Category Archives: Web TV

Why Live Linear Streaming is still King


Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos controversially said in October 2015 that, in 10 years time, he felt linear TV will be dead. Surprisingly, the response to that was muted except for certain observers like nscreen Media which posted an analysis to the contrary. The publication rightly pointed out that recent Pure Play OTT services that have launched with a heavy linear focus, showing it is still a valid proposition (in the context of this post, I’ll be referring it as ‘live linear’ since non-live channels that are programmed from a VOD playlist, do exist).

The industry trend has been to also introduce ‘lite’ OTT packages that actually focus on live linear streaming, catering to potential ‘cord-never’ customer segments. And don’t forget that TV Everywhere services still get great audience engagement from the linear channels that are streamed out – people want to watch TV on the go almost as much as they watch time-shifted content (from my personal working experience anyway).

But back to the Pure Play examples. These include Sling TV which was launched by parent company Dish TV, offering a variety of linear channels from Pay TV providers. Another giant weighing in is Sony Corp with Playstation Vue, which offers  a large variety of linear channels as well. Both services also provide VOD content.

Pluto.TV with lots of live linear and play-listed channels to choose from, and each with its own programmed schedule, is also making waves. The company just announced 20 new channels from content providers such as IGN, The Onion, Legendary Digital Networks, Newsy and World Poker Tour. In Europe, France’s highly anticipated Molotov service promises over 100 free and paid channels contained within a stunning user interface. It’s the latest to be launched and it definitely won’t be last.

Next year Hulu is promising a new live streaming-plus-on demand bundle designed for the younger generation. According to several reports, Hulu is negotiating with the various studios and content owners to stream ESPN, Disney Channel, Fox News, FX and others.

So it is hard to believe – from the current trend – that linear viewing is dying. The problem has not been that live linear is out-dated, live linear as we know it has not evolved into the interactive, intelligent lean-back experience it could potentially be. The Pure Play providers are proving it.

Sadly, broadcasters are still struggling to hold on to terrestrial viewing and the all-important revenues they  derive from it. Many are holding on to their golden geese of premium live sports, news channels and exclusivity. There’s no denying that these continue to represent the main reasons why people won’t churn away from TV so easily. Many broadcasters are grappling with ways to monetize TV Everywhere, especially if they are AVOD-based. It’s a constant battle to keep CPMs up.

But they should not ignore the huge potential being afforded to live linear streaming, with its ability to offer targeted advertising and interactivity. Initiatives like HbbTV promise a set of standards that result in the best of terrestrial viewing with broadband-based interactivity (ranging from companion device pairing to multi-audio and subtitling). However, the ‘h’ stands for hybrid and that is what it is: a transient state. A compromise that leverages legacy technology. Ultimately, terrestrial TV’s limitations mirrors a decaying castle under siege. At some stage it will simply give in. A fully connected world delivers too much potential to be ignored. The problem is that we don’t know when this utopian state will happen. We know that it will happen though.

Ted Sarandos was representing an iconoclasts view of the world. Ironically, Netflix has become an icon of SVOD in the way broadcast was, and still is, to the Baby Boomer generation. It’s premature to share his ebullient views but we know that live linear has a valuable place at the moment.

In my next post, I’ll even talk about why I think these two bastions of live – sports and news – are under threat. But for now, broadcasters can still breathe a little easier.


Astro delves into Social Cinema

A movie poster provides the info and link to the rental screen

Pushing the boundaries of video on demand has always been my mantra. Last week, I was proud to again be part of a great team that created another history-making chapter. We took our staple Astro First brand, and extended it to Facebook.

How’s that history-making? Firstly, let me tell you what Astro First is. Astro First is actually what we call NVOD (Near VOD). A series of linear channels that screen movies (one for each channel) at scheduled intervals. You subscribe to the movie (and channel) of your choice within a 48 hour window period and you watch again if you have time or continue at the next slot. Users with a PVR box and no internet connection subscribe to the service via SMS.

