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2015

Today we issued a press release announcing that our Limelight Orchestrate Solution for Media and Broadcasters was named an Edison Award Finalist. 

 

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edison Awards, they are annual global awards that recognize and honor some of the most innovative new products, services and business leaders in the world. These distinguished awards, inspired by Thomas Edison’s persistence and inventiveness, recognize innovation, creativity and ingenuity in the global economy. Edison Award nominees are judged by more than 3,000 senior business executives and academics from across the nation whose votes acknowledge the Finalists’ success in meeting the award’s stringent criteria of quality.

 

Limelight is very proud to have received this recognition!

 

You can read the press release here.

 

For more information on our solution for media and broadcasters, please visit our website.

OTT is really nothing new. As consumers, we’ve had plenty of access to OTT content from a variety of different sources including traditional incumbents (i.e., Comcast and TimeWarner) and pureplay providers (i.e., Netflix and Hulu). In fact, one could say 2014 was a banner year with the likes of Comcast, DirecTV, Verizon, and others providing out-of-home live streaming for subscribers in addition to a growing on-demand library[1]. Of course, we still had the pure-play providers but we also saw a rash of OTT startups as well such as Dramafever. If the growth of providers in this space says anything, it’s that OTT is the future direction of television.

 

But 2014 was more than a year about incumbents and their live, linear broadcasts. It was also a year in which cord cutting became more than just buzz words—Dish Networks announced that their Sling Television would provide live access to a specific number of premium cable channels without a traditional cable subscription. And some content owners also threw their hat into the ring. CBS, HBO, and Nickelodeon all indicated they would provide direct subscription to their content, no longer only enabling OTT access for just those consumers with a cable subscription[2]. The value of services like Sling Television and direct-to-consumer content seem obvious. First, they empower the consumer with choice. Consumers are no longer encumbered with paying for channels via their MSO that they never watch. And second, these services challenge the status quo. Consumers can get the content they want anytime and anywhere direct via a stand-alone OTT offering. The MSOs and other providers no longer have the “keys to the kingdom.”

 

But almost a quarter of the way into 2015 and we’ve seen relatively little of the promises that were made. Where are the OTT services that will liberate us from the yoke of our MSO subscriptions allowing us to cut the cord once and for all? Of all those that have recently announced their intentions, only two have launched thus far—Dish Networks Sling Television and CBS All Access.

 

Dish Networks Sling TV

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With Pop-up

 

Full-screen

 

Dish Network’s Sling TV is a solid offering. Capable of streaming what appears to be 720p content, it’s available as a web app, native PC/Mac software, and iOS/Android app. The service will also be available on a rash of devices and smart TVs. From the press release:

 

“Supported devices expected to include Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google’s Nexus Player, select LG Smart TVs, Roku players, Roku TV models, select Samsung Smart TVs, Xbox One from Microsoft, iOS, Android, Mac, PC”

 

The basic package starts at $20/month and includes a number of first-rate premium channels with additional channels available for a monthly upcharge[3].

 

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What Dish Network provides is a great linear-broadcast experience. Channel changing is easy. Built-in DVR functionality enables you to rewind easily as well as pause (for those channels that support such functionality; ESPN, for example, did not). And the overall quality of the stream is very high on a WiFi connection although I did notice an audio-syncing issue when watching a movie on the El Rey Network (Cobra—one of the worst Sylvester Stallone movies of all time). The biggest issue with the Dish Sling Television offering is that it’s only linear. There are no VoD offerings associated with the channels, which means if you miss your show…you miss your show. It's quite possible that the future may hold sVoD functionality but the lack of it now is a definite ding on the service.

 

But the cool thing? No extra advertising. That’s right, you only get the adverts that appear in the normal linear content just like you are watching normal television. There are no pop-ups or banners.

 

CBS All Access

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Channel selector

 

On-demand episodes

 

CBS All Access is exactly what you’d expect—a library of all the CBS content that you can watch (which, when you click on the “Shows” link the menu is pretty darn amazing) for $5.99 per month. But it also provides access to local, linear broadcast CBS content, although this isn’t available in all areas (including Phoenix; I’m sure it’s probably a matter of negotiating rights with affiliate station owners) so I was unable to test it.

