BCi-Endurance help Zeebox develop an ingest solution

BCi-Endurance help develop Zeebox solution

Zeebox has developed and launched an ambitious augmented TV service that delivers additional and relevant information about the programme being watched and provides connections to your friends via Social Networking sites. The experience is delivered via a smooth and intuitive device application (PC, Tablet, Smartphone) that is probably best described as a turbocharged TV guide. The challenge for Zeebox was how to extract additional related information and content about key topics, people and places on screen that would be relevant for the specific viewing experience. BCi-Endurance were approached to help develop a solution that would allow Zeebox to gather Metadata from various sources and then, where appropriate, use this data within the service offering.

The solution was to provide know how and services to help build both a  hardware infrastructure and bespoke software development. The specific nature of the process and the sources are not described here for reasons of client confidentiality. The Zeebox platform was successfully launched in October 2011, using an iPad/iPhone and Web client application, and has already been integrated with Channel 4 programming. Additionally the success of this leading edge solution is evident from the recent announcement that Sky will be deploying Zeebox technology within its own service delivery platform. Sky have also taken a 10% stake in the Zeebox business.

By outsourcing these services Zeebox have been able to focus on other issues concerning the launch of their platform. BCi-Endurance provided scalable resources to a tight timescale and within a defined budget. All critical points for the successful launch of a new business venture.

About Zeebox

Zeebox was founded in 2011 by Anthony Rose and Ernesto Schmitt. The company employs 30 staff at its headquarters in Covent Garden, London. Zeebox is initially available only in the UK, but will soon launch across the world. Zeebox is the new, social, interactive and immersive way to watch TV. It turns your iPad, tablet or laptop into an interactive companion that enhances whatever you watch on your main TV screen. Zeebox turns TV into a social event: it knows what you and your friends are watching, and it lets you all share, chat and tweet about whatever’s on. It also understands what’s on screen and helps you find out more about anything you’re watching, in real-time: Rihanna, armadillos, the Olympics, whatever – with links (zeetags) popping up as if by magic as you watch. Zeebox also helps you buy or download things related to what you’re watching, easily – apps, games, music, books, films, TV shows, you name it. It even acts as a remote control for connected TVs. It’s like a quiet, cool, well-connected and unbelievably clever companion, right there on the sofa next to you.


Zeebox connects Social Networking to TV viewing

Zeebox app will connect you, your friends and TV content

Zeebox is a clever platform that, via an app, will connect your preferences, your friends viewing and ratings and augmented programme information into a smooth channel guide on your companion device.

I like the Zeebox approach here for a number of reasons:

  • The Zeebox guide is available on the companion device (phone, tablet, laptop) and so doesn’t detract from the core viewing activity on the TV
  • Zeebox adds useful and relevant information to the content via a number of metadata sources
  • The Zeebox app adds in Social Networking elements so you can see what friends are watching and how they rate a particular programme

All very clever but will Zeebox be a winner with the consumer? I have had countless conversations with friends, family and colleagues that often expresses an annoyance over the disconnect between the content being viewed and the ability to link it to something else. For example my wife will regularly, and sometimes disingenuously, ‘wonder’ about the age of a presenter or actor on TV. This invariably results in a guess at their age and then confirmation on Google. Now I am not suggesting that Zeebox builds in an ‘auto age result’ into the feature set but it does show a link between what we watch on TV and the need to go to a companion device to find contextual information.

The need for consumers to enhance their viewing experience with contextual information and, increasingly, with a live connection to their friends via Social Networks seems to be with us and soon to be available via Zeebox.

BCi continues to provide Thought Leadership, Consultancy, Architecture, System Integration and Test services for all types of on demand platforms. Feel free to call Mark Hooper on +44 (0)2380 988606 or email him at mark.hooper@bci.eu.com.


Commercial model for OTT TV

Models for monetising OTT TV

OTT TV is here but the commercial models will, and need to, continue to evolve. At the moment we have the predictable commerical models for OTT TV; pay per view and/or subscription based. No surprise here but there’s a real opportunity to get creative in our thinking.

First of all there needs be a shift in the current mindset regarding the ‘value’ of content. There’s clear benefits if there was an acceptance that content is too expensive.

1. A lower price would translate to more sales volumes. Of course a lower price means many more sales have to be achieved to off-set this reduction.

2. Low prices make it easier for the consumer to make casual purchases of more content more frequently.

3. A ‘de-valued’ perspective of the content is likley to reduce instances of piracy. Why would you bother fighting to download a bad copy of some content when you can watch it legitimately for the price of a chocolate bar?

