April 14, 2023
Even though OTT and VOD are terms used pretty much interchangeably, that is not exactly correct. In fact, while having technological similarities, they are completely different.
OTT (Over the Top) technologies delivers multimedia content over the internet we all know, instead of cable TV and satellite broadcasts which the conventional media technologies use. So, and application that delivers multimedia content over internet is an OTT, and the infrastructure that such applications use is called an OTT infrastructure.
On the other hand, VOD (Video on Demand) covers content which the consumer hand-picks and chooses to watch. In conventional broadcasts, the consumer has to pick a network, and is confined to watching whatever is currently on. In VOD networks, they have the freedom to choose when and what to watch.
In this case, a model and the technology built upon it may be OTT, but not VOD. Such as the cases where TV broadcasts are delivered over internet. Or, it may be VOD but not OTT, exampled by the offering of content pools over cable TV.
Netflix is the first (and perhaps only) world-wide VOD platform. Of course, this is far from a coincidence. Netflix became what it is, because it cleared over certain technological hurdles, that were difficult to overcome back then. But, this difficulty is changing rapidly, and seems that it will continue to.
By technological barriers, I mean any technological obstacles preventing the provision of a good user experience. After all, the user makes use of this technology to have fun and gain enjoyment, and it is their right to be demanding.
First such barrier is the transmission of high-quality multimedia content at rapid speeds. CDN technologies that manage this had existed before Netflix, namely Akamai. Akamai efficiently provided CDN services in B2B market long before Netflix came about. However, the problem was the costs of running such a service. It wasn’t reasonably possible for Netflix to pay the cost with a handful of dollars it got from its customers. Thus, Netflix established its own CDN infrastructure, and kept itself from bleeding money to Akamai.
Second barrier was the cost of media servers, where the video content was met with the user. Technologies have developed in overdrive, aided by the resulting quarantine from COVID. Users consumed tons of content. Some, prompted by changing habits, some born out of necessity. Open source and developed solutions have long existed in this field. Furthermore, it is possible to find many other media server services. Today, the costs have fallen greatly for such services. Firstly Amazon, and followed by other cloud service provides, have started providing pay-per-use media servers services. This meant you no longer have to keep and maintain unused servers. This opens up the possibility for VOD projects who have limited, but still profitable scopes. I strongly recommend you give AWS Elemental Media Services a look.
The last, and perhaps the most important barrier was in multi-platform OTT media applications. Today, there is not a mobile device or Smart TV you can’t get Netflix on. It was not possible for a single application to run on dozens of different platforms. Perhaps, this is the most prevalent breakout Netflix achieved. Each different device incorporates different operating systems, different screen metrics, different user-input methods (remote control, touch etc.), different interfaces, different graphics and processing technologies. It was a dream to develop a single application to run in all those. Well, now, it is less so.
Just few years prior, there was almost no one who could achieve any tangible level of development in this regard. Today, however, there are frameworks, who can make the development of multi-platform OTT applications possible. “Develop once, use everywhere” applications are much more possible now. Some of these developer frameworks purport that you can use roughly 85% of the code in more than 10 devices.
First two of the barriers, cost of CDN and media servers, are largely things of the past in the current day. However the third one, meaning reasonably priced development of OTT applications who can run seamlessly in many platforms is yet a field that requires progress and development. If all you need from your OTT application to support browsers, Android and iOS, you can almost overlook this issue. However, there is prudence in not overlooking the most basic advice in media. The amount of channels you broadcast in, is directly translatable to how many viewers you will have.
Today, there are many companies who provide subscription based VOD infrastructures and applications. Some, even can develop specific applications for specific devices. But, I fear I can’t name them in good conscience, as I haven’t used them personally. My personal opinion is that the subscriptions and the costs of applications are too high, due to the technology behind them being as new as it is. I also would question the reliability and security of such applications. After following the links in their references to their OTT media provides, I’ve noticed their websites are rough and shady. It would be a disaster if their purported multiplatform applications provided a similar performance.
I also had the opportunity to test and examine some satisfying OTT multi-platform application frameworks on the way. And I still continue to do so. Once I form a cognitive and full approach, I will share it in a different post. My current first impression is that it’s not really feasible to enter into OTT/VOD field with these flameworks without some sizeable custom development. I don’t think OTT and VOD platform players can meet the expectations of those who want to break new grounds. In summary, mid-sized and large players must make considerable investments.
Today, yoga channels, channels belonging to local governments, channels where talented people present their abilities to the audience first-hand, and many like it, exist as VOD applications. The number of those will certainly grow, and we are to enter an age where media will be spliced into micro-sized bits, and the user will be offered a ton of choices.
On the other hand, big players in media are sharpening their interests on VOD, and making great investments. We are entering a period where VOD technologies will be heavily employed, particularly by these big players. In the days ahead, it seems highly likely that a media company will employ in-house developers, system managers, testing engineers or a third party OTT provider to setup and maintain their own VOD platforms.
VOD and OTT might just become the primary medium for the future broadcasting world. Convantional broadcasting structures are falling short to keep up with this dynamism every day, and sure to have problems in the long while. This makes VOD and OTT into ground-breaking technologies used both in micro-scale and by large players, that can even overthrow conventional media outlets.
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