Despite its low-tech approach, Astro First was phenomenally successful when it launched last year, primarily because it offered the convenience of viewing local movies within 2 weeks of their cinema release. Subscribers loved it as they saved money going to the cinemas and hefty additional ticket fees. We enabled it on our VOD Store this year on Byond PVR boxes with the ease of remote-enabled purchase.

However, our initiative on Facebook has huge implications: Firstly, Now ANYONE can watch Astro First titles by simply purchasing it from our Official Facebook App and watching it immediately from a PC or Mac. In fact, after making some tweaks, you can a watch it on a whole lot of mobile or tablet devices simply because we make the browser the prime viewing platform (it’s a web app, not native ‘store-based’).

Secondly, it’s revolutionary because it allows all the Facebook features like posting comments or sharing of key moments (curated by Astro) from the player page, generating interest from friends as well as ensuring much of the content inside is viralized. This actually helps content providers or studios leverage the full effect of Facebook in spreading ‘love’ for a particular movie.

Warner Bros actually made the first leap into this ‘social cinema’ experience when the Dark Knight was released 15-months ago. I believe Malaysia is the first country in Asia to try this out. It’s early days yet so we don’t expect a tidal wave of users to come in. What we expect is to delight customers with more ways for them to consume their favourite content. Currently the app is Geo-filtered so only Malaysians will be able to enjoy the service. Hopefully, this will change in the near future and enable more Malaysian movies to be viewed by Malaysians abroad.

Google Goes After The Big Guns

Broken just weeks ago is the stunning news that Google is possibly going to move into the Pay TV industry. The Big Guns like DirecTV and Dish network have probably been shifting uncomfortably in their Philip Starck executive chairs as the rumour spreads like wildfire across the online community. It coincides with the launch of the impressively high-speed Google Fibre in Kansas City, Missouri and across the river to Kansas City, Kansas too.

Frankly, I don’t know which is more ambitious. Google Fiber or a Google Pay TV product. With the former, the thought of creating Fiber-To-The-Home networks is prohibitively expensive unless you’re a telco driven to doing it to offer content services as well. America’s vast distance make this a great hurdle for Google, let alone any company attempting it. But a Google Pay TV business seems far more likely to benefit from this initiative as the Search Engine giant could deploy its YouTube service on top of a STB device, add Android Market apps and then unleash the benefits of Search within such an eco-system.

This could make for one of the more compelling products when it is fully-launched. Stay tuned.

Google AdWords for Video: Another Game Changer?

Another Game Changer? Well, to begin with, Google just keeps on making it easier to put your ad in a video where your target market may just be watching and become receptive enough. Your audience. Your choice. Let’s see those FTA television boys beat this. And you get a USD100 coupon to begin with too.

Streaming To Your Benefit

I was chatting to the Asia-Pacific vice president of a CDN lately and naturally, we talked about live streaming protocols. The inevitable comparison between HTTP-based Smooth Streaming and RTMP/Flash Dynamic Streaming was brought up as well as, of course, the rising dominance of HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). Three streaming protocols being advocated by Microsoft, Adobe and Apple respectively. According to the VP, his discussions with professionals worldwide pointed to HLS as being the eventual undisputed leader, thanks to the tandem rise in Apple devices.

Let’s back-track to a streaming primer first. RTMP/Flash is currently the most widely-used protocol, with its plug-in resident in 98% of browsers worldwide. RTMP’s dynamic bit rate technology has just seen the release of FlashAccess as a DRM support, but this is still fairly new. End-to-end latency is still behind that of HTTP streaming. Not to forget, Flash requires dedicated and costly streaming media servers and is not exactly firewall friendly.

Microsoft’s product seems to be the best technology at first glance. It requires no special hardware, is firewall friendly and its obvious HTTP scheme allows edge-caching CDNs (which are simple HTTP proxy servers) like Akamai to reach deep and close to end-users. Coupled with its default fragment length of 2 seconds, Smooth Streaming is exactly what its name suggests. PlayReady also boosts its credentials as a solid DRM product.

