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Pursuing Ubiquitous OTT

July 28, 2022

As over-the-top (OTT) media streaming methodologies continue pushing for dominance on the media broadcast landscape, one reality is becoming increasingly clear, emphasizes Mickaël Raulet, CTO of France-based Ateme, a global video compression and delivery provider. That settling reality is the simple fact that broadcasters are currently, and likely always will be, needing to direct their content into a crowded, ultra-hybrid landscape filled with consumer devices of all types large and small, whilst winding their way through a veritable “jungle of formats” to get the job done, as Raulet puts it. 

“It can be a nightmare of so many devices and codecs and so many ways of delivering content, so we need convergence,” he emphasizes. 

Historically, OTT’s “giant holdback,” as Raulet describes it, has been latency, particularly as it relates to streaming live content. At the same time, its tantalizing advantage has been what Raulet calls “personalization—you get a dedicated stream right to you. That is something very important for user enjoyment and for advertising, among other things.”

The quest to reduce OTT’s potential flaws while making it simpler and more common for consumers to rely on has been ongoing for some time, of course. But now, Raulet suggests, a couple of key developments are bringing that quest into clearer focus. Those developments are the emergence of the MPEG-developed Common Media Application Format (CMAF) as a less complex new format strategically designed to simplify delivery of internet (HTTP)-based media content; and the evolving streaming potential of 5G, the new global broadband cellular network standard. 

Raulet recently co-authored SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal articles on both topics with several colleagues. He emphasizes that, as it relates to CMAF, it was crucial that the separate methods of delivering low-latency content to the world’s plethora of Apple and Android consumer devices somehow come together, and CMAF has become the scheme for getting that done. 

“Apple decided to go one way in terms of low-latency delivery—that is to say it picked its HLS [HTTP Live Streaming] protocol for that purpose—while Android decided to use DASH [MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming],” he explains. “CMAF is a common format designed to deliver information to both of them seamlessly. This specification allows interoperability between HLS and DASH, particularly where latency is concerned, to reduce the burden on the CDN [Content Delivery Network] for encoding the media. What is very important is that it also allows HDR and immersive audio content to be part of the mix in order to improve the quality of the experience for the end user. So CMAF is important because it enables interoperability between HLS and DASH and allows for the delivery of low-latency signal on par with OTA [over-the-air] broadcast content, as well as the best HDR and [immersive audio] experience available.”

Thus, Raulet calls CMAF “the format for converging everything” on the delivery side of the OTT equation. “Even when [broadcasters] are delivering a multi-cast transmission—putting OTT over the air as a multicast service for everyone—they will still use CMAF as a format. It’s a single format that, at least for the next few years, can be delivered over unicast or multicast with low-latency and high quality.”

Raulet and his fellow authors added in their recent SMPTE Journal article that there will be “multiple performance and efficiency benefits for distributors” due to CMAF’s ability to enable cross-format, low-latency livestreams. Among the technical benefits, they wrote, are the fact that “increased cache efficiency at origin and CDN distribution tiers increase performance and lower operating costs,” and also a “decreased request rate from clients” in terms of the encoding process. 

Meanwhile, Raulet also expects that new features being built into 5G Streaming Media Architecture (5GMSA) will, over time, allow 5G to become a major streaming pathway for delivering mobile content to consumers on-the-go. 

“People now want to consume video over the internet no matter where they are or what device they are using,” he explains. “5G will bring more [options] for doing this than ever before. Most people have a number of devices and, of course, consume content at home. But they also want mobility. They want to consume content wherever they are, including live content. Mobility has always been a challenge for that, but I expect 5G to change that going forward.”

Indeed, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, known as 3GPP, which his company, Ateme, has joined, “is working hard to design the new generation of 5G media streaming technologies in order to provide best-of-breed content to anyone,” he adds. That project is a partnership of seven telecommunication standard organizations working toward building and maintaining a global mobile broadband standard.

As explained by Raulet and his co-authors in their recent SMPTE Journal article on 5G for streaming media applications, the 3GPP Project introduced the first 5GMSA version in 2020. That architecture significantly advances features like packet-switched streaming (PSS) in order to allow streaming services to take better advantage of mobile networks. As the article states, “5GMS offers a significantly more flexible framework, adapted to the evolving streaming media ecosystem, where the majority of video content is provided by [OTT] service providers. 5GMS takes advantage of the new 5G features and capabilities to increases their quality of service [QoS] and quality of experience [QoE] for video delivery, going beyond ‘best efforts’ for resource allocation when streaming IP-based OTT content.”

They emphasize in the article that release 17 of the specification this summer was expected to upgrade the technology’s media distribution capabilities by adding additional 5G multicast/broadcast abilities, with continuing advancements expected in the near future. They also explain that the burgeoning need for low-latency delivery of content and other “new challenging requirements” make it necessary to go beyond 5GMS’s legacy service layer from earlier releases, and they discuss other developments. Among them is the Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) project’s new DVB-I scheme, which is designed to provide what the authors call “a converging service layer for delivery over 5G and other networks.” 

Raulet expects such innovative work to continue indefinitely as the quest to make the streaming of high-end media content in all manner of conditions, locations, and on all kinds of devices, in essence, a part of everyday life for typical content consumers in the fairly near future. 

In other words, although he expects OTA to remain a piece of the overall broadcast equation, he suggests that OTT will eventually become clearly “the way to go for most service providers, but with the best quality of service. Maybe OTA is the best way of having that right now, but I think OTT’s flexibility for users will put it ahead of OTA eventually.”


Tag(s): Featured , OTT , News


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