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Why should somebody you’ve never met determine what you can watch and when you can watch it? Even with countless TV networks and viewing choices, DVR is often the only hope of enjoying shows and movies whenever you want. But what if TV was more like surfing the web, allowing you to choose a program at any time and in any place? That is just part of the promise of IPTV (internet-delivered TV). Exactly how does it function? What advantages will it bring us? What difficulties will broadcasters and telecoms encounter providing these brand-new solutions? Let’s take a better look!

What is IPTV?
IPTV delivery is very simple: instead of capturing TV programs from a rooftop antenna, satellite dish, or cable, signals are delivered over private network or the open internet. This allows viewers to enjoy programming on practically any connected device including computers, set-top boxes, phones, tablets and connected TVs. It is important to note that “IPTV” often specifically refers to a live channel lineup delivered over IP and even the term “TV” is evolving from referring to a scheduled video channel or series of channels offered by broadcasters and pay TV providers into simply referring to a single provider’s mix of series and films. This has led to subscription video on demand services like Netflix and Amazon winning top awards previously only given to traditional television shows and networks.

Three Kinds of IPTV and OTT
There are three main kinds of IP-based video content. Linear content is offered by thousands of broadcasters and TV networks on a set schedule. IP simulcasts feature live events streamed as they happen. A third type of IP-based programming is Video on demand providers like Netflix, Amazon, iFlix, Hotstar, sports leagues and others provide series and films “on demand” which usually include content tailored by country or region. These services are commonly referred to as OTT or over-the-top streaming offerings because they are available outside of a traditional linear television package.

One significant advantage of IPTV is greater interactivity and user-tracking which enables hyper-targeting advertising to individual users and viewing habits, providing higher-quality promotional opportunities. Better ads also reduce the audience temptation to use DVR to speed through commercials which results in billions of lost ad dollars every year. Whatever the advertising design, an enterprise IPTV platform like MatrixStream’s allows telecoms and broadcasters to deliver targeted ads and/or disable ad-skipping entirely.

Individualized and Interactive Television
Standard television broadcasting involves one-way, one-to-many delivery whereas streaming video fuels a much more interactive and immersive experience. Previously, interaction between viewers and programmers was very limited and involved calling to place product orders with home shopping networks or perhaps later purchasing items featured in commercials. Today, both on-screen and through third-party apps, users can immediately respond to programmers and even converse with advertisers. This deep experience is made possible by the connected nature of internet-delivered entertainment.

Internet Protocol Television
At its most basic level, IPTV consists of content delivered over internet protocol, for example the open web or closed IP infrastructure. One key difference between IPTV and more traditional copper, fiber or satellite delivery lies in exactly how the internet works. The internet involves fast “packet” exchange whereby information—video and metadata in this case—is sent from a connected device with a unique numerical identifier, or “IP address” to a recipient device.

IPTV and OTT Streaming Versus Over-the-Air Delivery
TV signals delivered over-the-air (OTA) are delivered via radio waves received by rooftop antennas or TVs and set-top boxes that feature OTA tuners. Those transmissions are converted into video and audio content usually displayed on TVs. Cable television is delivered over copper cable or a combination of copper and fiber-optic cable. Meanwhile, IPTV and OTT streaming services are delivered over open or private IP-networks.

Saving Programs
Live streaming television such as sports content is delivered as it is generated and can often be recorded and securely stored for later playback. IP-based video on demand (VOD) is streamed as users request it and is not typically stored for later viewing. Note that some VOD services allow for local or cloud-based storage, especially in areas with unreliable or relatively weak internet access.

Preparing IPTV and OTT Streaming Programs
In some cases, content is created in a format ready for IP-based delivery, though many live and on demand programs must be “encoded” into IP. The most popular IP codecs are MPEG2 and MPEG4. MPEG2 offers the highest video quality but requires more bandwidth, whereas MPEG4 files and signals have been further compressed to reduce file size and signals while still providing a quality viewing experience.

IPTV and OTT Streaming Multicasting
As the number of users grows, service providers often limit the network impact of individual viewers by delivering a program via multiple streams in a process called “multicasting”. Prior to multicasting, programming was delivered on a 1:1 basis which required each user to be connected to the master playout facility (unicasting). Imagine the impact of this setup during a program like the Super Bowl, Top Gear and other popular offerings! Thankfully, multicasting enables streams to be split between multiple viewers and thereby maximizes network capacity.

Likewise, in the previous model of TV and video delivery a signal was “always on”, which required network operators to dedicate capacity to a channel regardless of whether it was actually being watched at a given moment. IP multicasting makes it possible to deliver video to many viewers through a single stream and only when customers request it (on demand).

Local Video and Data Caching and Mirroring
As the distance between a content source and recipient increases, the more challenging it is to maintain signal strength and file quality, especially over the open internet. Thus, many IPTV and OTT video service providers, especially in emerging markets like Africa and Asia, utilize local live streaming and VOD servers which place content as close to end-users as possible, reducing the load on main headends and decreasing the chances of video and metadata corruption.

IPTV and OTT Streaming Protocols
The internet efficiently connects devices across the globe because they communicate in common formats called protocols. Typical online protocols for downloading and installing data include HTTP and FTP, whereas IPTV and OTT streaming utilizes formats specifically-suited for synchronized playback and downloading such as RTP (Real-Time Transport Protocol) and also RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol). Multicast streaming features IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) over IPv4 networks and Multicast Listener Discovery (MLD) over IPv6 architecture, both of which permit one web server to deliver video and metadata simultaneous to many users.

Managed Networks
Making IPTV and OTT streaming available with consistent quality of service (QoS) is often quite difficult over the open internet alone. Therefore, many video providers utilize “managed networks” which allow operators to oversee and coordinate all traffic and resources and maximize system performance. Such managed networks commonly include a mix of owned infrastructure and paid usage of third-party private CDNs and operator architecture.

Many telcos today require custom IPTV and OTT streaming video systems which are fully-integrated with custom billing systems, existing IPTV offerings, payment options including many currencies, post-paid, pre-paid, M-Pesa and more as well as unique video packages and service bundles. MatrixStream provides a world-class IPTV and OTT video streaming platform backed by incredible support and available customization which is already serving millions of customers. Contact us to launch your IPTV and/or OTT streaming video platform in as little as 60-90 days.

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