The disadvantage lies in Microsoft’s Silverlight as being the foundation for the Smooth Streaming product. Silverlight’s plug-in must be downloaded by users for their browsers (an apparent turn-off) and approximately half the world’s browsers simply lack it. Although Microsoft claims this number is growing, having your competitor’s video player outnumber yours by two to one is a big disadvantage. Thus, Silverlight seems to be on the same stage that Beta was when it battled VHS for the home video market: the better product seems losing out to mainstream appeal.

Like what the VP said, Apple’s ascent as a device giant may take time, but it will bring HLS along to the summit with it. HLS has the benefits of being HTTP-based but provides for an MPEG-2 transport stream and an index file that is fragmented (its rivals are contiguous or connected as ‘one’ file). This offers various benefits. But each file fragment is 10 seconds long. Plus, the fragmentation requires an additional processing step so its end-to-end latency is the worst. But being made for Apple is the only good thing going for it; while Flash and Adobe slug it out on PCs, Steve Jobs has simply shut his rivals out by being the exclusive streaming platform for his devices.

Sure, Apple’s dominance is beyond the scope of this post (it has everything to do with that magical ‘network effects’ that Harvard professors love to talk about) but the fact is that by 2014 Admob projects 400 million iPads will be in the market (let alone iPhones and iPod touch devices) and this means the world had better sit up and take notice.

As broadcasters and online video professionals, I hear everyone take up a position on which is best. However, the true answer lies in your organization and what makes for the best approach to your customers. Invariably that means riding the wave of multiple technologies for the time being. At Astro, our online Silverlight player took the form of an iPhone App. But streaming to iOS devices is equally feasible by us simply pointing a separate HLS stream to a mobile-formatted site. We require our premium content to be protected and we’re fine with asking our paying subscribers to download the plug-in. We ensure them that the trade-off is the best streaming experience.

Also, if you’re a free-to-air broadcaster you might take a position that you don’t need DRM and that RTMP/Flash is your best bet. By all means, go for it. Just don’t forget that app for iPhone and iPad. There’s no way you can squeeze RTMP on a mobile site because Safari won’t support it (some CDNs will claim to be able to tunnel your RTMP stream through HTTP headers – that’s difficult and clumsy) so don’t bother.

Lastly, you could hedge your bets for HLS only. There’s nothing wrong with that if you think your customers are on the high-end and you want them to view your content from their iOS devices. The mobile site will be perfect, as will the two separate apps you’ll need if it comes to that (app or mobile site – that’s another interesting debate). If you don’t need authentication, then all the better. In years to come, iOS devices may become so dominant that you won’t even need to bother about Flash and Smooth Stream anyway.

So while I think the jury is still out on which is the better streaming technology, I feel it really boils down to what is best for your business model and your consumers. Until that verdict is finally handed down, I’d plea-bargain for safety and cover my streaming bases.

And… We’re Live!

There’s little doubt that live streaming is slowly creeping into Web TV in a bigger way. Advertisers and broadcasters and even niche content owners can venture into it without blowing their budgets. And the best part is when you stream live, you’re targeting a specific audience with player analytics that tell you more about their interaction that TV cannot. My personal experience with live streaming on a week-in, week-out basis has taught me a whole lot about the challenges and opportunities of live streaming. Firstly, it isn’t cheap to do these things so the opportunity itself has been that much rewarding. Plus, few people can boast of being able to stream 64 FIFA World Cup matches live successfully.

So every major online video platform is moving into this space. Possibly answering to the Ustream and Livestream challenge, YouTube’s recent foray into this territory hit the big time with the Royal Wedding. It just about set a world record that will take time to beat: 72 million views and 300,000 concurrent users. Indian Premier League cricket matches have pretty similar numbers too. YouTube has acknowledged it will go into more live streaming of major events this year. Check out their live streaming section here.

