[opendtv] What a coincidence: Can TV Broadcasters Really Go OTT?

  • From: "Manfredi, Albert E" <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 9 Jul 2013 21:10:11 +0000

Don't forget that you read it here first.

Not sure that the broadband bandwidth requirement is quite as big as the 
article implies. I think 3 Mb/s down would be more than adequate for a couple 
or three simultaneous streams, actually. And more so when H.265 or VP9 become 

The point about multiple standards having to be supported, thanks to Apple in 
large measure, is a fact of life that broadcasters are already dealing with. 
It's not all homogenous as it was in the OTA/cable-only days. Consumer devices 
should already have been available for this. That's the aggravating part of it.

The analysis on live streams is not valid, however, because ISPs would most 
likely adopt IP multicasting for live streams. Why wouldn't they? There's no 
problem creating IP multicast groups, even with IPv4, within an ISP's own 
network. The only problem is inter-network IPv4 multicast. So an ISP with 
self-preservation instinct would use IP multicast for anything that's popular 
and live. Of course, it may have to be more than just one stream, thanks to 
those companies that don't understand how to support popular standards.

The rights to stream content that doesn't belong to the local broadcast station 
is obviously a major issue in all of this, at least from the point of view of 
*that local broadcaster*. Not from the point of view of whether or not that 
content can get on the Internet, though.



Wes Simpson / 07.09.2013 12:00 PM
Can TV Broadcasters Really Go OTT?
Politics aside, there are some technical hurdles
ORANGE, CONN.-The ongoing legal drama between Aereo and over-the-air 
broadcasting operations has been well documented in the press. However, the 
technical impact of a broadcast television station going completely off-air 
could also be significant. Becoming an Internet-only broadcaster (also known as 
"over the top" or OTT), will require a different operational workflow, and 
creation of a new relationship with station viewers. While there are proven 
solutions that exist today to handle all of these technical challenges, 
implementing them to work on a 24/7 basis for a large viewing audience may 
stretch the technical and financial capabilities of many broadcasters.


If a television station was to go off-the-air completely, workflow changes 
would be required. Along with the transmitter being turned off, the need for 
MPEG-2 encoding would go away (unless that format was still necessary for 
delivery to CATV and DTH satellite providers). Instead of a single ATSC feed 
(often with multiple subchannels), the broadcaster would have to produce feeds 
at multiple bit-rates in two or more streaming formats (at least to handle both 
Apple and non-Apple devices). Streams would also have to be created for each 
subchannel. These signals would then need to be fed into a Content Distribution 
Network that would create a copy of a stream to feed to each viewing device 
(Internet-connected TV, PC, tablet, etc.). Fig. 1 compares the architecture of 
a traditional broadcast to one using OTT delivery.

Any new OTT broadcast workflow would most likely be based on H.264/AVC using 
streaming formats such as Apple's HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and Adobe's HTTP 
Dynamic Streaming (HDS), with a possible migration to Dynamic Adaptive 
Streaming over HTTP (DASH) if that standard gains traction in the marketplace.

But this is all a fait accompli for broadcasters, according to Jen Baisch, 
senior director of product marketing for iStreamPlanet, a Las Vegas-based 
provider of streaming technology. "Broadcasters are already migrating much of 
their programming to OTT, so these technologies are a move they have to make 


For the viewer, switching from over-the-air to OTT can be a significant effort. 
Any recent-vintage television set has a built-in digital tuner that works only 
with OTA signals. To receive OTT content, two things need to be provided: an 
Internet connection, and a method to receive a stream and decode it. Some 
recent televisions have built-in Internet TV receivers, but many others will 
need some kind of external device such as a Roku, Xbox, Web-enabled Blu-ray 
player or some other device that can receive and decode the OTT signals.

Some consumers might need to upgrade their Internet connections, particularly 
if multiple televisions are going to be watched at the same time. With an 
inexpensive 3 Mbps Internet connection, watching two 1 Mbps streams 
simultaneously could be difficult for consumers, especially if other devices 
were also accessing the Internet.
Chase Carey, president and COO of News Corp., shook up the NAB Show's opening 
session with talk of Fox breaking from the free broadcast model and switching 
to a subscription-only service.  


Consumer data caps could interfere with a viewer's desire to watch lots of live 
programming from an Internet-only broadcaster. These caps are everywhere for 
mobile devices connected through 3G/4G LTE mobile networks, and may be present 
on some wired Internet services. Data usage caps are typically expressed in 
terms of gigabytes per month, with mobile contracts in the 2-10 gigabyte range, 
and some wired services have caps in the 200-300 gigabyte range.

If a live HD stream runs at 2 Mbps, one hour of viewing time on one device 
amounts to 0.84 gigabytes of data consumption. If the viewer watched this 
stream two hours a day for a month, 50 gigabytes of data would be consumed. For 
most consumers at home using wired Internet, data usage most likely wouldn't be 
a major problem. For mobile device users, even those with relatively generous 
data plans, watching any significant amount of programming will be difficult at 
high bit-rates.

From a provider standpoint, live streaming to millions of viewers could get 
expensive. According to David Tice, senior vice president of GfK Media & 
Entertainment, a Singapore-based media research firm, "based on the results 
from our 2012 survey, just over 20 million households in the U.S. currently 
receive television exclusively over the air, with an average of 2.7 television 
sets per household. Another 17 percent of pay TV households have at least one 
television that relies on broadcast." With a total of 96 million households who 
pay for television service, that figure represents at least another 16 million 
televisions that currently receive their signals entirely from broadcast, 
bringing the total OTA-dependent television population up to 70 million units.

If OTA-only televisions are distributed evenly across the United States, a 
metropolitan area such as New York (which contains 7.3 percent of the total 
U.S. population) could be expected to have a similar fraction of the OTA-only 
devices, or 5.1 million sets. If five percent of these sets were tuned to a 
broadcaster's signal (as could be achieved for a popular sports or 
entertainment event) 255,000 OTT video streams would need to be created.

To generate this quantity of data, a number of servers and network interfaces 
would be required. At 1.5 Mbps per stream, total traffic volume of 383 Gbps 
would be required. There would also be a cost to deliver these streams, since 
CDN services charge for each gigabyte of data delivered. Although these costs 
are low for high volumes of data, they do mount up. Delivering one hour of 
programming to this many viewers at a rate of, say, $.03 per gigabyte would 
cost $4,815.00. Another way to look at CDN costs is to consider that a viewer 
who consumed 50 gigabytes of programming per month would cost a broadcaster 


Much of a typical broadcast day is made up of programming that a local 
broadcaster doesn't own, including syndicated game shows, talk shows, and other 
programming. Content rights agreements may limit a broadcaster to transmitting 
these signals only to viewers within a local broadcast area. Live sporting 
events pose a similar challenge, where local households may need to be 
prevented from seeing a sporting event that is subject to blackout rules. A 
technology called "geoblocking" is widely used by CDN providers to control the 
geographic locations where live streams are delivered, although implementing it 
securely for millions of viewers could be challenging.

"Broadcasters will likely need some sort of player application that can be 
authenticated for local viewers in order to implement geoblocking in a 
comprehensive manner," said Alex Borbely, senior director of live linear 
operations for iStreamPlanet. 

Overall, the technologies required for going completely OTT are well 
established and available from multiple sources. The real challenges for 
broadcasters to go completely OTT are related to the scale and cost of the 
traffic required, and managing the rights for each viewer; not to mention the 
potential loss of viewers who are unable or unwilling to connect their 
televisions to the Internet.

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