 

Overall, the offering is pretty solid. Watching shows is easy with simple controls for rewinding, fast forwarding, etc. Series are easy to find and navigating to previous seasons within the series is accomplished through selecting the season from a drop-down. Again, I can’t stress enough how much content is available through this OTT offering. It’s pretty impressive.

 

But the service does have its shortcomings. First, and foremost, is the lack of linear content in certain markets. That may definitely keep some consumers from subscribing. Second, there is no native app for the computer or other connected devices. That doesn’t mean they won’t launch them at a later date but, again, it’s limited in this early release and although watching through the Web is okay a native app provides a much better overall experience. Finally, the way that CBS All Access is monetizing their assets may definitely keep some consumers at bay.

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Consumers may find the multiple layers of advertising on the on-demand content a bit annoying (that’s a Red Lobster ad running pre-roll and a complimentary banner ad). Not only do you get commercials you can’t skip past, but you also get pop-ups and banners that are associated with the in-stream advertising (and a lot of the same advertising, by the way). There are also the same commercial pauses in the on-demand content as you’d find in the linear broadcast. They have made on-demand like watching a linear feed.

 

Still, the content library (with current and classic shows) is outstanding and the promise of linear broadcast is sure to provide a much more compelling offering in those markets where it’s available. Although some might argue that consumers may balk at $5.99 for what seems like regular television content (i.e., not premium content like HBO), for those with a vested interest in CBS content this truly provides an anytime, anywhere ability to watch their favorite series[4].

 

Conclusion

Dish Network’s Sling Television and CBS All Access represent the next wave in OTT—a combination of linear and on-demand content offered as a subscription directly to the consumer. Although it’s unclear when, it’s only a matter of time before we see others like HBO and Nickelodeon offering similar OTT experiences. The ultimate question is whether or not this will complicate content viewing. If everything moves to a-la-carte (if CBS is wildly successful, will NBC and ABC follow?) how will consumers manage the viewing experience? Right now, that’s what the MSO does through a visual, interactive guide. But when the consumer is burdened with 5, 10, or 20 different OTT offerings for which they have an individual subscription? Perhaps this is where fantastic smart TV console applications will come into play (I have an LG TV and use it to access Netflix, VuDu, and my home Plex server)? But, then again, those consoles are ultimately shackled to the TV and consumers clearly want mobility as part of their OTT experience.

 

Although it seems there is a clear path for the evolution of television (combined on-demand and linear broadcast OTT services) it also seems apparent that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the overall experience of having multiple OTT services (I could easily see subscribing to Dish Networks Sling Television, CBS, HBO, and others when I drop my cable subscription) is great for the consumer.


 


[1] Most IPTV, satellite, or MSOs only provide streaming of content via in-home network; and even when they do provide out-of-home viewing, the channels are usually limited such as is the case with DirecTV (i.e., https://support.directv.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/3624) and Verizon.

[2] It was unclear if these offerings would be linear, SVoD, or a combination of the two although CBS “All Access” account seems to point to the later.

[3] If you do the math here, that’s approximately $1.33 per channel.

[4] CBS content is currently available on Hulu as well but CBS only makes some of the more recent, popular content available days after its aired; CBS All Access would provide immediate viewership of first-run content.

Well, the big game is behind us and now that the dust has settled, it might be worth a little recap on how everything fared.

 

First, if you didn’t know, NBC decided to stream the SuperBowl live to tablets and computers. That’s a big first but not that surprising. Given that the last three Olympics garnered massive online viewership and the FIFA 2014 was a huge success (2010 was no slouch either), it’s clear that NBC was simply following the trend—not all consumers want to be tied to their couch. Sure, television viewing dwarfs online consumption but it’s all a matter of choice. Not giving consumers choice in how and where they watch a live event like the SuperBowl puts the overall experience at risk.

 

Okay, now that we’ve got a baseline, let’s recap what happened:

  • 2.5 million people in all viewed the online event at some point. This is compared to an estimated 114.4 million viewership.
  • There was an average of 800,000 users per minute
  • 1.3m people viewed online at the moment Malcolm Butler made his game-changing interception
  • There were over 28.4m tweets during the game and halftime show
  • ESPN aired 346 hours of NFL programming during Super Bowl Week across its networks. People spent a total of 7 billion minutes viewing the coverage.

