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Standing out from the cloud: why agility is key in tomorrow’s TV

Nick Thexton 2012Written by Nick Thexton, Vice President and CTO, Service Provider Video Software and Solutions, Cisco

With almost a quarter of our waking time spent watching TV, video consumption is on a definite rise. Rather than competing, different devices and platforms are proving to complement each other, collectively contributing to that growth. But our digital lives are becoming more complex as we consume content in diverse ways across a growing number of screens. The chance of missing a programme, for example, is arguably greater than ever, but at the same time easier to overcome.

It’s a truth that’s prompting media organisations and service providers to recognise the value of improving and simplifying the user experience – providing viewers with the content that’s relevant to them, at the right time and place. Those primed for success are investing in technologies that deliver their content to more devices at the lowest incremental cost, cutting the time and complexity associated with enhancing multiscreen services.

But the companies winning in the TV arena are those who also recognise that consumers don’t always know exactly what they want beyond the short-term. Take tablets, for example – few could have foreseen the impact the iPad would have on TV viewing habits and the way we engage with content. Likewise, operators don’t have the luxury of being able to foresee which of their new services will resonate with subscribers. Paramount to success, therefore, is having the flexibility and agility to keep TV platforms alive with fresh, regularly updated content and services.

The technology supporting such services simply cannot be built in silos around devices, but needs to encompass the whole spectrum of screens and address the individual. And the cloud is proving to offer that device-agnostic approach, the ability to boost the effectiveness of TV platforms with flexible, real-time upgrades to features and services. Maintaining a light-switch level of reliability is also the lifeblood of the TV industry, especially as today’s time-poor consumers have come to expect seamless video delivery as standard. Anything that risks harming that continuity is a danger.

That’s why there’s value in blended strategies that combine the best of cloud with the legacy infrastructures used by service providers today. Indeed a large part of the attraction lies in the operator’s ability to tap the cloud for particular elements of TV functionality alone – whether that’s encoding, delivery, or the user interface. Customer premise devices, for example, are unlikely to disappear anytime soon – indeed home gateways could easily become the central hub in a hybrid cloud/home TV world – but the set-top box as we know it may well be superseded by a future iteration which enables cloud to play a larger role in TV delivery. A move away from traditional set-top box systems to more cloud-based architectures opens up tremendous possibility for personalisation and synchronisation across devices that with current systems pose a number of challenges.

Integral to making those cloud-delivered services truly effective is having the ability to mine value from the complex datasets that the cloud can unlock – data that vastly extends beyond that offered by EPGs and basic content scheduling. Intelligence about subscribers and their viewing patterns is crucial to the operation of an entire platform, and will be the backbone for crafting tomorrow’s personalised, addressable TV experiences – those which the likes of Netflix are already building, thanks to deep subscriber insight.

But a cloud-enhanced TV world is one in which security will pose one of the biggest challenges. What’s more, with the advent of 4K content, the question of how content is protected on physical media will become ever more pressing. Digital rights management has been viewed as a necessary evil by the industry, but as TV evolves so is our understanding of DRM, as content rights adapt to the economics of new use cases.

It’s difficult to picture a TV environment without the cloud. In offering the pay-TV industry a means of ramping-up innovation by cutting cost and time-to-market, the cloud has a secure future in TV. Coupled with open architectures and strong partner ecosystems, it promises operators the agility they need to rival the momentum of today’s TV disruptors.

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