As Live Streaming Matures, Encoding & Delivery Workflows Getting Smarter

Live streaming is not for the faint of heart. There is no margin for error. When a glitch happens anywhere in the live chain from capture and backhaul, to the encoding and packaging, to the caching and delivery, there is no “do over”. And as events scale and live streaming becomes more predominant, the impact of any failure becomes immediately evident, potentially to millions of viewers. This was the case for Apple’s recent live webcast of the launch of the new iPad Mini, which was a massive failure.

Over the past five years, we’ve seen successive attempts to take live streaming to new levels for major events like the 2010 World Cup, 2012 Summer Olympics, and the recent World Cup in Brazil. Akamai recently noted that the 2014 World Cup was more than 7X the streaming volume of the 2010 event. These events are now commonplace and getting to the point where the user experience rivals traditional linear broadcast. But, it’s not there yet.

Earlier in the year, at IBC, Elemental unveiled its Elemental Delta video delivery platform and over the past month, I’ve had a chance to see the platform in action. Sitting between the core video compression and downstream content delivery network, Elemental Delta enables catch-up TV, start-over TV, nDVR functionality, as well as targeted advertising. For a sense of what Elemental Delta can enable, just check out CNN’s new app, CNNGo (previously branded CNNx) on your PC or smart device.

What wasn’t noted in the widespread coverage of the Elemental Delta launch is that this was a pretty smart extension for Elemental and one worth watching closely as it evolves. While extending its reach along the video delivery chain positions Elemental to have a potentially larger impact on the industry and therefore greater prospects for growth, it also allows the company to double down on its well-recognized expertise in live applications, while providing a bridge to the creation of on-demand assets.

When I talk to broadcasters and content owners in the media and entertainment space, it’s clear that Elemental has been a disruptive force in live streaming. The company’s focus five years ago was on leveraging graphics processors along with a powerful software stack to achieve dramatically better density, performance and quality in any live streaming experience. It was an approach that took other vendors by surprise and captured the attention and support of media leaders like BBC, Comcast, ESPN, and HBO.

The makeup of the video delivery infrastructure market, particularly at the point of origination, is remarkably similar to the transcoding market five years ago. The ecosystem is fragmented, with no clear dominant player and a lot of large players, including Cisco, Alcatel Lucent, and Arris with perhaps more questions than answers. Adding in all the new cloud based transcoding solutions and the new devices available to consumers, (Nexus Player, Amazon Fire TV Stick) and the market for encoding, both live and on-demand, only continues to get more complex.

Elemental’s approach to the market has been to maintain its focus on perfecting live streaming experiences with its software platform to implement video architectures that have a lot of elasticity and scalability. Many vendors now use the new term “software-defined” transcoding, which essentially means video is infrastructure-agnostic, freeing video operators from the constraints of dedicated or legacy equipment. In other words, customers can deploy Elemental’s solution on whatever combination of dedicated and virtual resources as well as architectures and processors that work best, maximizing the most flexibility possible across the content chain.

With the entrance of Elemental Delta into the market and delivery portion of the video chain, it’s signaling to the industry that this is an area ripe for disruption. What I find intriguing about their product is what it is not. It’s not a veiled attempt to be all things to all people like the OVPs that have been forced to do so because their capabilities, and market, are more or less limited to end-to-end management of clip content. Elemental Delta seems remarkably focused on functionality customers need right now as they think about the impact of YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon on their media franchises. Not that the OVPs aren’t also thinking about this impact, but they simply aren’t as focused in their product offering.

By positioning itself as the singular source of clips, highlights, start over assets, etc. directly sourced from live streaming and even 24/7 linear channels, Elemental Delta plays to the company’s expertise in real-time video processing and gives the potential for a fused viewer experience across live and on-demand. If Elemental Delta can bridge the divide between live and VOD processing, it will in an enviable position, with a holistic offering that extends well beyond the basic ability to move bits. This may jolt companies like Cisco, Ericsson and perhaps even Akamai into recognizing the need to evolve services in the video delivery space to align with customers seeking to offer more than the ability to move bits.

This segment of the market is really heating up and just this morning, thePlatform announced a new product called mpx Replay, which also looks to address this need in the live event market. I suspect we’ll see even more solutions like these coming out in the New Year and I know of at least on major OEM provider who is looking to partner with a vendor on such a solution.