The Right Side Of Digital Transformation

Upinder Phanda, Vice President and CIO, Unisys Corporation

Today, we barely re­alize how new-age technologies, and the platforms and applications built upon them, impact our day-to-day lifestyles. All we do is whip out our smartphones from our pockets and begin watching a series that has become the talk of the town. But watching anything online is not the same as it is on the television. With your latest episode buffering, there are wide-ranging technologies behind the curtains that are simulta­neously ‘at play’.

How online platforms augment the media browsing experience
Online media browsing players, or over-the-top (OTT) platforms - such as Netflix, Hotstar and Saavn - are seeing rising demand as the Indian OTT market grows at a Compound­ed Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 23 per cent and is slated to become one of the top ten markets across the globe by 2022. This development comes on the back of increased digiti­zation and, with it, the people’s pro­clivity of turning towards online to meet their entertainment needs.

However, alongside this unprece­dented growth, are a number of chal­lenges that OTT platforms must first address.

Delivering content largely depends on the application as well as to whom, where, and format in which the con­tent needs to be delivered. Every ap­plication poses a unique challenge to platforms. Primarily, the three most significant factors are the geographi­cal location of the end-user, capa­bilities that are additionally required with the media, and scalability of OTT services being offered.

  1. Geographical Location: The location of an end-user, or the audi­ence in general, determines where the media has to be sourced from. This is because long-distance transmission causes content latency, or delays in delivering the content. Content de­livery is relatively easy when the au­dience is restricted to a small area. It only needs the content to be stored in a single data centre. However, a layer of complexity is added when users are geographically dispersed around the globe, and accessing content around the clock, as multiple proxy servers have to be created in addition to the data centre, as close as possible to au­diences, to prevent delays.
  2. Capabilities: Another challenge is the mix of capabilities required with OTT services. This refers to the format in which the media  is to be distributed, such as web content, vid­eo or audio files, or live video. Online Video Platforms, moreover, have to go through the complexity of using and managing separate IT systems. They also have to store content in multiple formats for optimal brows­ing experience, since a user can access it using different devices supporting different formats. Additionally, with increasing customer awareness and growing cybersecurity threats, security has also become an important aspect in content delivery.
  1. Scalability: Now, not all OTT platforms are as large-scale and finan­cially-abled as industry bigwigs such as Netflix. They could be smaller players hosting content with mini­mal infrastructure. This limited in­frastructure intensifies the predomi­nant challenges in content delivery for OTT platforms, especially when they are scaling their operations. They also cannot swiftly tap into an increasing viewer base from a region that is beyond their target geography. The deployment of relevant infra­structure takes considerable time and simultaneously needs extensive capi­tal investment, which can impact an emerging OTT platform’s scalability.
  2. Apart from these, performance is a key metric in media dissemina­tion and not maintaining the Quality of Experience (QoE) onboard can heavily cost a platform. According to Limelight’s ‘The State of The User Experience 2017’ report, 43 percent of users leave a platform if they be­lieve it is slow to load. However, such delaysare not only a product of the geographical location, but also other factors such as the congestions in the public internet infrastructure.

" Modernizing a company digitally is a complex undertaking, and one needs to ensure that employees have access to the right mix of tools and technology that enable  higher productivity, collaboration and intelligence combined with a high-level of support and security"

The role of CDNs in the media stream­ing experience
These areas are addressed by Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) - a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to pro­vide fast delivery of web content. CDNs have a global network of data centres and proxy servers that effec­tively store and source data from the closest-possible location to a video browser. This dramatically reduces the content latency. CDNs, moreo­ver, have their own optical fibre net­work, which creates a private internet that is oblivious to the public internet congestions.

The prospects are further en­hanced with the usage of sophis­ticated IT capabilities that CDNs generally have. CDNs instantly de­tect the device and the browser that a user is using, and then source the content in the most optimal format through transcoding and transmux­ing. They can also effectively deliver live content, which typically sees a delay of approximately 30 seconds, in less than a second,to anywhere in the world. Edge caching technology, on the other hand, helps in optimum delivery of content across environ­ments while simultaneously reduc­ing the response time. Collectively, CDNs have an entire suite of soft­ware and services that their clientele can leverage to increase their QoE, decrease customer attrition, and ensure security.

What lies ahead for the OTT sector
This is an exciting time for the OTT sector in India. With competition heating up,it is now more important than ever for OTT players to deliver the most seamless media streaming experiences to stay ahead. CDNs therefore play a pivotal role in keep­ing users at the edge of their seats. With them, all that users need to do is whip out their smartphones from their pockets, and begin watching their favourite series.