FeaturesSupply ChainApproaches to Building a VOD Service from Scratch

If you’re thinking about building a VOD service and you don’t have to deal with legacy, this is how you do it. Imagine you were building a VOD service from scratch, unconstrained by legacy infrastructure. Which core components, tasks and functions might you need to consider? This isn’t just an academic exercise – it reflects conversations I’ve had with broadcasters dreaming about starting from a clean slate, brands who think they should be doing more with...
Kauser Kanji4 weeks ago12 min
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If you’re thinking about building a VOD service and you don’t have to deal with legacy, this is how you do it.

Imagine you were building a VOD service from scratch, unconstrained by legacy infrastructure. Which core components, tasks and functions might you need to consider? This isn’t just an academic exercise – it reflects conversations I’ve had with broadcasters dreaming about starting from a clean slate, brands who think they should be doing more with online video and even a film studio which was contemplating if and how it should go about launching one or more direct-to-consumer (D2C) propositions.

I asked the question to some friends and industry colleagues recently and together, we came up with the following:

#1. Core Components of a VOD Service

Component        Description
#1.   Advertising management   The ability to source and / or play ads within content.
#2.  Analytics The ability to analyse who’s using your service and how.
#3.  API The ability to make all functions controllable / accessible through APIs.
#4.  Asset Management The ability to see where a piece of video “lives” and move it to somewhere else.
#5.  Content Delivery The ability to receive content from its source, process it and ultimately deliver it to the end-user’s device.
#6.   CMS / VMS Content management systems which provide editorial and asset control and allow you to attach attributes to video files (e.g. DRM and metadata – see below).
#7.   Content Recommendation Which can be broken down into five types: content-based filtering, collaborative filtering, curation (which enables “Collections”), social content recommendation and Big Data.
#8.   CRM A customer relationship management system: includes customer records and may incorporate billing solutions.
#9.   DRM Digital rights management: the ability to attach time, geographical and payment-related conditions to who can watch your content.
#10.    Encoding / Transcoding Converting files from analogue to digital (encoding) and digital to digital (transcoding).
#11.  Ingest Getting content into your servers wherever they are (see Storage and Servers below).
#12.  Internationalisation The ability to allow for multiple languages for the UI and metadata.
#13.  Live-to-VOD The ability to be able to record programmes from a live feed, transcode them, move them to different silos and ultimately make them available for on-demand viewing.
#14.  Localisation The ability to be able to tailor content based on the user’s geography.
#15.  Media Player Plays video – of course!
#16.  Metadata The attributes that allow the content to be found by a search engine inside the VOD service (e.g. title, description, cast, director etc.).
#17.  Pay Model Management The ability to be able to offer users different ways of paying for the content.
#18.  Payment Provision The ability to actually be able to take payments.
#19.  Quality Assurance Also known as Quality of Service (QoS), this is the ability to check on the technical and load-bearing performance of your service.
#20.  Rights Management May include records about content originators and the legal conditions for how, when and for what price they make content available to you.
#21.  Scheduling The ability to be able to schedule content in your service.
#22.  Security and Watermarking Especially applies to live content, the ability to be able to watermark shows / movies so that pirate streams can quickly be found and turned off.
#23.  SSO Single sign-on via, for example, pay-TV packages, ISPs or social networks.
#24.  Storage and Servers Where your content is stored: either on physical servers, perhaps on-premises, or in the Cloud.
#25.  Systems Integration The ability to integrate your technology with third party products.
#26.  Textual Content The ability to create text-only pages (or sections of pages) within your VOD service.
#27.  UI / UX Customisation The level of bespoke front-end design and control of user journeys that you can implement.
#28.  Workflow Shows you where an asset is in your system and whether the correct attributes (e.g. DRM, metadata, scheduling conditions etc.) have been added to it so that it’s ready to be published in your service.

Some of these elements flow into each other in a linear fashion. Encoding / transcoding, for example, usually comes toward the beginning of the process. The newly-minted video files are then, perhaps using a CDN, housed in your servers. Conversely, scheduling and watermarking may come toward the end of the chain.

This leads me on to my next question –

#2. Who Manages Each Component? The Many, The Few, The One.  

The premise here is that you don’t have any legacy systems to deal with and let’s assume too that you’re not going to build your new VOD service yourself using existing (or to-be-hired) in-house staff. Instead, you’re going to employ external vendors. What exactly is your approach? Depending on how quickly you need to get to market, the size of your content catalogue, the size of your budget, the number of customers you expect to serve, whether you prefer a CAPEX or OPEX spend and how confident you are in your project management skills, you have three options:

#1. Hire multiple specialist suppliers to look after each of the above components;

#2. Hire an OVP (online video platform) and / or a “layer” solution-provider to do most of the heavy lifting plus a few best-in-class products from separate vendors;

#3. Hire just one supplier to do ALL the work. Is that feasible? Let’s look at these options in more detail.

