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Looking to 2018 in cloud and virtualisation

Ericsson Media Solutions' Mark Russell reflects on a seismic year for SDN, cloud and IP.

As 2017 draws to a close, we can see that the TV and media industry is grappling with a seismic shift towards and around software-defined networks – specifically cloud and the role of IP. The topic of cloud and virtualisation is far from new – but its presence has grown exponentially over the last five years to represent some of the keystone building blocks of the broadcast industry’s future.

The principle of cloud-based services is about embracing the agile nature of internet-led services and combining it with broadcast quality. As a multitude of new entrants drive even greater competition across the media ecosystem, traditional content owners, broadcasters, network owners and TV service providers all must evolve and respond to this new internet era of TV.

We are witnessing an evolution from hardware and proprietary broadcaster specific tools, to a much more open set of technologies that offer smarter, faster and more agile capabilities. The combination of IP and software is helping to transform broadcast workflow, enabling remote production, unprecedented connectivity and deeper reach to the home, while also offering richer and broader experiences to consumers.

This represents a significant juncture in the industry’s future and a key opportunity to develop new and innovative technologies that can accelerate this pace of change. We can now reduce complexity, significantly drive down costs and respond to the changing video climate by efficiently delivering personalised and immersive viewing experience to viewers worldwide.

So how will the industry evolve in the next 12 months?

The usage of time-shifted TV or cloud DVR is at an unprecedented high and we can see that consumers are now evolving into the TV Everywhere generation. They are drawing more content and purchasing more services from new OTT players who are providing the personalised content that they looking for at a time of their convenience. Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media research found that teenagers are already spending more than half their time watching on-demand – an increase of more than 100 per cent or almost ten hours per week, since 2010.

But not only are consumers watching more video, they are also changing the way they are watching it. On demand content already represents over 40 per cent of total TV and video consumption. However, scheduled linear TV continues to offer the most-watched content, representing over nine and a half hours of TV series, movie and program viewing every week. Furthermore, 34 per cent of all scheduled linear TV viewing is now spent watching live content, a ten per cent increase since 2015.

Yet the challenges to cloud DVR and time-shifted content are numerous – ranging from legal issues and storage concerns, through to the all-important performance requirements. As we can see through the enablement of virtualisation and data-driven experiences, the convergence of the internet and media worlds are enabling new possibilities to deliver deeper levels of scale and depth.

In order to tap into these flexible and scalable deployments, many operators are now looking to cloud technology to support their media solutions. As a company, we are addressing this complex subject through our Video Storage & Processing Platform (VSPP) – a multi-network, multi-device, multi-server solution that enables scalable ingest and storage of video content from small origin servers for video-on-demand, through to huge distributed private copy cloud DVR systems, combined with media processing capabilities such as content packaging and encryption.

As multiscreen delivery becomes increasingly important, the challenge of delivering across multiple handsets, formats, and reacting to traffic growth will be extremely challenging. In this regard, cloud based storage of content is just as crucial to final delivery; by 2020, we estimate that half of all TV and video viewing will be on mobile – an 85 per cent increase since 2010.

Yet another important aspect of future cloud services will be seen through enabling data driven recommendation. Data is everywhere – ranging from content metadata, device data, access data and editorial data – however only a fraction is harnessed. Today, the majority of video information is generated via digital spectrum but is often discarded as soon as it’s delivered to the screen. The cost of capturing, curating, managing and processing video has been perceived, to date, to be too high to justify the video analytics. 

By leveraging smarter analytics and data, service providers can analyse real-time data to provide better content recommendation and search facilities that mirror their behaviors, by time of day, through to favorite genres and locations to watch it from. When you consider that the average time spent searching for content has increased to almost one hour per day, the simplification of content discovery and the importance of more relevant, engaging and accurate recommendations is an area that service providers simply cannot afford to ignore.

The cloud is also playing a fundamental role in the industry’s engine room – media processing. At a time when demand for ultra-high quality encoding and mobile video delivery is more important than ever, the role of cloud technology is enabling all players to resolve the challenge of performance, scalability, agility and reliability.

The scalability of cloud-based platforms will be particularly important in delivering the necessary streamlined media processing workflows required to make content suitable for increasingly mobile-first audiences. Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media research shows that approximately 70 per cent of consumers watch videos on a smartphone (double the amount from 2012) and do so for around six hours per week – almost a fifth of the total time spent watching TV and video.

By 2020, overall viewing of linear and on-demand content will be close to parity. Within the same time frame, 50 per cent of video viewing will be on a mobile screen. Converged delivery platforms will be a vital part of a service provider’s arsenal to ensure audiences receive the requisite level of on-demand content to differentiate and compete in the future.

At a time when today’s TV viewers are more exacting, demanding and expert of multiple devices, it is clear that the industry is facing a wide range of unique challenges at every single stage of the video journey. The rise of immersive content, the growth of software-centric media, innovations in content discovery through data-driven, personalised and targeted smart media and the triumvirate of IP, cloud and mobility are helping to redefine this exciting new era for the industry. Yet the ultimate objective for service providers in 2018 is clear – learning to understand how to converge services with the internet to reimagine how content interconnects, how it is captured and how it is distributed to the consumer.