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Payback time for IPTV middleware?

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Payback time for IPTV middleware?

  1. 1. SUPPLEMENT SPONSORS Leading IPTV solutions Middleware Payback time for IPTV middleware? Advances in IPTV middleware are helping to improve the user interface, but providing intelligent search remains a challenge, says Philip Hunter I PTV operators have not, competitors have little experience IPTV Edition, now rechristened until recently, been well in video, and are essentially learning Mediaroom, as its BT Vision IPTV project served by their as they go at the expense of the took shape. Telefonica in Spain had also middleware. This was not operator,” says Krishnan. “He calls developed its own middleware called always the fault of middleware these exercises 'gold plated Imagenio, but took a different line, selling vendors, reflecting more the trials' that have little chance the software to Lucent, now Alcatel- fragmented nature of IPTV, and of making money.” Lucent, in April 2006, after deciding it uncertainty over how it will evolve. The field certainly is hot at the was beyond its resources to maintain it “IPTV has many variants, and services moment, attracting new entrants and keep pace with the fast evolving are provided by a wide variety of different at a breathtaking rate given the risk requirements. But at least Telefonica kept players, including ISPs, incumbent telcos, and effort involved, with around 30 faith with its middleware. For this reason, some content providers, and even a few recognised players. A shakeout at some Alcatel-Lucent welcomed Imagenio with retailers,” says Sefy Ariely, marketing VP at stage is inevitable as trials migrate into open arms, gaining a large captive Orca, the IPTV middleware market's first full-scale deployments, but this point audience for the middleware among major entrant in 1998. Ariely is, needless in the trajectory of IPTV has not yet Telefonica customers, as well as the to say, apologising for other vendors' been reached. Operators, therefore, potential for marketing it to other service middleware rather than his own, but his need to be wary, given that their providers. point is that the field has been challenging ability to deliver compelling services In one respect, consensus has now because of its rate of change and lack of will depend on the flexibility of their been reached among both service clear definition. By contrast, the cable TV middleware, and the vitality of the providers and operators, over the and satellite fields have been relatively vendors themselves. requirements of middleware. Perhaps stable with more clearly defined It is significant that some of the larger the first point is that the name infrastructures and business models. telcos originally developed their middleware itself has become Middleware vendors in these fields own middleware because they lacked inappropriate, although with little idea have come into IPTV and had to adapt confidence either in existing products what to call it instead. Vendors have as they go along, often at the expense to scale, or because the vendors were come up with their own cosy names, of operators during trials of their deemed too small to trust with such such as Kasenna's Living Room, and products, according to Venkat Krishnan, an important piece of the delivery Microsoft's Mediaroom. director of IPTV solutions at Sea Change, infrastructure. Yet in most cases the The term middleware was coined in the a leading vendor of video servers telcos have either disposed of their IT data centre world, where middleware and also middleware spanning all forms own middleware, or in effect outsourced really was the software layer between the of pay TV. “Our CEO, Bill Styslinger, it. BT developed middleware, but gave client and back-end services, enabling accurately points out that most of our up on it, electing to ride with Microsoft's Web-based applications to tap into legacy page fourteen www.csimagazine.com Supplement IPTV
  2. 2. SUPPLEMENT SPONSORS Leading IPTV solutions Middleware Coping with scale “extensability”, or coping with a growing Yet the first requirement is clearly number of devices, interfaces, and scalability, both in terms of consumer formats. “It has to coexist within a certain numbers and also volume of content. patchwork of solutions, because some “Last year we were getting customers IPTV deployments are far from being end- to go live, but this year the focus to-end,” says Orca's Ariely. “The CA is on getting it to scale,” agrees (conditional access) may already be in Microsoft's EMEA content marketing place, along with the STBs and video manager Stephen Petheram. This factor servers. The need for flexible interfaces is alone, Petheram argues, was causing therefore crucial.” some operators to consider changing This flexibility must extend to the video ‘My channels’ from Dreampark their middleware, despite the encoder, given that MPEG-2, MPEG-4, investment involved. and VC-1, developed by Microsoft, have Of course, middleware alone cannot all been deployed in significant numbers. deliver scalability, which also requires There is also a growing need to embrace sufficient network bandwidth and capacity content from the Internet from sources within video servers. The role of the such as YouTube, where Adobe's Flash middleware lies in coping with two encoder is used. Microsoft, which particular aspects of service growth: originally ran just with its own version increasing numbers of consumers of VC-1 called Windows accessing popular content simultaneously; Media 9, accepted by 2005 that and expansion in the overall amount it needed to support other codecs of content consumed - ie the long tail. within its middleware. “Now we are Middleware needs to accommodate agnostic to the codec,” says Petheram. a variety of load balancing measures, Middleware vendors can readily such as caching of popular on-demand embrace the leading codecs, because content closer to the points of no new major developments will likely consumption, even perhaps co-located be there, but it is impossible to anticipate with the DSLAMs, to reduce strain all future requirements, such as on the core network. While major events emerging business models and will still be broadcast and consumed live, new device types. For this there will be a growing amount of reason, support for popular near-live content viewed in replay development of new mode at staggered times, which could components within