 

In short, a lot of online activity both during the game and leading up to it. But the experience wasn’t without its detractors. Will Oremus at Slate captures a couple of the most obvious:

  • Lag—some people reported up to a minute lag between the online version and the broadcast version which created for some interesting spoilers for those employing a second screen experience to interact with social networks
  • Ads—NBC sold its online ads separately from its television ads. While some advertisers bought both, many did not. According to Oremus, “however, NBC filled the holes in its commercial breaks by running the same terrible ads again and again—and again, and again, and again.”

 

So what does this all mean? To borrow a phrase from Malcolm Gladwell, we are on the verge of a couple of major tipping points:

  1. Cord cutting. Live events, especially sports, are the last holdout for enduring broadcast television. As more networks like NBC deliver their live event streams simultaneously via broadcast and IP, this remaining holdout on cutting the cord will be removed. Combine that with content owners going direct to consumer (HBO, CBS, Viacom, for example) and smartTVs with connected apps and it’s not hard to see a very near future where consumers watch what they want, when they want, and where they want all via the Internet.
  2. Consumer behavior. Although 2.5m million people viewing the Super Bowl is only 2% of the total viewership, the Super Bowl is not a good indication of this trend because of the social nature of the event. People congregate at homes and in bars to watch the game together. But for other live events, computers, tablets, smartphones, and smartTVs are increasingly becoming go-to devices because they offer convenience, control, and more interactive experiences. According to Statista, in fact, between 2011 and 2013 the number of people watching OTT content daily increased from 17% to 32%. Although the Super Bowl may not illustrate the trend, the shift is happening.

 

It’s not hard to predict that by, let’s say 2020, video content consumption will look markedly different. Although people will still use televisions, the large screen will only be part of a multi-screen strategy—just one way to consume content that is available across other devices as well. Imagine instead of 2.5m people viewing the Super Bowl online, it might be 12.5m people or 22.5 million people (especially as broadband penetration continues to grow). Although you may disagree with the predictions, just think about the demographics—the 15 year olds who have grown up in the digital space will be 20 years old (in 2012, those under 15 today made up about 20% of the U.S population). How will they want to watch the big game? The fact that NBC decided to provide the Super Bowl free of charge to tablets and PCs illustrates their recognition of these tipping points. These trends are not something to fight against. If the live streaming of the Super Bowl demonstrated anything it's that there's a tsunami of change coming that content owners and broadcasters must embrace if they expect to remain relevant.

 

What's next? I think we will see more live events streamed for free (as ad parity gets more mature) and more content come directly to the consumer. It will only be a matter of time before someone creates a service to aggregate all the "channels" to which a user might subscribe. In essence enabling consumers to create their own customized TV playlists of VOD and live content.

 

Whatever does happen, though, it's clear that should be preparing ourselves for a glorious ride downhill.

 

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.bloggingtips.com/2015/02/05/superbowl-big-advertisers-won-social-media/
  2. http://mesalliance.org/blog/uncategorized/2015/02/02/nbc-super-bowl-live-stream-sets-records-and-frustrates/
  3. http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/02/media/super-bowl-streaming-record/index.html?iid=SF_T_River
  4. http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/02/02/nbc_sports_super_bowl_live_stream_problems_delays_commercials_ruin_online.html
  5. http://espnmediazone.com/us/press-releases/2015/02/espn-delivers-super-audience-super-bowl-week/
  6. http://kff.org/global-indicator/population-under-age-15/ 

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When? March 4-6, Expo

Where? Game Developers Conference, Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA

Booth #2434

Are you a Limelight customer going to GDC?  Come by our booth and meet the Limelight team!

Send me an email ahead of time, and we'll have our customers-only giveaway waiting for you.

 

The conference promises to be fantastic, with lots of great speakers and panels (stay tuned!).

Limelight is excited to be at the show and we hope to get a chance to meet you in person (or in Robot).

 

Anne Blanchard

Limelight Gaming Solutions Manager

ablanchard@llnw.com

For more about the conference, check out: http://www.gdconf.com/aboutgdc/