The significance of cloud in the OTT streaming industry

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By Dr Rajeev Papneja

OTT streaming or a platform that simply delivers media content directly over the internet has revamped the media content consumption landscape. There was a huge rise observed in the number of active global monthly OTT video subscribers in 2019. However, due to the pandemic-enforced lockdown, OTT video consumption numbers have risen exponentially during the last seven months. It has become apparent that in near future, the internet will surpass TV as the preferred choice for entertainment. People usually talk about the importance of 4G/5G networks with greater speeds and quality bandwidth for bringing about a substantial shift in the OTT sector, but usually forget to mention cloud technology which has played a significant role in this transformation.

Cloud services have significantly contributed to this exponential growth by providing core cloud-native delivery infrastructure to OTT players at lower costs, making it much easier for them to reach global audience, and dynamically scale their workloads with just a few clicks. Over the years, the role of cloud providers has shifted from infrastructure providers to prime drivers of technology for the OTT industry to an extent that they now rule the media technology.

When we talk about strong infrastructure, what does it exactly mean? To place it simply, when a large number of simultaneous viewers are watching a video streaming service, it places a huge load on the streaming infrastructure that is serving the request. This set-up needs to have an extensive storage, high processing power and scalability to provide flawless streaming of content. If the set-up is not strong enough it can limit the output for consumers, reducing video quality, resulting in stream interruptions or a complete loss of service.

With the current rise in viewership of OTT platforms, both broadcasters and OTT service providers are highly dependent on cloud service providers, and this has turned out to be a boon for data centers. These data centers are often tactically placed within the premises of easy access to internet exchanges making them the source for all traffic that navigates within the country. This allows media and entertainment traffic on the internet, such as live streaming of events and content, to move via the shortest path to far-placed geographical locations in the country.

The OTT industry is not limited to just streaming; it possesses extensive storage needs too. Also, in an interlinked world, data is often pulled up or referred by other websites. This requires data storage as well as high availability, via proper disaster recovery planning, so that a 24×7 continuous content delivery service becomes possible and guarantees that the content is available to subscribers, all the time. It’s a must-have requirement, especially for live content streaming. The traditional way of ensuring service continuity is to replicate the entire video infrastructure with a second set-up away from primary Datacenter. However now there is a modern and flexible alternative to that approach. Cloud offerings – comprising storage, processing, transmission, packaging, and transcoding services which enable OTT players to gain scale, cost and flexibility benefits – form the bouquet of basic services. Presently, they leverage their expertise in advanced technologies to offer not only their core functional contributions but also compelling value-added services over the cloud. Today, all of the flagship OTT players have migrated to cloud-based OTT workflows.

These value-added advanced services include:

  • Direct content consumption: This is enabling direct content ingestion capabilities to OTT players directly from a camera to a cloud-based management system or stream it live to various platforms
  • Language translations: Cloud providers have started offering application programming interfaces (APIs) with natural language processing (NLP) capabilities for native language translation, which allows audiovisual content localization and translation, making it convenient for OTT players to expand their reach globally
  • Encoding with AI: Integrated AI is used to provide a better viewing experience to OTT viewers. It also helps to sharply monitor network traffic, improves compression techniques, and offers adaptive encoding techniques to stream HD videos over low-bandwidth networks
  • Indexing videos: Services, like automatically extracting advanced metadata from audio and video content, including spoken words, written text, faces, brands, and scenes, are now part of value-added services. OTT players can leverage the extracted data to generate insights and increase the discoverability of their content, improve the user experience, and enhance monetization opportunities.

To recapitulate, I would say that cloud-based services solutions are a flexible, cost-effective option for OTT players that can be uninterruptedly used to maintain the highest levels of streaming activity.  Rather than recreating a hardware infrastructure and spending the time and money to maintain it, both, the broadcasters and service providers can now fully rely on the cloud as a simpler way to secure their 24/7 channels and pop-up channels, as well as test new services.

It will be interesting to see how the market shapes up in the next 12-18 months post the pandemic world, as more content and production houses start setting up their OTT platforms and make the existing battle of viewer acquisition and retention fiercer.

(The author is Chief Growth Officer, ESDS Software Solution Pvt Ltd.)