When most people think about OTT, they think Netflix. They think Hulu. They think on-demand video. And that market is exploding with new providers, like Dramafever, coming on-line everyday. But for people contemplating cord-cutting, it’s difficult to make the jump because they lose the live feed—sports, concerts, events. They can see shows, like NBC’s The Voice, only after it’s been aired (making it really difficult to share the experience with friends who may be watching it via traditional cable). But what if that wasn’t the case? What if broadcasters began putting their wares over the Internet, direct to consumers?
In North America, that poses some interesting challenges. First, broadcasters have to deal with territorial rights—local affiliates have the rights to broadcast within their boundaries. A broadcaster like NBC can’t simply decide to start providing the same content online that an affiliate provides because the affiliate owns the rights to distribute that content locally. And although other broadcasters, like CBS, are trying to solve this problem by working deals with those affiliates (to help them get their broadcast online), it’s slow going. Second, broadcasters need the capabilities to stream online. At the foundation of that challenge is consumer desire for the same experience with their online video as they get from their television (sit down, turn it on, and it just works)—that means that broadcasters need the infrastructure and services to convert their 24/7 live linear streams into formats suitable for online viewing at a quality expected by their viewers. No jitter, no buffer, no artifcating. That’s just as hard as wrangling affiliate deals to broadcast the content in the first place.
Outside the U.S., it’s a different story. The BBC, for example, is already broadcasting one of their channels, BBC 3, live online (although it’s only available in country at this time).
Perhaps the key to unfolding live linear over-the-Internet (OTI), though, isn’t through the incumbent broadcasters but from independent service providers like LycaTV.
LycaTV provides regionalized, ethnic content to a global audience through an OTT subscription service. Licensing the content from different broadcasters in a variety of countries, they are delivering 24/7 content around the globe. No, it may not be shows that you’ve heard of, but it exemplifies the turning point for video consumption—more live content will be distributed via the Internet rather than traditional terrestrial broadcast. LycaTV is not encumbered by regional licensing rights. And by using a commercial CDN like Limelight to deliver their streams (with automatic transcoding and transmuxing to turn live streams into online ready formats), they can guarantee the scale, reach, and quality of service. They can deliver streams in “broadcast quality.”
But LycaTV only represents the tip of the iceberg. How long will it take CBS to work out the kinks and provide live, local TV over the Internet? How long will it take other North American broadcasters to follow suit? How long will it take the BBC to start offering BBC 3 (and other channels) to those outside the country for a subscription?
The quick and easy answer is “not long.” I predict that in 10 years or less, we will see a host of LycaTV-like services (from both incumbent broadcasters and upstart providers) spanning the globe offering content from a variety of different regions in an a-la-carte, subscription model. At that time, we will have officially hit the tipping point in the transformation of the television experience. Sure, it may take another 30 years after that for mass adoption, but it will be a glorious ride downhill as terrestrial broadcast gives way to the true value of over-the-Internet (OTI) content—anytime, anywhere, any device access no matter what kind of video.