VOD Industry 101: New Staff Briefing

Not a complete guide but here’s some of the material that we cover when a new starter joins VOD Professional.

A new recruit, Juliana, joined us here at VOD Professional last month and on her first day, I gave her an overview of the online video industry. I do this with all our new starters and to date, the briefing has come in the form of an unstructured two to three-hour brain-dump covering things like history, definitions, statistics, products, significant companies, significant people, acronyms, vendors, pay models, pay windows, devices, platforms and theories (my own and from others) about the future of TV. That’s a lot of material so I thought it might be worthwhile if I wrote the top-line stuff down and provided some order. I’m sharing it below. Some of it’s pretty basic but you may find it useful for staff who haven’t previously worked in this space.

We’ll soon be publishing a series of 101 articles explaining common industry terms; look out for that. In the meantime, tweet us @consultVodkr if you have any comments or if you’d like to come join our team (we’re hiring!).

What this Piece Covers

  1. Defining Broadcasters, Operators and Service-Providers;
  2. Flavours of VOD: Catchup / Archive / Aggregation;
  3. Pay Models: Free, AVOD, SVOD, TVOD, PVOD, MTVOD, EST;
  4. Pay Windows;
  5. Devices and Platforms;
  6. Delivery mechanisms: OTT, IPTV;
  7. “Glass-to-Glass”: The Supply Chain and 20 Vendor Classifications;
  8. Legacy vs. New-Build (aka London vs. New York);
  9. The Impact of 5G on VOD.

#1. Defining Broadcasters, Operators and Service-Providers

The simplest way to define traditional broadcasters is to ask the new recruit to think of TV channels. The parent companies of those channels are broadcasters and the content that appears on TV usually ends up in their VOD products.

Operators are a different case and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a solid way of describing them. For me, operators are usually cable or telecoms companies that, as part of their triple or quad-play packages (that is, telephone, broadband, television and mobile), offer TV. As a result, they can also provide access to VOD apps from broadcaster and stand-alone service-providers (see below). Some operators (for instance, BT) have expanded into buying exclusive content and showing it on their own channels. This is a good example of how lines are blurring between consumer-facing companies in our industry.

Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Crackle, Hopster, MUBI, Wuaki and iTunes are all stand-alone service-providers (aka “aggregators”). Although they buy TV shows and movies from broadcasters and film studios they’re not necessarily affiliated to those companies. Their content can either be bought, rented or subscribed to across a range of devices and platforms.

There are two other terms that I don’t generally cover in this first briefing: MSOs and MVPDs. That’s mainly because they’re US-related and we’re in the UK.

#2. VOD Flavours: Catchup / Archive / Aggregation

Catchup (the industry seems to think it’s one word now so I’m going with the flow) is being able to watch, on-demand, the shows and movies that were first broadcast live (aka “linear scheduling”) on TV channels. They’re usually available via the broadcaster VOD service for 7 days, 30 days or an indeterminate period.

If it’s an indeterminate period, this effectively becomes an archive. As far as I know, Channel 4 in the UK is the only broadcaster which has made its entire archive of TV shows available to watch for free (well, supported by advertising, see AVOD below) through its All 4 VOD service.

Aggregators, as noted above, are service-providers that buy content from multiple sources. Whilst the content they offer isn’t usually limited to the minimal catchup time constraints they can only make that content available for as long as they have the rights or licences to show it (see also #4. Pay Windows below).

#3. Pay Models: Free, AVOD, SVOD, TVOD, PVOD, MTVOD, EST

VOD services have to make money to pay for their upkeep: their staff, technologies, support and content. They do this using one or more of the following funding models:

  • Free: the best example here is BBC iPlayer. As a public service broadcaster, the BBC doesn’t show ads on its TV channels and so iPlayer is equally unencumbered. That said, of course the BBC is funded by a mandatory licence fee that everyone in the UK who owns a TV has to pay so technically, iPlayer isn’t really free at all even though it might feel like it is;
  • AVOD: video-on-demand supported by advertising e.g. All 4, YouTube, Hulu;
  • SVOD: subscription video-on-demand. The user pays a monthly subscription to watch content. Applies to both stand-alone services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu which is also supported by AVOD) and those provided by operators (e.g. BT Sport, Sky Go etc.) as part of a pay-TV package;
  • TVOD: transactional video-on-demand. To watch the video, the user has to pay a one-off rental fee (make a transaction) e.g. iTunes, Sky Box Office, Wuaki. Similar to pay-per-view but not necessarily the same since PPV can also mean paying to watch, for example, a live sports event;
  • PVOD: some VOD services offer “premium content” e.g. movies that are on in both cinemas and have been made available for simultaneous on-demand home viewing (e.g. Curzon Home Cinema);
  • MTVOD: a relatively new term, MTVOD stands for Mass Transit Video-on-Demand i.e. the TV shows and movies that you can watch when, for example, you’re on a plane. Viewing charges are normally covered in the cost of your ticket;
  • EST: electronic sell-through. Increasingly, when you buy a DVD or Blu-ray you also get a voucher code to be able to download an electronic copy of the show / movie to your preferred device. Sky offers a similar service in reverse (download the content first and the physical media comes in the post).

