[opendtv] Re: Punching Above Its Weight, Upstart Netflix Pokes at HBO - NYTimes.com

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2014 08:06:39 -0500

> On Feb 22, 2014, at 12:15 PM, "John Shutt" <shuttj@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Not necessarily true.  My Motorola STB from Comcast has the ability to watch 
> On Demand programming which is delivered via unicast IP, and judging by the 
> compression it isn't all MPEG-2.  It would be trivial to add a link at the 
> back end to Netflix content.  Most likely no hardware changes to existing 
> STBs would be necessary, only software changes tot he menus in the On Demand 
> section, which they do constantly anyway.

Actually John, what I wrote is EXACTLY true in your case, except we are talking 
about Comcast, not Time Warner. I suspect the Motorola box only uses IP and 
h.264 for the Comcast VOD service, while their new X-1 box can offer many 
Internet based services. 

The "clever" aspect of what Comcast is doing is that they are using the 
Internet to add capabilities to their walled garden, but keeping the hardware 
DRM capabilities in the STB to protect the IP streams. Many of these new 
services can be viewed on tablets, but only in the home. 

Comcast had been moving to IP delivery of VOD for several years, building their 
own CDN network so they could offer more VOD titles, and insert ads in these 
streams. With their MPEG-2 VOD service, delivered through the MVPD side of the 
house, they were limited in bandwidth (which limited the titles they could 
offer) and they had to pre produce the files for payout, thus commercials could 
not be changed.

The following article describes what Comcast has done, and why...



Inside Comcast’s massive IP VOD network

Comcast has been boosting the number of VOD titles it has available. But behind 
the scenes, the technology enabling the VOD service is a new, IP-based 
distribution and delivery network. That means not just more content, but the 
potential for new services as well.

Comcast subscribers might have noticed that the company has been putting a lot 
of effort to grow its video-on-demand (VOD) library, adding huge amounts of new 
movies for rental and ad-supported TV shows for viewers to catch up on. What 
they probably didn’t realize is that the increase in content is just one part 
of a massive restructuring of its network architecture that is shifting 
delivery from more than 100 locally distributed VOD servers to a more 
centralized, IP-based delivery system.

Move to IP adds speed and flexibility

The Comcast CDN, which the company has been building out over the last several 
years, is being leveraged as a way to more efficiently and flexibly roll out 
new services and ramp up the amount of content that it can serve to 
subscribers. The buildout was started as part of Comcast’s Project Infinity, 
which was announced way back in 2008. Since then, Comcast has not only made 
good on promising to add a massive number of new titles to its VOD offering, 
but by creating a simplified, IP-based architecture for delivery.

Prior to moving to an IP-based delivery system, VOD titles had to be added in 
each of 130 locations throughout the country, a massive undertaking each time a 
new movie or TV episode was added. According to John Schanz, EVP of National 
Engineering and Technical Operations at Comcast, that meant dealing with dozens 
of VOD “islands” every time something needed to be upgraded. But now VOD titles 
are delivered from four massive data centers located throughout the country.

Since Comcast was moving to IP behind the scenes, while it continued to push 
VOD services on its more traditional architecture, Schanz said the project was 
kind of like “landing planes on an aircraft carrier while it’s still being 
built out at sea.” But customers saw very little actual disruption on the front 
end while Comcast made its changes on the back end.

By simplifying the network infrastructure needed in its local offices, Comcast 
become a lot more efficient in how VOD is served up. There’s no longer the need 
to add duplicate storage to each local distribution center to boost the number 
of titles each can serve, for instance. Rather than ingesting a piece of 
content in each of 130 locations, it ingests that content once and distributes 
it via IP to the four regional data centers located in Atlanta, Philadelphia, 
Chicago and Northern California.

The result is what Schanz calls a complete shift in the units of measure with 
which Comcast can add new content or features. In terms of ingesting new 
content, what used to take days can now be done in minutes. And rolling out new 
features or upgrading infrastructure, which used to take years, can now be done 
in weeks or months.

The proof is in the pudding

IP-based innovation is driving a huge increase in the amount of content 
available: When Comcast first announced Project Infinity in 2008, the goal was 
to increase the number of VOD titles from 1,300 movies to 6,000 the following 
year. But now Comcast has more than 30,000 choices available in its VOD 
library. And it’s not just movies; the service has an ever-growing number of TV 
shows that are being added.

One reason that TV networks are becoming more comfortable with making their 
shows available on VOD is that they now have better tools to monetize those 
episodes. It used to be that ads had to be “burned in” to VOD assets, which 
meant that advertisements weren’t easily changed. If an ad was time-sensitive — 
for instance, promoting the release of a new movie — it would often be stuck to 
the same video asset long after the ad was useful. But with IP delivery, 
Comcast can take advantage of dynamic ad insertion to provide more timely and 
relevant advertising when people watch its VOD titles. It also provides more 
flexibility for content owners to set parameters around whether consumers can 
fast forward through VOD commercials and other capabilities.

As a result, Comcast now has shows from all four major broadcasters on its VOD 
platform, as well as a wide range of content from cable networks. It has 
episodes from more than 600 TV series available, a number that continues to 

What the future has in store

Moving to IP isn’t just about more efficiently adding new content to the mix, 
however. Switching to an IP-based system also provides more flexibility for 
adding new services and reaching new devices. Take, for instance, Comcast’s 
effort to build an app for Samsung TVs, or the upcoming availability of its VOD 
service on Xbox Live for subscribers who also have that game console.

An IP- and cloud-based infrastructure is also at the heart of a new set-top box 
and user interface it’s testing in limited markets and could soon start rolling 
out more broadly to subscribers. The set-top box, which was developed under the 
code name “Xcalibur,” will provide more personalized features, the ability to 
add IP-based applications and social networking hooks.

With the buildout of its Comcast CDN, there are other new services and features 
that the cable provider could potentially roll out with little hassle — like a 
network DVR, for instance. Doing so would move the storage and playback of 
pre-recorded shows out of the consumer’s home or set-top box and into the 
cloud. While Schanz wouldn’t comment on future plans for such a service, he did 
say that the goal of the initiative was to create broad new capabilities so 
that technology is not a barrier to rolling out new services.

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