This last point leads to the issue of content protection. It seems clear that if content is ‘de-valued’ and piracy decreases then less time, money and effort is required in the ‘bullet proof’ protection of that content. This in itself could be the the catalyst making OTT TV more commercially viable. Also a reduction in protection requirements lower the entry barrier to more players/stakeholders and so create a more competitive marketplace. Conceivably this could even lead to the ‘commoditising’ of content so that it’s as easy to buy as a can of baked beans.

Perhaps one of the limiting factors in that the content owners are keen not to burn any bridges with their incumbent distribution channels selling tghe content to consumers at the prices to which we have become accustomed. I guess the subscription operators would not like it if consumers could access an OTT TV platform and get the same content for half the price!

At some point though one of these content owners will make the jump, slash prices, lower barriers to buy for consumers and barriers to enty for new OTT TV players. And, like most things, when one goes they all go.


Over the Top TV (OTT TV) and Social Media credibility

Can we improve consumer trust of Over the Top TV (OTT TV)?

Over the Top TV platforms will continue to take many forms and in the engineering of these platforms we will need to consider how consumers rate the credibility of a platform/service. The platforms may be limited to presenting film and TV content to a TV or more ambitious systems that bring multiple content forms to multiple devices. Whichever flavour of Over the Top TV platform is deployed we run the risk of losing consumers or at least selling less if they feel it’s all ‘push’ and no ‘pull’. What I mean is many platforms rely on ‘pushing’; advertising, sponsorship, promotions, etc at the consumer to increase sales. We all know there’s a huge debate around the use Social Media to help push sales – again this is ‘push’. As soon as we present an organisation on any Social Media platform then the natural response is people become sceptical.

We need to think of Social Media as providing the backbone of independent ratings of the service, the content, etc. Some of this happens through people sharing links for content and services on Social Media sites but it’s possible to extend it to encouraging people to evangelise (or not). The collective opinions, like an ebay rating, are what give people an enhanced reason to buy in. The Internet has made this industry (and many others) near instantaneous: we expect any content, any time, any where and on any device. We will all need to be mindful that this also applies to consumer tastes and their opinions on a particular company, marketing campaign or piece of content.

BCi continues to provide Thought Leadership, Consultancy, Architecture, System Integration and Test services for all type of on demand platforms. Feel free to call Mark Hooper on +44 (0)2380 988606 or email him on mark.hooper@bci.eu.com.


Connected TV versus Over the Top TV (OTT TV)

Is there a Difference between Connected TV and OTT TV?Connected TV versus Over the Top TV (OTT TV)

I’m not sure if any formal definition exists that allows us to differentiate between the 2 but I feel there is a real difference. For me Connected TV relates to the consumption of content (usually the on demand variety) on a TV. Over the Top TV (OTT TV) is a broader term that includes the Connected TV definition but also includes consumption of content and interactivity with the content via other devices.

There’s no doubt that Connected TV’s have a solid, well deserved place in the market given their availability, mass appeal, simplification for developing apps, etc. But they are only one dimension in this current (complex) evolution of our industry. Over the Top TV encompasses so much more and can offer the industry vast opportunities and the consumer incredible content and engaging services. One of the risks/concerns of the Connected TV model is that it only offers walled content and applications. So potentially a Connected TV customer can only see what the vendor provides via the TV widgets. Isn’t this like the old subscription operator model?

True Over the Top TV solutions have the potential of offering open access (although it’s sensible to have some limits) to content and applications with the addition of complimentary devices like our phones, laptops and other connected devices. It’s the interplay with these devices that offers some of the most intriguing opportunities. There are Over the Top TV systems being built that not only push content to these devices, as well as the TV, but they also add to the experience by interacting with the content in different ways. In other words we need to look at the connected devices as more than just an alternative screen but as a means to add depth to our traditional TV viewing .

BCi continues to provide Thought Leadership, Consultancy, Architecture, System Integration and Test services for all type of on demand platforms. Feel free to call Mark Hooper on +44 (0)2380 988606 or email him on mark.hooper@bci.eu.com.


BCi supports Hosted Marlin Service

New Hosted Marlin Service will need specialist integration

The new Hosted Marlin Service provides a fast, simple and scalable means to add Marlin DRM to an on demand platform. Cloud based services are proving to be a key element in the deployment and operation of OTT TV (Over the Top TV) platforms. The Hosted Marlin Service will allow OTT TV stakeholders (content owners, subscription operators, content aggregators, etc) to add DRM protection to content.

