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October 14, 2013

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Nothing Endures but Change: Highlights from the Multi-network Forum at IBC 2013


Never has this old adage been as relevant as it is to the to the pay TV industry of today. Since the proliferation of broadband Internet and video friendly connected devices, the industry has been challenged to keep pace with changing consumer expectations and an evolving competitive landscape.

At this year’s IBC Multi-network Forum, entitled “Making your Hybrid Network Smarter,” moderator Nigel Walley of Decipher Media Consultants summarized the situation as follows: while the pace of change is only increasing, smart hybrid networks are proving robust enough to handle all the current challenges being “thrown at them” and are better positioned to deal with the future unknowns - of which there are many. He also reaffirmed that the term “hybrid” is applicable industry-wide —beyond network configurations to content types and business models and user case and security solutions.

Panel presentations and discussions from the forum are available online to view in their entirety, however, in this post I wanted to touch on a few of the key topics discussed.

LTE – Opening up new markets and interactivity

Among many technical leaps forward, David Price from Ericsson verified that the availability of fourth-generation LTE networks will finally enable operators to deliver next generation video services – including scalable live event coverage - to a large proportion of global consumers. LTE bandwidths also offer a return path to deliver interactivity that today’s television experience demands. 

Experience is everything

Reiterated by everyone on the panel, especially Ivar Slavenburg from Ziggo, the consumer experience of multi-network, multi-screen video needs to improve. The industry must work together to make the discovery of content effortless from any device or network and work with content owners to simplify the content rights picture for each market. 

Ivar explained that as operators such as Ziggo work with more multi-network user cases, the more they understand how customers are using their services, either within a channel environment or via applications and the more they can do to standardize the experience, making it more accessible to everyone. 

Securing Subscriber Analytics

Answering the question on what to do with the subscriber behavioral data that is now available, Tom Munro of Verimatrix explained that operators are best positioned to take action based on the accumulative and holistic information gathered across multiple devices and networks – versus data from a single app. The pay TV environment is perfectly positioned to learn the most about subscriber’s behavior and in turn, deliver more choices. What’s interesting is the role that security plays to keep this information secure and ensure the consumer’s right to privacy. Fortunately, great strides are taking place to protect data and keep it anonymous at every level. 

The Thorny Subject of Standards and Regulation

Kate Grant from Nine Tiles challenged the panel with a question around how to handle accessibility regulation in a hybrid world.  Spencer Stephens, CTO at Sony Pictures Entertainment, responded positively that rich content, such as audio descriptions, could be made available within their enhanced playback application and that there is already a subtitle mandate from the FCC on some Internet delivered content. Spencer added that late binding is able to push down different levels of content, including audio content to players as required. Keith Wymbs of Elemental Technologies went on to assure the audience that accessibility beyond broadcast is being addressed, bit it takes longer as everyone deploys it differently. 

Nigel Walley observed that the regulatory frameworks have a hard time to move as quickly as technical developments. David Price added that the technologists are not waiting for regulations and that efforts like the MPEG-DASH and DASH-IF initiatives are evidence of just that. 

When asked for evidence of the challenges that the lack of standards has on the industry, Will Law of Akamai gave a great example of there is currently at least five different caption formats and that if that was standardized, network translation of captions would be much faster to deploy. When asked if geography had a part to play in all of this, Will went on to say that it is as much about legal issues and rights behind content that are blocking more rapid growth of multi-network services as it is the distances across multiple markets. 

Look for part II of this blog series on more highlights from the Multi-network Forum at IBC. 

You can view the presentations via SlideShare and the video of the event via Videonet. You can also get the best sound bites of the Forum with interviews of each of the panelists on our YouTube channel.