTV, Eurosport and others, are going to great lengths to create their own high-volume streaming platforms for their respective coverage areas. Other national broadcasters are tapping into either the IOC’s separate streaming platform or one of the majors’ individual platforms to create localized versions of the online coverage.

Somehow all the video fed from a pooled group of networks’ cameras supplying coverage to various outlets is going to get processed through production stages, uploaded onto distribution platforms, fed all the localized advertising, special commentary, stats and what have you from the various primary distribution outlets and streamed to users accessing content via PCs, tablets, smartphones, connected TVs, game consoles and OTT TV boxes in all the right resolutions and formats the world over. Wow.

Anyone with a stake in the future of broadband TV should be paying very close attention. If this comes off reasonably well it will be a signal to all concerned that the technology components are available to support a sophisticated, high-quality live multichannel TV service over the Internet with all the applications and advertising bells and whistles such a service is supposed to deliver.

The one thing that won’t be tested to the limits in this global experiment is the digital rights management infrastructure that’s required to deliver premium content on a mass scale to devices of all types, since this is all free-to-air content. As we report on p. 19, working through rights issues and executing protection and policies to the level content owners require may be the biggest gating factor in the transition to premium broadband TV.

But the Olympics online strategies will certainly test other vital security issues that go to the heart of whether the Internet can be made safe enough to be a mainstream conduit for high-value content traditionally delivered over local, closed networks. The security forces assembled by the BBC and the IOC will be confronting every variety of hacker and cyber terrorist out to test their ability to disrupt an online event of such importance and scope.

None of this is to say people are waiting to see how it goes with the Olympics before embarking on ambitious new plans to make the Internet work as a global distribution platform for premium TV services, although a major snafu having to do with the complexities of adaptive rate transcoding, fragmentation and quality performance would certainly raise a cautionary flag. As reported in March (p. 1), major broadcast and cable networks are already well down the road in preparations for what amounts to a transformation in the TV business.

In fact, as we learned at the recent NAB Show in Las Vegas, these plans are more advanced and more pervasive than we previously thought. Discussions with every type of vendor that has a stake in the distribution of premium content to multiple types of Internet-connected devices revealed that they all are either contracted with or fighting for contracts from networks pursuing this strategy. ABC, Time Warner, Viacom, NBC-Universal, Fox – they’re all going this way as fast as they can.

That says a lot for what suppliers of the underlying enabling technologies have accomplished over the past couple of years, moving from initial introductions of platforms capable of performing the miracles required to make all this work to convincing the leading content suppliers they can build a new business model on this infrastructure. A lot of those solutions and how they fit into these new business models have long been and will continue to be the focus of our coverage.

The big difference going forward is the real-world tests for all this technology are shaping up to be unlike anything we’ve seen.