Cloud based services bring a range of benefits and many offer great interoperability to other platform components. Despite this it is inevitable that these platforms will require a level of integration into an existing system or with the components of a new deployment.

BCi is a systems integrator with unrivalled experience in the integration and testing of on demand platforms, OTT TV and Marlin DRM technologies. We can help stakeholder bring their Over the Top TV platforms into reality.



BCi debates OTT TV deployment at Telecom Symposium

BCi adds OTT TV voice to Telecoms Event

Mark Hooper, BCi’s Operations Director was one of the panel debating OTT TV (Over The Top TV) and the deployment model for Telecoms Operators at the event in Poland.

The central theme in the OTT TV advice BCi provided revolved around choice. The industry as a whole has a long history of innovating and providing more choice to the consumer. If OTT TV is defined as “any content, at any time, in any location and on any device then, arguably, this could be considered the ultimate in choice. Perhaps OTT TV even represents the end point for adding more choice for the foreseeable future – what more choice could be given?

So OTT TV has a massive potential in terms of providing consumers vast amounts of choice. The real question here is will the industry ‘allow’ this full potential model to come to fruition? Some OTT TV stakeholders will want the full, open model as it will better serve their interests. Likely benefactors of the open approach will be content owners as it gets their content out to more eyeballs. The incumbent subscription Operators are likely to be less enthusiastic for a fully open model as it will hit revenues and perhaps even question their role in the delivery of content. If you can have an open OTT TV model (any content, any time, any where, on any device) and all delivered over the internet then where does the subscription Operator fit in?

So it’s all about choice: more choice for the consumer and the choice of what kind of OTT TV world we, the industry, allows to develop.


Marlin MS3 Apache Model

MS3 Apache Module in standalone mode

Part of our ongoing activities at BCi has been the evaluation of various Marlin technologies within our test lab. Given the current level of interest in the Marlin MS3 (Marlin Simple Secure Streaming) protocol, we’ve been looking at setting up a demo system in the lab to evaluate the various configurations of this technology. Of particular interest is the MS3 Apache module running in standalone mode.

The attraction of using Apache is that this offers a solid and reliable means of hosting the MS3 functionality. The architecture of Apache scales well, offers good security and good stability.

Apache runs on multiple processes. A supervisor process looks after the spawning of new processes as and when required by the demand on the server. This supervisor process can also take care of destroying these processes when they are no longer needed and can also cull them when they reach an old age (not something to be tried in general society!) This mechanism protects against runaway processes or memory leaks.

In order to host MS3 functionality, the Apache server must first be configured for HTTPS as per general Apache setup guidelines. The Marlin MS3 module is available as an Apache module. This is compiled from source, this being part of the SDK supplied by Intertrust. Once compiled, the resulting module is copied into Apache’s modules directory.

One possible complication when running the Marlin MS3 module under Apache is that of logging. In operation, it is essential that there is some way of accessing log data from failed MS3 access attempts since analysing failed attempts without log data is impossible. Some complications arise due to the way that Apache runs sub-processes; these are run as an unprivileged user and thus are not able to write their own log files. Unfortunately, any such attempt results in a silent failure as the logging failure can’t be reported. The solution is to use the UDP logging functionality built into the Neptune libraries that are linked into the Marlin MS3 module. Neptune is a set of C++ libraries for common functionality used heavily within Marlin MS3. Neptune libraries are used here as the Neptune framework can be compiled under a wide variety of architectures allowing the Marlin MS3 components to be ported easily to other targets.

With the UDP logging enabled, it is possible to successfully run the Marlin MS3 module within Apache and have easy access to logging information when required. The Itertrust SDK includes a simple log client that can be used to display the UDP logging information emitted by the logging package. With these tools configured, it becomes a much easier task to debug problems with the Marlin MS3 setup.


Marlin MS3 Architecture Options

Flexibility for Marlin MS3 Architecture

Looking through the Marlin MS3 (Marlin Simple Streaming Server) specifications, it is apparent that there are a number of ways of setting this up. The chief difference would seem to be whether or not to run the MS3 server as a standalone server or integrated into another server. Once again, within these options, there are still other variants in the way the service is set up.

In principle, Marlin MS3 provides a simple, lightweight way for a client application to access protected content. The client and server elements use parts of the Marlin codebase to ensure that the client and server are valid devices (as attested by the credentials in their respective certificates) and to securely transfer the decryption key and usage rights from the server to the client.

In all cases, the service provider decides on the usage rights and the back-end systems process the content to add encryption and identification metadata. The content can be served by either streaming or file serving from a traditional edge device. The implementation differences manifest themselves most clearly in the mechanism used to transfer the rights information to the client.

