Sustaining TVE and the evolution of video

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Andy Beach, SeaWell NetworksThroughout the industry, companies are rushing to provide TV Everywhere (TVE) capabilities for consumers. Lauded as the future of how we watch video and also condemned as being an industry fad, TVE is a hot topic among analysts and online video enthusiasts like myself.  The video helping drive the TVE revolution is HTTP adaptive streaming.

But who is right--those who say TVE is here to stay or those who say TVE is doomed to fail?

The beginning of TVE

TV Everywhere was announced in March 2010 by Comcast and Time Warner as a way for them to verify access to content. Basically, this allows HBO or another content creator/owner to offer up web versions of its content and have it viewable only by the subscribers of the Multiple System Operator. who already paid for access (instead of the MSO having to set up its own subscription system).

The TVE name actually comes from Time Warner, while Comcast calls its solution Xfinity. But like any good branding, TVE is close to becoming the Xerox or Kleenex of the industry. It has become a ubiquitous way of referring to traditional television content that is viewable on non-TV devices. 

While many analysts prophesied the end of TVE and similar authentication systems, the idea behind TVE caught on and has become something that will impact the future of the industry.

The future of TVE is fragmented

In reality, TVE is ushering in the inevitable evolution of the way we consume content. This next era in our content consumption evolution replaces the traditional system of cable company subscriptions with dozens, maybe hundreds of ways of consuming content on a multiplicity of screens. The fragments will reflect the many facets of our culture, differentiated by age, gender, geography, socio-economic status and more.

So, if the future truly is fragmented, how do we sustain that? I can tell you that today, business deals and licensing aside, it's operationally impossible (or at least expensive enough to be a moot point) to try and support fragmented viewing. How do we support distributing content to viewers on a myriad of devices, with different resolution, bandwidth and processing capabilities using existing infrastructures?

The HTTP Adaptive streaming video that is powering much of the early TVE experiments certainly does ease part of the problem.  Suddenly content is easier to connect to and view on different devices and over different types of connections. TVE, however, has not fully arrived.   

Preparing for TVE now

To get more content online, we need to optimize the overall process of encoding and delivering the video to the viewer. The network upgrade is already happening: IP networks are beefing up, wireless bandwidth is increasing, consumer devices are getting faster and TVs are getting smarter. Yes, this is an evolutionary process. 

There are still some elements, however, standing in the way--obstacles that will hold us back until we solve them.

Right now, just having a bigger, stronger pipe isn't the answer. Sure, bigger pipes will help us get more content out to the viewers, but it doesn't help with the operational cost of generating all the different versions required.  It also does not help manage the "access to content vs. content availability on that device" relationship.

Ultimately, brawn isn't the answer. We need brains. Software solutions that improve cache efficiency and assist in content management provide hooks to the business models we use to monetize that content. We need use the types of solutions that more efficiently store and repurpose that content.

Yet, as helpful as these intelligent network solutions are, they can't do the job themselves. It takes client-side intelligence, efficient encoders, better storage, and yes, continued improvement to the bandwidth (I didn't say I didn't want a bigger pipe, I just said it didn't solve the problem on its own).

The new TV

At some point TV Everywhere will just become TV.  Television will no longer be the box in our house. It's just the entertainment we want to watch whenever and wherever. Our children will wonder why we had a TV set.

The company that makes TVE the easiest the fastest will get our dollars, whether they are currently considered a cable company, our cell phone carrier or an optimistic startup full of technology and enthusiasm.

Andy Beach is Vice President of Marketing and Product Management at SeaWell Networks. He drives company and product messaging, promotes the company’s technology and closely monitors customer and industry needs.