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The many complexities of online video

Paul Skinner, Senior Software Engineer, Switch Media.

 

At Switch Media we often speak to clients who assume putting video online is no more difficult than adding a new webpage to their site. Yet, the reality is that Google bought YouTube for over 2 billion dollars… that figure was unheard of in 2006. Just look around at how many websites contain really good video that consistently works across all devices… it’s certainly not many. That’s because putting video online can be a complex operation, but why?

Let’s go through some of the challenges businesses who want to put video content online face.

 

Royalties. Web standards tend to be more of a consensus system. When Adobe flash animations ruled the web, Steve Jobs led the charge against its inefficient vector based system that would slow down his iPhones. In that particular case, the problem was clear and the world agreed on royalty free standards like HTML 5, as they allow for far more efficient animations on phones and tablets.

Video is a different animal. With video we are not reaching a consensus on how we explain an animation. Video standards require researchers at institutions like Germany’s Fraunhofer Society, or possibly even Australia’s CSIRO, to test mathematical Fourier transforms, compression algorithms and colour spaces to find the most efficient ways to compress video. But someone has to foot the bill for their efforts.

This leads to several competing standards. The most recent high profile battle was when Google bought the VP8 codec to compete against MPEGs H.264 codec as the standard of choice for the web. Google intervened because of the royalties MPEG was charging. Which horse would you back in this race?

 

Hardware decoding in devices. This is where the algorithms to decrypt video are baked into the client’s CPU with low level software that ‘cannot be changed’. This allows the power efficient CPU in your phone or set top box to play video. Although due to royalties, every device supports different video technologies. A phone manufacturer may license a wide range of technologies for their high end devices. And yes, you guessed it, their cheaper devices may not be so lucky. This leads to the video supplier having to support a myriad of codecs, bitrates, muxing formats etc. which can be a complex and lengthy process.

 

Doing it all live! Live streaming presents its own challenges. Typically the TV shows you watch on Presto or Netflix have been encoded with a piece of software that unfortunately is too slow to produce good quality video in real time. A common solution is hardware encoding appliances, which can easily cost over $100K! This is a huge expense for any business, but there are other options that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Switch Media can help you to understand these other options, as well as how much redundancy you require and how much bandwidth you need to reserve for your live feeds.

 

Video processing infrastructure. Video is a trade-off between processing power and the amount of data required to transmit and store it. By using more CPU cycles to encode multiple renditions of the video, the result is quality video that is quick to transmit and is supported by even older devices. But who’s got multiple spare multi core servers lying around to encode videos, or terabytes of redundant storage to store the multiple renditions? That’s why using online video specialists like Switch Media is a smart option. We have the equipment and software ready to go, with the skills and experience to manage them.

 

Securing content. The content you wish to share on your site may need to be licensed and is often only for a specific audience – so it’s important to secure your content. To do this you can go through Digital Rights Management providers, also known as Conditional Access Vendors, who can help to control who can watch your video. But this is just one piece of the puzzle, these guys cannot encode your video or ensure it plays across all devices. Going with an online video specialist that can cover all elements of your video is a much easier option. At Switch Media, if we do the encoding then it’s our responsibility to ensure all security requirements are met so that our client’s content is as secure as it can be, and where possible we avoid going through a CA vendor to avoid unnecessary costs.

 

A globally competitive technology leader in delivering online video content, Switch Media understands every facet of online video, from hardware and infrastructure to royalties and security. Our in-house team of strategists, architects, programmers and technical staff can provide expertise and management of all elements around placing video online, so that businesses can reap the benefits of implementing this new technology without having to become sudden experts in the many complexities that are involved. 

Feel free to contact us  to discuss how we can assist you with your online video needs and queries.

 

Paul Skinner, Senior Software Engineer, Switch Media.
Paul has worked from video engineer to lead software engineer. He has worked for 8 years with customers that include tier 1 broadcasters in Australia and Africa.

The future of online streaming in broadcasting and beyond

CEO and Co-Founder of Switch Media, Christopher Stenhouse appeared on the Sky News Business Switzer program to talk about the background, expertise and direction of the company as well as the future of streaming in the broadcast space and beyond.

Christopher founded the company in 2006 with business partner CTO Luke Durham. A globally competitive technology leader in delivering online video content, the company has achieved an average annual revenue growth rate of 50 per cent over the past 7 years.

With major clients that include FOXTEL, ABC, Network Ten, Seven West Media, RMIT and the Australian Federal Parliament, Switch Media are world leaders in innovation and delivery of content online.

Switch Media’s extensive body of work includes Foxtel GO, Foxtel PLAY, Enhance TV Direct, and online streaming and broadcast for the London 2012 Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and the 2015 Formula 1 series.

