Banish the Spinning Wheel of Death Forever!

If I said to a TV broadcast engineer “I’m going to interrupt your live broadcast signal, freeze the picture, insert a spinning wheel of death, and I’m going to do this frequently and at random” his/her reply would be unprintable! So why has this become acceptable for OTT delivery? The answer is that, until now, there hasn’t been a better solution. We have come to accept that getting “something” to our customers via the Internet is better than nothing. That random de-resolution and freezing are the only way. Despite the fact that the customer isn’t getting what they paid for, or expected. And they’re certainly not getting the best possible picture. In fact, we’re driving them nuts!

The problems are well known. Video has broken the Internet. The current private and public Internet was built for email and web pages. The exponential rise in video was not anticipated. Nor was the exponential rise in picture resolution and quality (4K, HDR, WCG, 8K etc. etc.) Consequently, Telco infrastructure lags significantly. Telco engineers describe it as “threading an elephant through the eye of a needle”. Overlay Content Delivery networks (CDNs) are one attempt to alleviate the problem. Models vary, from servers distributed into Telco exchanges to super-pops blasting from “above”. In the end, as consumer numbers, video views and file sizes rise exponentially, they just add to the problem.

Telco’s are faced with $100’s of millions in investments to upgrade. The argument rages as to who’s “fault” this is and who should pay: content owners or content deliverers. In the mean time, consumers are left peering at fuzzy pictures or screaming at the TV as their beloved movie/TV show freezes at the critical moment and a little spinning wheel says to them “we don’t care enough about you to fix this”.

Well OK that’s a bit harsh. But only a little bit! We would NEVER accept this in broadcast. “Broadcast quality” used to be a by-word for the best possible picture we can deliver. In OTT it has come to mean “the picture we can deliver”. The best solution we had was Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) and that is what everyone adopted. It worked – sort of. There was something else that worked a little too well: BitTorrent. BitTorrent works brilliantly but it has been fatally compromised by the illegal file sharers. But  as the saying goes, “the cure often grows next to the poison.

Secure Peer Assist (SPA) combines the best of peer to peer and top-down CDN and makes it secure. It uses spare capacity in the Telco network switches, PCs and your home network to fix this problem forever. By converting a world’s best practice DASH stream into progressive download, it allows movies and TV to reach your screen in true 4K, 8K and higher HDR video. It does this by sending video “slices” from neighbouring peers and filling the gaps with a top-down CDN. Securely. Multiple garden hoses become a fire hose. It also allows legal file sharing and pre-positioning of content. All of this requires a huge level of trust from content owners. SPA has been approved unconditionally by a major Hollywood studio and deemed novel and inventive by the patent office.

In other words, a better mousetrap now exists. We can now deliver movies over the Internet in all the glorious quality the producers intended. Without interruption. At ANY Internet speed. And there seems to be no limit, at least in the foreseeable future. The platform scales with demand. In fact, it gets MORE efficient as demand grows.

But wait, there’s more! The exact same technology platform also enables delivery and playing of AAA games, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). So now, on one compact, stylish, open platform you can download and play ALL your entertainment. Alongside any app or social media you want. The impossible dream has indeed come true. So “join the resolution” today! Register your interest at  Coming soon to a retailer near you!

Tectonic shifts in TMT at the Aussie OTT TV Summit 2017

The 2017 Australian OTT TV Summit last week will be remembered as a watershed moment in the TMT industries. The tectonic shifts in alignment of Telco’s, Media co’s and Technology (TMT) were made apparent. Some key “elephants in the room” were aired, and we were given a true glimpse of the future. The historic AT&T union with Time Warner will give rise to a whole new generation of “Software Defined Entertainment”. If they survive the culture fusion. You need the 100Mbps NBN service (not the 25Mbps service) to watch 4K movies without the “spinning wheel of death”. Peer to peer and UDP will be a big part of the solution for video on the Internet. How media co’s incorporate games and VR will define the future of entertainment. TV broadcasters need to catch up fast. And sophisticated telco’s will outgrow traditional media deals to build new “telemedia” models.

Ed Barton from Ovum reviewed how well the summit has fared in predicting trends, and 2017 was no different. He highlighted the rise of the “new TV household” and that the Comcast Xfinity STB fully integrates all partner content including Netflix, enabling an integrated catalogue and, most importantly, integrated search. Both brands benefit.

