Over the last two years we have received a huge number of requests from rights holders for help getting their content on to the Internet in the form of Internet Television. So I thought I’d dedicate a blog post to explain some of the technologies that need to be considered in order to make that happen.
First a definition: Internet Television is the distribution of television content via the Internet. Television and Internet are the key words here. The content is usually also shown on traditional broadcast networks. The delivery of the content makes use of the Internet and no other network. The content can be delivered on-demand (think Hulu) or as a live linear feed (just like you receive live to air television) or both (think BBC’s iPlayer).
Here’s what you need;
1. Ingestion. The television content exists somewhere and needs to be connected to the Internet. That usually means building a high-speed redundant connection from the content owner’s facility to the Internet distribution partner. You may want both a terrestrial, fiber, connection as well as a satellite standby connection. If the feed being used is encrypted (as required for satellite and cable delivery) then you also need to be able to decrypt the feeds before they can be converted to an Internet format.
2. Encoding. These television feeds then need to be converted into Internet formats. More specifically they need to be capable of being consumed on the plethora of consumer electronic devices like Internet connected TV’s, iPads, games consoles, mobile phones etc. This encoding can either be done once for all the formats at the point of ingest or it can be done dynamically on request within a CDN.
3. Rights and blackout management. Although the originator of the rights is able to deliver all their content over the air to televisions they may not also have the rights to do the same thing over the Internet. So it is important that the delivery partner gives the rights holder simple tools to define what channels, or what programs within a channel, can be made available on the Internet. It is also important that these tools control the encoders mentioned above so that if the rights are not available the content is never even encoded into an Internet format. There is a variant of this concept related mostly to sports: blacking out games in certain geographic areas. It is a similar concept but here the content does need to be encoded but only a subset of the consumers have to be barred from receiving it. A control mechanism has to be in place on the consumer electronic device that is activated by the rights management tool.
4. Protection. As the content is encoded it has to be protected in almost every case. That can take a variety of forms like digital rights management, token authentication, player verification or watermarking depending on the level and type of protection the rights agreement dictates. It is also likely that different protection mechanisms are required for the same content destined for different consumer electronic devices.
5. Storage and EPG integration. Most rights holders want to make the programming available both as a live linear feed and then also available for some period of time (usually from 7 to 30 days) as video on demand (VOD). That means that all that encoded content has to be stored in a failure free environment. But it also means that you need a way of breaking the linear program feed into discrete program files. That is achieved by integrating the encoding system to the rights’ holders Electronic Program Guide (EPG) so that you know when a program starts and stops and can automate the creation of the VOD library. You also have to automate the time that VOD content exists on the storage to the appropriate window.
6. Delivery. All of the linear Internet streams, and the VOD content, then have to be delivered over the Internet using a massively distributed set of servers. This is commonly referred to as a CDN. That CDN has to be capable of dealing with all those formats and protection mechanisms as well as being able to scale appropriately for the size of audience that turns up.
7. Authentication. In many cases a system needs to be put in place to authenticate that the consumer is allowed to access the content. The CDN needs to be able to know who it can deliver content to and who it cannot. That authentication system could just be from a subscriber database or it could be a more sophisticated system tied to another distribution platform like cable TV. That latter system is commonly referred to as TV Everywhere.
8. Analytics. Rights holders need two sorts of analytics made available to them in real time; Audience metrics, Quality metrics. They need to know who is watching what content, where, on what device and for how long. They need to know the quality that their customers are experiencing and where problems might be occurring.
9. Service Management. And here’s almost the most important part – service management. In exactly the same way that a broadcaster has a large Master Control operating 24 hours a day to manage, monitor and maintain their traditional broadcast distribution system, all of the elements above need to be managed, monitored and maintained 24 hours a day. A dedicated Internet Television Operations Center has to be staffed 24 hours a day. But the size and complexity of the delivery platform also means that many sophisticated management tools are required to quickly spot problems and enable a service management team to manage thousands of live television channels distributed to millions of consumers.
So there you go. That’s what you need … for a basic service! There are a lot more bells and whistles that could be added. It is a complex thing to build and operate well. If you need help with any or all of this you could talk to someone who is already delivering hundreds of exceptional quality linear television channels over the Internet every single day – Level 3.