But just about anyone can do a live stream via their phone or computer webcam. Smaller companies also want to stream live and get their community of fans or followers to tune in online. And this is where the true concept of ‘live’ streams as web ‘channels’ soon becomes the mainstream. The challenge has been for content aggregators to do it successfully and match basic quality standards, plus provide interactivity that broadcasters just can’t match. The oft-cited iStream’s partnership with NBC Sports to bring Gridiron’s Sunday Night Football is a prime example.

If you’re interested in live streaming, don’t just stream an event without thinking about ways to keep interactivity going with your viewers. Here are my best bets for this:

1. Use live monitoring wherever possible to ensure your streams are hitting their target. Simple: open up your page to see trouble before your audience sees it and/or reacts negatively.

2. Use a back channel. You could use Twitter but you’ll need a hashtag if you have lots of volume. Even then, it may be difficult to sift through random tweets from people. Which brings me to…

3. Integrate a free chat app. There’s tonnes out there and the time on integration is worth it.

4. Use Facebook Connect. It may seem like an alternative to Twitter but the live status updates feed back to your fans’ walls. That pretty much opens the door to making your live stream more viral too.

5. Even better, read out the best comments or tweets. If your stream is talk-related, learn to see trending questions and use them to ask ONE summary question.

6. Moderate. You certainly don’t want trouble. But at the same time, prompt responses go down well your audience who then will get MORE involved. Or they’ll simply stay longer.

7. Analyse. Get involved with your analytics and see where the interests were or weren’t. This may involve putting proprietary analytical code in your player and isn’t cheap. But it’s well worth it, particularly if you want to monetize your target audience.

Whatever it is, keep the two-way communication going and respond to viewers’ questions or feedback. The future channels of the world are going off TV and into the web. We had better be ready at speaking our viewers’ language and catering to their demanding needs for involvement. Because that’s where the future money is.

For those wanting to know more about how ‘live’ streaming works, here is a great example.

Here’s a cool company providing live streaming solutions that are pretty reasonable.

Why I Like Vimeo

I like Vimeo. Somehow, it doesn’t have the lowest-common denominator appeal of YouTube yet it provides a fair bit of quality viewing and user-friendliness. It’s also a great way to create your own content and upload it quickly for friends to be invited to watch. Here’s a sample of a simple piece of graphics that I created to show off what Vimeo can do. This is in 720p HD.

So Was I Right? – Closing 2010 Predictions

Did she or didn't she go mainstream?

Looking back at my original post a year ago, I made 4 predictions for New Media direction. I got a few scoffs at work and bets on future lunches were made. Let’s see if it all worked out.

1. Twitter Will Explode

And how. The flurry of news came in just in December 2010 when Twitter secured USD200 million of new investment, valuing the company at USD3.7 billion.  On top of Twitter’s current traffic of 3 billion API calls a day, also broke the 100 million unique visitors mark. Imagine its uniques if the various Twitter clients are factored in. Suffice to say, I think I’m right and a few people owe me lunch for betting against my word.

2. Content Charging Will Not Be a Pot Of Gold

Free content was the genie in the bottle for web content aggregating companies. The trouble was, how do your put that damn genie back in once they’ve rubbed the lamp for free too many times. Rupert Murdoch stated that ad monetization wasn’t sustainable and wanted content charging to happen in 2010 but that wasn’t to be. However, 2011 looks likely thanks to Apple’s announcement of a subscription service for content-related apps in its Apps Store. I’ve been saying to everyone that this is a game-changer and 2011 will start seeing media companies finally start to put that genie back in the bottle.

3. Mobile Video Viewing Will Rise Steeply (but not explode)

According to a Cisco Visual Networking Index, global mobile video views to YouTube tripled in 2010 to 200 million. This was by Google’s own admission. It can’t be anything to do with iPhone right? Of course it does. Enough said.