The company’s depth of experience, spanning close to a decade, has allowed them to set the standard for delivery of online content with leading edge capabilities such as the ability to simultaneously broadcast 18 live streams on the one screen and for in stream, on-the-fly ad insertion during live events.

Watch the video to hear Christopher’s opinion on the future of streaming in broadcasting and beyond.

5 Questions to ask a video app vendor (in Australia) before signing a contract

By Dominic White
Head of Engineering, Switch Media.

Whether you need to deliver a live sporting event over the Internet or you want to launch the next catch-up streaming service, partnering with the right video app vendor will be key to your success.

Switch Media take pride providing tailored IP video solutions to suit the unique needs of each client, but with no shortage of video application suppliers and platform vendors in Australia, it’s smart to explore all of your options. So how do you go about choosing the best vendor for you? One that will make you successful.

Some video platform vendors are built for the cloud with a “one solution fits all” model. Most vendors are head quartered outside of Australia where all of their engineering and R&D takes place. Some of them provide only applications and some provide a full end-to-end solution.

In this post we will share with you how to properly evaluate your needs, as an Australian business, against the strengths and weaknesses of the vendors in the marketplace.

These are the 5 questions that every Australian client should ask before hiring a video application vendor.

 1) Is your sales, engineering, test and operations team based in Australia?

When you are considering which video app vendor to choose, one of the first questions you should ask is where their teams are located. Some vendors have their technical and operational teams overseas, with only sales and marketing in Australia. Others may have some technical presence in Australia but outsource their development and test overseas. Some vendors don’t even have an operations team and will be unable to support you once your application is live.

If you want a team that is responsive to your needs and able to provide technical solutions that are high quality, then they need to be local to you. You often require your vendor to work in an Agile way and it’s proven (even written into the Agile Manifesto) that you can’t run an agile team unless they are all sitting together in the same room.

When it comes to support, there is no better operations team than one that has been sitting with the technical teams as they build the solution. No handover or training is needed, as they have been part of the team from the beginning.

2) Do you provide the same solution to everybody or can you provide a custom solution for me?

A lot of video solutions are built for the mass market. They provide a cloud based “cookie cutter” solution that works well, if you are happy to have the same application as everyone else.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, integrate into other systems or if you simply want the application to reflect your brand, you need a vendor that can write custom code and applications.

Check the previous work that the vendor has done to get a good idea of the scope and quality of the customisations they are capable of.

3) Can I visit your office and meet your staff?

The vendor tells you that they have a team of architects, engineers, testers and operational staff in Australia. Ask to visit their office and meet the team that would be working on your project. It’s important to understand how they work together, the processes they follow and how they will interact with your team to make sure they can support your way of working.

Once you have visited them in person, it will be clear to you the level of expertise and support you will receive.

4) Your video platform looks great, but can you integrate with the software “I use for this” and the system “I have for that?”

A solution is not a solution if it doesn’t allow you to use the systems, software and tools that you need to run your business. A standalone solution that will not integrate into the rest of your systems is exactly that – standalone.

How flexible is the vendor? Can they swap out their analytics for the ones that you use? Can they provide feeds into your data warehouse? Can you use them for the live play out, but use your own solution for VOD? Can they integrate parts of their system with parts of another video solution provider? Can they aggregate all of your metadata that you currently receive from different suppliers?

The flexibility of your vendor is key to the success of your project. Make sure that you fully understand the scope of the integrations that they can perform.

5) Do you only build apps or do you also have a video platform?

In order to deliver video over the Internet, you need two main components; the video platform that will manage and deliver the content and the application that the end user will view it on.

Some vendors provide an end-to-end solution that delivers the platform and the applications whilst other vendors provide only the applications.

If you choose an application only vendor, ask yourself who is going to integrate it into the video platform? Application vendors will work against the video platform API, but any issues that arise from this integration need to be resolved by somebody.

If the application is not working as expected against the video platform, where does the problem lie? You will often need a 3rd party, a solutions integrator to manage the two vendors and resolve issues that arise with the integration.

When the application is live, who resolves any problems that arise? Who is responsible for the support and operations? As the client, you shouldn’t have to manage the two vendors to find out where issues lie.

Before you sign anyone up, make sure that you clearly understand who has the responsibility for solution integration during the build, and which single party will be responsible for support and operations once you are live.

 

switch-media-iconWhen it comes to providing a tailored service for the delivery of digital assets online, the team at Switch Media have got it covered. Our sophisticated cloud based Media Management System, extensive experience and in-house expertise enable us to develop cutting edge solutions that meet the unique needs of each clients. Whether it be an end to end solution, or working with existing systems or hardware, our aim is help deliver the best possible online experience for our clients and their audience.