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OTT questions... The big 3 by Simen Frostad, Chairman at Bridge Technologies E very media operator wants to deliver OTT services, or is already doing so. Growth over the past 18 months has been phenomenal, and a media operation without OTT is almost inconceivable now. But for many coming from a broadcast background, the technical side of OTT is terra incognita, and a mixture of fear and misconceived ideas can inhibit even grizzled veterans of broadcast technology. Likewise, those from an IT background often approach the challenge of OTT with little or no understanding of the broadcast world and its technologies, and struggle to grasp that technical issues with media delivery can’t always be solved by throwing more IT at the problem. So the kind of questions people ask us about OTT centre on how to plan and operate a reliable infrastructure, and how to guarantee service quality. Here are a few questions that come up frequently: How do we integrate the OTT model with our other media delivery models? This is a key challenge because OTT and broadcast (not to mention cable, IPTV, and satellite) involve different technologies and trying to build and operate different islands of technologies in parallel can be a nightmare. In fact a poorly planned and inefficient approach can generate so much drag on an organisation’s performance as to pose a real threat to its survival. Aside from the heterogeneous infrastructures, with all their associated investment 64 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 84 DECEMBER 2013 and maintenance costs, different technologies require different skills and expertise during planning, build and operation. Since there isn’t a ready stock of staff with skill sets that span both broadcast and media-via- IP, getting an OTT operation off the ground requires the recruitment of a new team of IT engineers, and that has implications for the payroll. But what’s rather more difficult for the would-be OTT provider to assess is the cumulative impact on costs and performance of many small inefficiencies all added together. For example: it’s easy to forget that encoders are fairly complex, and if you have encoders from several vendors you need more people to cover the expertise necessary to manage and operate them, whereas if the same encoder is used throughout, the staffing demand is lower. The same applies to multiplexers, or any computers use for transcoding, cacheing, or as origin servers for OTT. So in any media organisation, widespread deployment of heterogeneous technologies actually becomes a challenge to operational efficiency and a threat to business efficiency: the technologies can become part of the problem, not part of the solution. The same is true for the monitoring solution: if an operator has one set of tools for monitoring the RF signal from satellite, another set of tools for the IP, and yet another for OTT it’s very difficult for engineering staff to span all of these domains and get a consistent understanding of what is happening and why. Silos of expertise tend to develop around each set of tools, at the expense of the ‘big picture’ necessary to trace and rectify faults. We could draw an analogy here if you imagine a medical profession in which there are only specialists, and no GPs: it would be much more difficult to treat the patient rather than the symptoms – someone experiencing suddenly deteriorating eyesight might just be prescribed with bifocals and never be tested for diabetes, for example. So the more integrated the OTT services are with the overall operation, the better. And the more integrated and silo-free the monitoring system is, the better it will help operators to identify the symptoms, pinpoint the real cause (even if it’s quite remote from where the symptoms are occurring), and resolve the problem. This brings us to a related question, which concerns the way in which the heterogeneous technologies involved in delivering OTT can be made to seem integrated and transparent to the operator’s staff, who may be from either a broadcast or IT background: How can our staff monitor technologies they aren’t fully familiar with? The last thing an operator needs is an engineering staff divided into separate