the overload the core network. middleware platform is Middleware also has to scale at the essential. The ability back-end, where the service integrates to support rapid with billing, access control mechanisms, development and and a variety of management functions. add new features None of these on their own should is the biggest trip up a middleware vendor, but the cumulative effect can be lethal, as Scott Mirer, director of product management at middleware vendor Kasenna, points out. “There's a long list of items, such as billing system integration, matching encoder output to the STB decoder, and managing VOD content workflow, not one of which is a showstopper databases for example. But in the case on its own, but all of which combine of pay TV in general, and IPTV in to make real-life deployments tricky particular, middleware is also responsible and time-consuming,” says Mirer. for the client side, both to locate services and also control access. It will have Flexibility is essential to handle DRM as TV services Apart from high numbers increasingly penetrate beyond the set of users and traffic top box to access multiple devices volumes, scalability also in home networks. equates to page sixteen www.csimagazine.com Supplement IPTV
  3. 3. SUPPLEMENT SPONSORS Leading IPTV solutions Middleware “Middleware can help by providing tools that help define the rules issue for many IPTV beyond the current capabilities for Internet operators, according of MSN or Google search engines.” content as it to Philip Smith, chief Microsoft's goal is to provide video marketing officer at IPTV by recommendation, proposing titles comes in, possibly specialist Complete TV. “This that match a user's known preferences via a single Web is one of the reasons why or interests. Meanwhile, Orca is portal.” many customers use showcasing such a capability at this year's HTML-based middleware,” Smith notes. IBC, with a variety of options. “You can expectation among consumers, as Smith was referring to the client have recommendations set by the Internet-based content is increasingly software, which is often browser operator, or based on a community, or brought into the walled garden of IPTV based, with the software written in HTML Amazon-type suggestions along the lines services. “The key is to provide the best or JavaScript. There are also proprietary of 'people who have watched this also Quality of Experience (QoE),” says Brian interfaces used for accessing settings watch that',” says Ariely. Mahony, marketing VP at IPTV on the STB. Smith's point is that, especially Nordic middleware vendor Dreampark middleware and application vendor Espial with HTML, care has to be taken to ensure is focused on event-based EPG tools, TV. The QoE is not just about traditional channel changing speed, but should “You can't use a traditional EPG to embrace all possible content, Mahony find content in the long tail. The next contends. Not all of this content will be available step is to make content more at the flick of a button, with perhaps discoverable, even if you don't know just the major channels immediately what you want to watch.” selectable, and then the long tail available at varying delays depending on the 'searchability' of the content concerned. that the software will support the required believing that IPTV will accelerate the Business models need to be considered performance, for example in channel move towards event-focused, rather than here, and particularly the fact that service changing, especially as content and channel-focused viewing guides. providers do not want their customers subscriber numbers scale up. The company is implementing a search to languish within the channels they have Yet, despite the move towards HTML, engine facilitating searches in VOD paid for on subscription. They want them many of these systems still suffer from archives and EPG. The search function to buy content on demand or services scalability issues and performance will give the ability not only to search for that they have to pay extra for, and so on the client side. specific titles, but also actors, keywords these need to be made as easily available etc. Support for tagging will also give end as possible. The UI challenge users the ability to define long tail Another consideration sometimes Perhaps the biggest challenge of all faced segments that could not even be forgotten is that Internet-based content by middleware vendors concerns the user foreseen when creating the metadata. is not governed by the same regulations interface, which has its origins in the “Such tagging may be imported from as broadcast content, which comes current crop of Electronic Programme Internet sources or be created by the under Ofcom's remit in the UK. Operators Guides. The game changes completely IPTV community,” says CEO Per Skyttval. will therefore seek business models that as the content catalogue scales up from There is an underlying problem, ensure content coming from the Internet a handful of linear channels to, potentially, however, in that video by its nature is adheres to Ofcom regulations, pertaining, the world's whole repertoire of video, very hard to define - and therefore search for example, to 'watersheds', which including a new generation of Internet for - on the basis of its content. It relies are totally irrelevant on the Web. based and user generated content. on the metadata used to describe and Middleware can help by providing tools All the vendors claim to have their label it, and this inevitably imposes a that help define the rules for Internet heads down on this problem, but constraint on intelligent search, content as it comes in, possibly via a compelling solutions are elusive. particularly for user generated content. single Web portal connecting with the “You can't use a traditional EPG to find The challenge has to be met though, and broadcast domain. content in the long tail. The next step it is too early to say how well the various Perhaps then middleware will truly is to make content more discoverable, middleware packages will perform. repay the operators that have invested even if you don't know what you want patience in it as the long tail expands, to watch,” says Microsoft's Petheram. Incorporating Internet-based content and as the broadcast world converges “That's what Microsoft is looking at, way This leads on to the question of service progressively with the Internet. CSI page eighteen www.csimagazine.com Supplement IPTV

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