Am I missing any pay models? Tweet me @consultVodkr.

#4. Pay Windows

This article explains the concept. It’s a little old now and could probably do with updating but it gives you the basics.

#5. Devices and Platforms

Devices in the VOD context refers to individual devices on which one can watch on-demand video. That’s literally hundreds of thousands of models like the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6s, Asus Android tablets, Amazon Fire tablets, the Samsung T32E390SX Smart TV, the Sony Bravia KDL55W75 Smart TV etc. etc. etc. In this context, “device proliferation” means the challenge that VOD service-providers (including broadcasters and operators) have in ensuring that their services are available across all of these pieces of hardware.

It’s much easier then to think of platforms rather than devices. Platforms are the family names under which all VOD devices sit. There are, for now, six of them: computers, tablets, smartphones, Smart or Connected TVs, set-top boxes and games consoles. A seventh family, VR headsets, will probably join the clan in the next 6 – 12 months.

#6. Delivery mechanisms: OTT & IPTV

How is on-demand video delivered to one’s viewing device? There are two main methods:

OTT stands for “over-the-top” but is actually used to describe delivery of video via the internet.

IPTV stands for “internet protocol TV” and is also used to describe delivery of video via the internet. It’s different to OTT however in that it usually relates to on-demand video delivered via cable or satellite to set-top boxes.

#7. “Glass-to-Glass”: The Supply Chain and 20 Vendor Classifications

“Glass-to-Glass” describes the process by which TV shows or movies move from being filmed (the first “glass” is the video camera recording the footage) all the way to being delivered to the end consumer’s device for on-demand viewing (the last “glass” is, for example, the screen on one’s iPad). It’s quite an elegant phrase but it masks the complexity involved in getting content from Point A to Point Z. Who manages that series of events? In the VOD world, the answer is increasingly a range of vendors who form a “supply chain”.

Vendors can specialise in one or more of the following areas of expertise (I’m not going to define them all here – that’s going to be part of the 101 series that we’ll publish soon – but drop me a line if you think I’m missing any major categories):

  1. Analytics for Online Video
  2. Billing, Payment and CRM solutions
  3. Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
  4. Content Discovery and Recommendation
  5. Design (UI / UX)
  6. DRM / Encryption
  7. Encoding / Transcoding
  8. End-to- end Online Video solutions (OVP)
  9. Games Consoles video apps
  10. HbbTV apps
  11. Metadata solutions (e.g. to aid content discovery and recommendation)
  12. Mobile video apps (smartphone and / or tablets)
  13. Online Video Advertising
  14. QA & Testing
  15. Rights Management and Licensing
  16. Scheduling and Workflow
  17. Smart TV apps
  18. Storage & Server solutions
  19. Watermarking and other Security solutions
  20. White-label Video Service Provider

#8. Legacy vs. New-Build (aka London vs. New York)

I said in the “glass-to-glass” section above that increasingly, it’s specialist vendors rather than broadcasters, operators or service-providers who manage the end-to-end process of delivering content. Why is that? To answer that question, we need to look at the philosophies and technical architectures by which VOD services are constructed.

There are three ways in which you can build an on-demand video product:

a) Do it yourself. This was the route that many broadcasters initially took between 2005 and 2012 when they were getting their MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) to market. Where possible, they re-fashioned some of their existing broadcast infrastructure (aka “legacy systems”) to be able to power their VOD services. I’ve often thought of this as “the London approach”. London, now a super-city of 10 million people started off as a bunch of disparate villages that eventually grew and came together to form a (mostly) functioning whole. Sure, its roads, streets, centres of housing and commerce, utilities and transportation links are idiosyncratically evolved but London works.

The main problems with this method are that first, it’s expensive and resource-heavy in terms of manpower, planning, designing, developing, marketing and monetising. Second, some broadcasters found that by the time they’d implemented a new technology (one that they’d built themselves), it was already semi-obsolete. Yes, it worked according to their needs but it wasn’t as good as a solution built by specialists.

b) Use external suppliers to create it for you from scratch. I think of this new-build methodology as “the New York approach”: the service-provider is able to start afresh and plan in advance; they can create with efficiency and optimisation in mind and hire in people who really know what they’re doing to solve and implement different pieces of the puzzle. Whilst using vendors can still be expensive, commoditisation and economies of scale mean that this method is getting cheaper all the time and many broadcasters are in the process of adopting it.

c) A hybrid approach combining the advantages of legacy systems (fit for purpose, suited to the unique needs of the service-provider) with the expertise and on-going development of specialist solutions.

#9. The Impact of 5G on VOD

See /features/imagining-a-5g-future/

Conclusion

Obviously, this isn’t a definitive VOD training program and there’s a lot that’s missing but maybe it’s good for a Day 1 orientation around the industry landscape. I’d be really interested to hear about how you first brief your staff about the world of online TV and whether you take it easy or throw them in at the deep end. Tweet me @consultVodkr with your thoughts.



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