#3. Hiring Multiple Specialists

In reality, no-one hires ALL the specialists. If they did, you’d have upwards of twenty suppliers whose solutions would all need to integrate with each other seamlessly to create the functioning whole of your VOD service. Not to mention the management headaches this would cause. But, for the sake of argument, if you WERE looking for vendors for each component, who should you be talking to? Here’s my list (note: VOD Professional does not have commercial relationships with the vast majority of these suppliers. They’re simply the ones that I think have best-of-breed products or that I’m most familiar with. For reference, you can see our sponsors on the top right of every page of this website):

Component Vendors
#1.  Advertising management Freewheel, Brightroll , SpotXchange
#2. Analytics TVbeat, Conviva, Ooyala
#3.  Asset Management Seachange
#4.  Content Delivery Akamai, Amazon Web Services, Limelight Networks, Loft London
#5.  CMS / VMS AxinomBrightcove , Clearleap (IBM), CSG, Kaltura , Ooyala, thePlatform , Xstream
#6.  Content Recommendation  ContentWise , Digitalsmiths , TiVo, Spideo, ThinkAnalytics
#7.  CRM Salesforce
#8.  DRM Adobe Primetime, Microsoft PlayReady, Widevine
#9. Encoding / Transcoding Brightcove Zencoder, DeluxeLoft London
#10.  Ingest DeluxeLoft London
#11.   Internationalisation Ericsson , VubiquityTiVo
#12. Live-to-VOD Anvato, Simplestream
#13. Media Player Cast LabsInside SecureJW PlayerSquadeoVisual On
#14.  Metadata Ericsson , Gracenote , TiVo, Vubiquity
#15.  Payment Provision Paywizard , MPP Global, Vindicia
#16.  Quality Assurance Agama, Ineoquest , S3 Group
#17.  Rights Management Mediamorph
#18.  Scheduling BeBanjo, Massive
#19.  Security and Watermarking Friend MTS, Irdeto, NexGuard
#20.  Storage and Servers Edgeware
#21.  UI / UX Customisation Accedo, Bottle Rocket, Massive, Ostmodern , W12
#22.  Workflow Nativ

#4. Hiring an OVP and / or a “Layer” Solution-Provider

You’ll probably be familiar with a number of OVPs (online video platforms) already – some of them are outlined in the CMS / VMS section above: Brightcove, CSG, Kaltura, Ooyala and Xstream. Their job is to take a lot of the complexity out of building and getting your VOD service to market. They integrate with third-party partners like online advertising networks, DRM partners and CDNs, some incorporate own-brand versions of components like scheduling and workflow and all of them will provide you with strategic help and advice.

Whilst OVPs also give you templates and the flexibility to create your own front-end apps and websites, you may choose to deploy specialists in UI and UX (user interfaces / user experience). This is where companies like AccedoMassive and Ostmodern come. All three companies have masses of experience and excellent client lists. And crucially, all three have built on their heritage in brilliant design to offer “layer solutions” (their brand names, respectively, are AppGridMassive AXIS and Skylark). These products overcome the challenges of device proliferation in that they act as conduits which allow you to publish content, tech updates and editorial changes to multiple platforms simultaneously. This is as opposed to having to update individual apps, websites and media players on individual devices like smartphones, tablets, TVs, set-top boxes etc. separately.

Here’s a useful diagram from Massive’s website which shows how its layer product, Massive AXIS, works with components from other suppliers. You can also see a great video from Accedo here about the advantages of using a layer solution.

#5. Hire One Supplier to Provide an Out-of-the-Box Solution

You may have seen the news today that Brightcove and Accedo have joined forces to release a new product called OTT Flow. My understanding is that this is the first true out-of-the-box solution that offers a majority of the components listed in the first table on this page. It uses an OPEX model with no upfront costs, accelerates the time it takes for your product to get to market and supports multiple business models including AVOD and SVOD.

I chatted with Luke Gaydon, Brightcove’s Vice President for OTT Solutions, ahead of the launch of OTT Flow and he told me that:

“The Brightcove/Accedo partnership brings nearly two decades of experience in the OVP and App design & development space. OTT Flow has been conceived to offer a turnkey and rapid route to market for companies wishing to launch an OTT service. From design to deployment, we’re talking days not weeks or months.

OTT Flow leverages Brightcove Video Cloud & Brightcove Once for content ingestion, metadata management, analytics & server side ad insertion, Accedo App Grid for OTT application creation, ongoing editorial and submission, Accedo middleware to merge data from Accedo App Grid and Video Cloud, and Brightcove device SDKs and players in the actual OTT applications.”

Conclusion

So, you’ve read my thoughts but I’m really interested to hear what you think. What approaches have you (or would you) use to building your own VOD service from scratch? Have you had any great deployment experiences using one or more vendors? And in which direction do you see the market moving – more specialists or more consolidation to form groups of “super-suppliers” with multiple products and disciplines?

Tweet me @consultVodkr.

Kauser Kanji

I've been working in online video since 2005 and have held senior roles at NBC Universal, Trinity Mirror and Virgin Media. I've also worked on VOD projects for the BBC, Netflix, Sony Pictures, DR in Denmark and a host of broadcasters and service-providers all over the world.

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