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TV Connect Q&A: Keith Wymbs, Elemental Technologies

Ahead of next week’s TV Connect 2013 in London, Keith Wymbs, vice-president of marketing at Elemental Technologies, talked to Digital TV Europe about the latest developments in online and multiscreen video distribution.

How would you define an internet-delivered HD video experience across multiple screens – tablets and smartphones as well as Smart TVs – and what are the challenges of delivering HD over the web?
At its essence, internet-delivered video across multiple screens is about delivering content to consumers on their terms. This untethering is analogous to the transition that played out in the telephony industry in the 1990s. In one decade everyone was tied to “twisted pair” for voice communications, and, in the next, everyone had a mobile on their hip with a lot more intelligence than their first personal computer. The market for internet-delivered video, particularly for HD content, has exploded because of the confluence of increased access bandwidth, reduced video bit rates, the proliferation of consumer devices, and core technologies that allow for a broadcast quality viewing experience. Coping with heterogeneity and rapid change imposes constraints on the economic viability of a multiscreen initiative. Trying to properly match the video content consumers want at any given time with existing bandwidth capacity and across multiple device types necessitates infrastructural flexibility and powerful video processing. Elemental is best positioned to help content owners and distributors secure the best financial outcome for their next-generation video strategies. Our software architecture helps content programmers and providers stay ahead of the curve and accommodate the proliferation of video formats and video-display-capable devices.

What impact do you believe HEVC/H.265 will have on internet and mobile video delivery?
Solution providers like Elemental are always seeking ways to help our customers increase revenues and reduce costs. Fortunately, HEVC/H.265 has the potential to achieve both. With estimated efficiency gains of up to 50 percent, HEVC enables content distributors to delivery higher-quality content at lower bit rates over constrained networks, reduce the transport costs of existing video distribution and extend reach in underserved markets. Each new generation of codec takes time to gain market momentum. Historically, encoders mature before viable mass-market decoders. However, HEVC/H.265 could behave differently than its predecessors, particularly in the multiscreen market. Consumer devices with decoding functionality are mainstream today. The half-life of these devices is three to five times shorter than previous decoders, which promises an accelerated codec standard shift this time around. It should be fascinating to watch.

How widespread do you believe the deployment of 4K/UHD video will be over the next three years? Will it be primarily a broadcast TV experience or will it also have an impact on internet and multiscreen services?
There is little doubt that 4K Ultra HD video will take hold over the next three years and succeed in ways that other technologies, such as 3D TV, have not. This shift will not be as dramatic as the evolution from analog and SDTV to HDTV. Initially, we’ll see 4K gain traction in a few specific genres, like sports and home theatre. The key challenge is that the living room naturally constrains the potential size of a display device; below a certain screen size, 4K is undetectable by the average human eye. Eventually, 4K will find a home within internet and multiscreen services. It’s a natural extension of the improved quality of experience users expect. But it’ll have to be on screens of a practical size.

What are the challenges currently of delivering live video feeds of big events over the internet to multiple screens and what solutions are being implemented to solve these?
The 2012 Olympics, which were highly chronicled as the first truly digital Games, proved that multiscreen distribution of major live events on a global scale is possible. Elemental helped sports broadcasters deliver premium content over IP to millions of viewers on multiple devices in more than 70 countries. Established infrastructure was able to manage the task effectively. So, it’s clear that the multiscreen future is a certainty. What remains a challenge is maximizing monetization and return on investment. Our newly announced partnership with deltatre is aimed squarely at helping rights-holders for major events, such as the FIFA World Cup and the 2014 Winter Games, maximize the stickiness of their applications through a combination of unmatched video quality and deeply integrated media experiences that allow for significant monetization.

Are standards beginning to make the multiscreen distribution environment simpler to navigate for content creators and distributors?
Simpler to navigate might be a bit of a stretch. However, standards such as MPEG-DASH and HEVC/H.265 and the maturation of proprietary multiscreen technologies are bringing some sense of comfort to content creators and distributors. Elemental’s mission is to “perfect the media experience” and that has a lot of connotations. Fundamentally, though, it means we help our customers – such as the BBC, RedBee, Eurosport, TF1, ESPN, HBO and Comcast – to simplify delivery of high quality video to any device. New multiscreen business models can’t be baked into an ASIC or a DSP without a willingness to wait 18 months as silicon goes through all the phases of development to cope with the new standard. By which time things will have changed. At Elemental we are able to quickly onboard new standards with our software platform – and even to improve legacy standards such as MPEG-2. This eliminates delays in implementation and the unnecessary recycling of hardware every time standards change.

What business models do you see emerging to support TV Everywhere and multiscreen video delivery? Are service providers making additional revenue from delivering content to multiscreen devices?
The most innovative pay TV operators view multiscreen and TV Everywhere offerings as both strategic offensive and defensive plays. While there is a lot to lose to disruptive new entrants, multiscreen ventures also present well-established leaders the opportunity to extend and secure market leadership for another generation. At Elemental, we are seeing some of the largest media companies on the planet enabling the future of media in which live broadcasts quickly evolve immediately into on-demand assets, territories have no boundaries, and the promise of customized programming is becoming reality. None of changes are possible with traditional video delivery systems. They require the right mix of flexible software-based video processing systems, ubiquitous high speed networking and device proliferation that simply didn’t exist five years ago.

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