Ben Loh from tonton and Anson Tan from viu highlighted just how different OTT is in Asia. From their clean white UX to the fact that 50% of Asia watches Korean dramas such as Descendants of the Sun, Goblin and Running Man. Tim Parsons from iflix showed what a bunch of Aussie gweilos can do in Asia when partnered with some of the biggest western media co’s.

The changes coming in sports “broadcasting” were highlighted by Lynne Andersen from the Aussie Paralympics Committee, Marne Fechner from Netball Aus, and Shannon Donato from the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Women in sport out-rating men. Who’d have thunk it? And $100M earmarked by the NFL for “digital futures”. They were recruiting at a digital video meetup not very far away on Tuesday night! eSports didn’t rate a mention at the Summit but we predict that will be the last time that happens!

On Monday arvo, Eric Kearley gave a hint of what is coming in his very entertaining pres on the marriage between media and telco cultures. “Who do you know?” versus the PowerPoint deck. And the PowerPoint deck on what should be in the PowerPoint deck! “Let’s make something, throw it out there and see if it rates” versus years of planning and decades of execution. Fast fail versus can’t afford to fail. Beginning to get the picture? It made for VERY interesting chats over drinks. Especially if Tremain Wheatley from AT&T was in the conversation. You know, one of the oldest and largest telco’s in the wold who’s buying one of the largest media co’s in the world (Time Warner)!

And that was the first big elephant in the room. The fact that most of the Hollywood studios now have telco deals that will give them global distribution with globally recognised brands. Warner and AT&T, NBC Universal and Comcast, Fox and the News networks (including Sky and Foxtel), Paramount and Viacom. Sony and Disney are the last ones standing alone. The view over drinks was that Disney will “roll their their own” as they often do. They have a strong brand and have already bought the Maker Studios MCN. Sony is the big question mark. They have the advantage of a very strong gaming business, and gaming was another elephant in the room that has the potential to squash all the others for whoever gets it right. The question of who will dominate the mergers, the telco culture or the media culture, came down in favour of media. The question of what the traditional (TV) media co’s do about telco partnerships and distribution networks wasn’t so easy to answer.

Day two proved most interesting. It can best be summed up by the quotes:

In order NOT to experience the ‘spinning wheel of death’ when streaming 4K, you need the 100Mbps service, not the 25Mbps service….” – Sarah Palmer, EGM Products and Pricing, NBN. You heard it here first!

Peer to peer has to be part of the solution” – Shane Keats, Director global marketing, Media and Entertainment, Akamai. Another first! Shane also revealed that Akamai have actually objectively tested the effect of low bit rates and buffering! People were 10.4% MORE ENGAGED at 5Mbps than at 1Mbps!! And buffering caused the following changes in emotive state: surprise +27%; focus -8%; happiness -14%; disgust +9%; sadness +7%!!! At last, quantitative proof of the value of OTT quality!!!!

The inflection point [between streaming VR and local playout from a PC] has to be very carefully managed. Low end will stream via phones. High end will play out from a local PC” – Angus Stevens, Start VR. Angus gave some great examples of what is the “tip of the trunk” of the massive VR “elephant” on “day zero” of its development. The one he was still visibly moved by is Notes on Blindness which highlights the crucial ability of VR: its unparalleled ability to emotionally move the viewer like no other medium.

Software IS the [OTT] product. The result is Software Driven Entertainment” – Tremaine Wheatley, AVP OTT product management, AT&T

Our studies show that the two most watched devices are the TV and the PC” – Liz Ross, Freeview

A massive hint at the future beyond telco and media deals came on the final panel from Serkan Honeine of Telstra, who have been in the media business longer than any telco. As Eric Kearley pointed out, Foxtel is THE international case study for telco-media mergers. But Serkan had something very surprising to say: which was that, while “Telstra understands the importance of premium quality content to sell and fill its pipes, the content business isn’t necessarily Telstra’s strength”………

And finally, the quote of the Summit from Shane Keats’ pres: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” ― R. Buckminster Fuller.

Rhett Sampson, CEO & CTO, GT Systems
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