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Stations Have Growing Options For Local OTT

Broadcasters thinking of plunging into OTT have big decisions to make, the biggest of which is settling on an OTT platform. They can turn to a turnkey provider or build their own. In either case, here are some vendors that can help.  

Sinclair Broadcast Group yesterday launched a free, ad-supported streaming service comprising a mix of national networks and local channels with news and other programming produced by Sinclair’s stations.

It is one of the most ambitious OTT undertaking by a broadcaster yet and underscores the growing interest in the digital medium among others seeking new viewers and revenue opportunities.

Such broadcasters have options in setting up their channels or channels. They can go to turnkey providers like ATV, Ooyala, Syncbak, TownNews, ATV Broadcast and Verizon Digital Media Services or piece together their own OTT infrastructure from the likes of Akamai.

Here’s a look at some of those options:

Syncbak

Syncbak offers an end-to-end platform called SimpleSync that includes hardware, cloud-based rights and content management tools, monitoring and dynamic ad insertion.

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It has its own digital ad insertion and content delivery network (CDN), but customers can also use their own.

Last year, it launched SBTV, where it aggregates many of its OTT clients and specialty networks. And at NATPE next week, it will formally launch MarketSync, which will let clients share and syndicate content.

Ron Stitt, head of product for SBTV, says it’s important for broadcasters to have an OTT presence so viewers who migrate to the medium via Roku and on one of the several other consumer platforms will retain the ability to watch them.

The demographics of the OTT audience differ from the over-the-air audience, he said, so it may be necessary to evolve programming to suit different demographics.

Local news and information has been an “afterthought” when it comes to OTT, Stitt said, but it shouldn’t be.

According to Stitt, independent WFMZ Allentown, Pa., live streamed a high school football game last Thanksgiving Day that is currently the most viewed single event on SBTV.

“The local television station is still important,” Dean Mandel, VP of revenue for SBTV, said. “Our job is to help local television stations get their content out where people are watching it and make money doing it.”

Among Syncbak’s clients are Gray Television and CBS.

TownNews

WWSB Sarasota, Fla., one of the first stations in the country to launch a local OTT channel, uses the TownNews platform.

“They treat their live streaming almost as a D2 channel,” says Susan Bell, TownNews senior product manager. “They do extremely well with that.”

Getting started with TownNews in the OTT space isn’t plug and play, says Derek Gebler, TownNews, VP of broadcast and video. Launching a successful, well-thought-out channel requires first outlining a video strategy.

“We try to understand what kind of content they have that’s unique to just them,” he says. “Our customers are building unique channels for their audiences, often for the first time. We’re taking a look at the whole picture and taking the time to offer a holistic approach to OTT.”

A key is frequently adding fresh and local content, Bell says, who adds that setting up an OTT channel via TownNews takes about 90 days.

Verizon Digital Media Services

VDMS does everything but build the consumer app.

Its service ingests the signal, encrypts it and pushes it to the cloud. There, transcoding, metadata manipulation and ad insertion occur before the signal is pushed out through the CDN to the consumer.

Carey says a broadcaster just entering the space might face two potential pitfalls. The first is failing to capture data from consumers about their viewing behavior and overall experience so future experiences can be optimized. “The best publishers have the best consumer experience,” Carey says.

The other potential problem is trying to do too much too soon, such as making interaction models too gimmicky, he says. “Keep the consumer experience simple.”

Pricing for the service is based on hours of published content encoded, duration of video asset storage and consumer viewing hours.

“Our financial model is tied to their success,” said Chris Carey, chief revenue officer and head of strategy of VDMS.

How quickly a broadcaster can get a station launched with VDMS comes down to how long it takes the station to create its app, Carey says.

“We’ve focused on a low barrier to entry,” Carey says, noting he can walk into a station, demonstrate the software, connect to the signal, and “click, boom, it’s streaming.”

Ooyala

Ooyala’s Flex Media Platform, whose users include Tribune Media, handles metadata, workflow, analytics and hosting.

Co-founder and CTO Bel Lepe says Ooyala can help broadcasters drive revenue from their OTT presence through advertising, light advertising or subscription. It is also working on a microtransaction model.

Ad insertion is possible on the server side or client side, and targeting capability is a native part of the platform.

OTT viewers on mobile devices often want to “snack on” short-form content, although longer programming is starting to gain traction, says Bel Lepe, Ooyala co-founder and CTO.

“If you want to make OTT work, you have to focus on the cost side,” he says. “If you bring unit economics down, chances are you’re going to be much more successful with your OTT property.”

ATV Broadcast

“The broadcast industry has had a terrible time trying to reach the elusive viewer,” says Michael Ruggiero, ATV Broadcast chairman and founder.

Bringing those elusive viewers to stations’ OTT apps is the focus of ATV’s Strictly Streaming service, a turnkey solution that provides syndicated content.

“We wanted to make this as simple as possible for a broadcaster who is already working their people to death,” he says.

Strictly Streaming was in proof of concept stage in mid-January with two broadcasters and expected to launch fully in April. Strictly Streaming is built on syndicated networks rather than individually syndicated shows, and an OTT channel can launch in just a few days.

The streaming package doesn’t conflict with what’s broadcast on air “because millennials aren’t watching what’s on air,” Ruggiero says.

ATV believes OTT and broadcasting can work together through cross-promotion, and the hope is that the demographics for the broadcasting will broaden as new and elusive viewers rediscover it, he says.

The secret is creating a reason for the viewer to keep coming back, whether that channel focuses on physical fitness, gaming, jewelry, music or any of a variety of other options, he says.

Strictly Streaming pricing is directly tied to viewership, he says. “It could be the start of a turnaround for broadcasters.”

Akamai

Unlike the turnkey players, Akamai specializes in providing a few pieces of the OTT puzzle.

It provides a suite of products to help broadcasters deliver a quality OTT experience for their viewers while keeping their digital data private and secure, according to Shane Keats, director, global industry marketing, media and entertainment.

Akamai’s Media Services Live helps content providers ingest and prepare their live streams for a smooth viewing experience. Net Storage is a globally distributed, cloud-based storage solution that caches content as close to viewers as possible.

Akamai also addresses security. It is no longer just about digital rights management and secure TV Everywhere authentication, he says.

“The bad guys have noticed OTT because they see money there,” Keats says. The combination of personal information and credit card info tied to subscription or transactional services makes an attractive target, he says.

Akamai’s Kona Site Defender protects websites and applications from downtime due to DDoS, data theft and defacement.

Pricing for delivery of the video stream is based on how many gigs of traffic are pushed.

While Akamai does not directly provide digital ad insertion, the service is available through Akamai’s partners. Similarly, Akamai partners with companies that assist with preventing ad blockers from working.

Success requires thinking about the OTT experience from the viewer’s perspective, says Keats.

At its inception, on-demand video was “magical” and viewers tolerated glitches like buffering just to choose when to watch a movie, he says. Now the expectation is for it to meet or exceed the experience of traditional television.

Issues with latency can affect the experience, especially for live content, such as sports, weather and news, he says.

A football game on broadcast typically has a five- to seven-second delay between what’s on the field and what appears on the television screen, Keats says. In OTT, the industry standard is between 30 and 60 seconds, he says, but Akamai has it down to about 10.


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