In the standalone model of deployment, the Marlin MS3 server runs as an entirely separate server (or cluster of servers), separated from the business logic manifested in the portal server. At first, this might seem somewhat odd: how could a completely standalone server know what rights to embed in the access statement? The somewhat ingenious answer is that it doesn’t, the business logic (rights, etc) is still managed by the portal server and passed to the Marlin MS3 server via the client. In this scenario, the portal server makes the decision to grant access to the client and the terms under which this is done and wraps this up in a business token which it then passes to the client. The business token effectively contains instructions, encrypted and readable only by the Marlin MS3 server, on the type of access statement to produce. The client can then present the business token to the Marlin MS3 server and in return receives a stream access statement SAS. The Marlin code in the client can then decrypt this SAS and obtain the decryption key and usage rights.

In integrated mode, there is a direct coupling between the Marlin MS3 server components and the business logic. In this mode of operation, the portal server issues a SAS directly to the client without going through the business token exchange step. Such a setup requires that the Marlin MS3 SAS generation code be included in the portal’s implementation.

There are still more variations on how to implement the Marlin MS3 server in standalone mode. The SDK supplied from Intertrust comes with test standalone implementation, an Apache module and a CGI module that can be used in any web server that supports the common gateway interface.

Ultimately, the most suitable type of Marlin MS3 implementation will depend on the scale of the deployment, the level of integration required and the amount of engineering effort available to implement the solution. The standalone approach can offer an easier path to deployment but has the overhead the extra server/client exchange. The integrated approach would ultimately result in a more elegant implementation but requires more integration effort. With both approaches, there are a number of ways in which the solution can be scaled.


Which platform will lead OTT TV

Who will steal an early lead on OTT TV platforms

Below is a sample of the contribution BCi made to a recent industry report investigating the factors influencing which OTT TV (Over the Top TV) platform is likely to be favoured by consumers.

Q – What do you think of the Google TV and Apple TV product/services?  Do either of the products present a clear competitive advantage?

BCi: Apple’s early foray into the TV space wasn’t very successful and they would have learnt from that. Through iTunes they also have vast experience in the presentation and monetisation of online content. This is likely to present them with an advantage over Google TV. There’s also a certain cache associated with Apple products and services, the same cannot be readily said about Google. Perhaps this gives a clue to how they might position it in the market; Google on no frills but very efficient and Apple leading on the look & feel and experience?

Q – Do you any of the existing OTT devices — whether it be a set-top box, connected TV, gaming console — strike you as technologically superior to the competition? Along those lines, which OTT system is best equipped to add additional applications and which has the best streaming capabilities?

BCi: Ultimately consumers will want a unified service. This doesn’t mean a single device but it seems logical that a Connected TV will be at the heart of it and it will provide the primary consumption of linear and on demand content. It may also be used as the configuration for any other devices and act as the crystallising device. A player who has a Connected TV with seamless integration of other devices and access to great content will be better placed than most.

Q – How long before we see widespread consumer adoption of OTT technology?

BCi: What’s widespread? Country by country the picture will be different. In the UK the catch up TV services from the PSB’s have, arguably, made Over the Top TV mainstream – a problem well known to the ISP’s. IT’s probably going to be more activity like iplayer and the likes that acts as the catalyst for adoption.

Q – Will consumers replace their Playstations and Xboxes with OTT set-top boxes?

BCi: Not for years, but maybe within 5. Games consoles are too specialised at the moment and trying to dump all that processing power onto the STB would result in a poor gaming experience.

Q – How significant is the OTT threat to cable/satellite providers? What can they do to compete?

BCi: This is the biggest threat they have had to face. Until now they have sat in the privileged position of owning/managing the network, creating their content deals and locking in customers with subscriptions. Net result for the consumer is a prescribed set of content with no prospect of moving beyond the boundaries of that Operator. Over the Top TV promises so much more, although they have to be careful not to follow the same pattern as the Operators. They can and will fight back though. The Operators will have to find ways to leverage the fact they have a ‘managed’ network and perhaps lead on offering service guarantees that cannot be offered over an unmanaged network.

Q – As consumer electronics manufactures continue to design OTT options directly into TVs, Blu-Ray players, etc., how significant is the market for specialty OTT set-top boxes?

BCi: There’s always a gap between technical/service innovation and the speed at which it can consumed. This is true in the TV where consumers are not willing to replace a TV simply for a enhanced feature (like OTT TV), they are likely to wait and fill the gap with an STB.

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