4. Olivia Munn Will Crossover To Mainstream TV

Well okay, that hasn’t happened yet for a lead role. But her cameo-ish appearances in Chuck and Accidentally On Purpose does qualify so we can break even on that, I reckon! Her movie career isn’t looking too bad either so good luck to our web wonder. Here’s to more success to her than Justin Bieber.

Time for new predictions in 2011. Stay tuned.

Web TV wins again, thanks to Porn

It’s funny when a hotel gets trumped by its customers’ uncanny ability to get porn in the room. Especially when they get to it without needing to pay for an in-house video. What’s even funny is when the hospitality industry resorts to awkward lies to hide that defeat.

According to USA Today, the Marriott International announced that “changing technology and how guests access entertainment has reduced the revenue hotels and their owners derive from in-room movies, including adult content.” Okay, that’s a frank statement of saying nobody likes to pay for their porn, aside from the broadband connection that they get in the room (which is free in many hotels).

What’s amazing is the contradiction that CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Joe McInerney, added: “It is a hotel’s prerogative, as well as a business decision, regarding what services it provides to its guests, including those striving to enhance their family-friendly image.”

I think hotels have long had an advantage to provide adult video-on-demand services and made a boat-load of money this way. Trouble is, the power of Web TV’s unlimited buffet whets the appetite of millions of men and now it finds another victim. This is what caused the Marriott really, to abandon their adult entertainment offering. Not a sudden conscience. You want to be family friendly? I would suggest that a proxy server would be more meaningful. But premium VOD services will continue to thrive in hotels, of course. Maybe they might even learn from this debacle and revamp their in-house proposition better. Right now, I’ll credit this victory to Web TV.

Read about it here.

Strategy with the help of Harvard

Yesterday, was one of the more exciting days I’ve had as a Media Prima employee. My new CEO, Ahmad Izham Omar conducted a Harvard-based knowledge sharing session with another collegue (also named Izham) to selected employees. These were mainly the GMs of the various network brand management units, business development peeps and, of course, New Media peeps like myself.

Izham studied 10 case studies during his 4-day stay at Harvard, mostly focused on strategies being employed by media companies. He presented one yesterday and we had to read a 30-page assignment the night before. (Yes, it was conducted on really short notice!).

The case study was on Microsoft. Being one of the biggest companies on Wall St, the case was ‘How did Microsoft experience tremendous growth in the 90s?’ It was shown that while PC sales grew 4 times, revenue grew 20 times.

The answer was revealed through a quote Bill gave Harvard professors (included in the 4-day program at Harvard) and I quote it here:

We look for opportunities to grow our network externalities… to turn those into annuity streams.

In short, by tapping into a growing network, (ie. PCs) he could increase sales of his own product, namely Windows, and later, Internet Explorer.

A decade later, Google would do almost the same thing. Having created a more useful and fast-growing search engine, it rode on the millions of search results generated by serving ads that were relevant to the searches. The rest is history as Google created its billions of dollars relatively quickly.

How can filmmakers benefit from the same strategy? Does it benefit us more in marketing or filmmaking? Well, I see the answer in two ways: in marketing, the viral aspects of the web have allowed us to spread word-of-mouth much easily. Remember, word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising. Particularly for films. And as a platform for creating, imagine filmmakers striking a deal with Apple to sell their movies on the iPhone for USD3 a pop at HD resolution and then we go home and sync it to our LCD TVs with built-in Apple TV or Playstation? If your film’s built a reputation the ability to access it makes it easier for you to sell your film one download at a time. That’s the power of the iPhone in future years.

In the future, this will surely spell the doom for physical store rentals. In Asia, piracy is still an issue but hey, that’s another for another posting, one day…

So filmmakers, go ahead and embrace New Media. Embrace iTunes and iPhone for its ability to empower your filmmaking ideas and how you can reach people faster. And make more money. And I’ll tell you when I’ve made mind.