"Connected" and "cloud" - mind your language! (Part 2)

Over the series of two blogs we'll be comparing the differences between "connected broadcasting" and "cloud TV". This is part two.

Are you at the mercy of the TV guide? Or do you watch your content when and where you want?

Are you at the mercy of the TV guide? Or do you watch your content when and where you want?

Background

Back in August, we described the evolution of television through three phases (simple, multi-channel and multi-function). It is currently in the throes of a fourth (“connected broadcasting”), and will eventually transition to a fifth (“total cloud television”). The terms “connected” and “cloud” are often used interchangeably – implying there’s no difference, and suggesting that we’re further down the road of television evolution than reality.

Over the course of this two part blog series, we'll look to compare the similarities and differences apparent within "connected broadcasting" and "cloud TV" ecosystems. Part one will closely examine distribution, consumption and push/pull factors, whilst part two further explores storage and linear issues before then finishing with our final thoughts. Below is part two:

Storage

In the era of connected broadcasting, the PVR acts as the “home media server”. The latest Sky+HD box has a 2TB memory, storing up to 350 hours of HD content (over 1000 hours of SD). As STB innovation has progressed, enhanced functionality has allowed for mobile devices to “talk” to PVRs via IP.  For example, the Freesat Freetime tablet app can be used to change live channels and schedule recordings.

Two developments are expected here. Viewers will increasingly be able to access their PVRs on other connected devices over the home broadband network. Secondly, subscribers will have the option to purchase extra cloud storage capacity to store recordings remotely. In a total cloud TV universe, all content is made available at a time of the viewer’s choosing by streaming over IP from the server, through the broadband home hub router, and to the device. This has already arrived in the form of streaming services such as Amazon Instant Video, but it is neither the most common distribution or consumption method. 

Widespread adoption of cloud TV requires commercial and technical hurdles to be overcome, particularly around rights clearance. Content owners and platforms will need to work collaboratively to resolve inevitable differences of opinion about whether additional royalties should be charged where content is stored and used in the cloud: a task made harder by the lack of legal certainty in the area.

It’s a common misconception that “connected broadcasting” is the same as “cloud TV”. But what is the difference? 

The many faces of IP: linear and non-linear

The confusing facet of this whole discussion is where linear television meets IP. Most non-linear content (i.e. VOD) is delivered over IP. 

Linear (i.e. live and scheduled) channels can also be delivered over IP.  However, at the moment the economics weigh against it.  Delivery over IP – either by unicast or by multicast - is expensive.  For reasons of distribution cost, subscription revenue or to achieve availability on particular platforms, there will – for some channels – come a “tipping point” at which an IP-only future could become a reality. For now, those channels for which it remains a prospect are in a minority.

In a connected broadcasting environment, channels delivered over DTT can sit alongside those delivered over IP on the EPG. Witness the suite of linear, IP-delivered channels available on Freeview. Indeed, a streaming service such as Now TV is predicated on the ability of live channels to be delivered via IP.

Where does that leave us?

We haven’t yet fully entered into a world of cloud TV; in theory, that moment could be close, but in reality we’re still some way off. The web isn’t anywhere close to becoming the pre-eminent method of television distribution. Not only that, linear broadcast channels remain dominant in consumption and look set to remain so. This is not to ignore that total TV and video viewing is increasing as new devices and functionality come on stream, some of which has been enabled by IP. 

We’re instead living through a hybrid era of combined broadcast and network connectivity – what Arqiva has defined as Connected Broadcasting – and now, more than ever, it’s essential we choose our words carefully.

Read part one here.

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