Digital Sports Summit: Multiple Streaming Formats Make Tough Decisions for Providers

The average video-content owner is confronted with a long list of “what” questions when it decides how to stream its video: What codec? What bitrate? What video player? What mobile device? What aspect ratio? And a host of other issues in determining how and by whom that content is consumed. It can be exhausting to say the least.

“It’s a situation that’s only going to get worse, as there are more bitrates and formats and devices that are always coming around, on top of different rights situations concerning where you can actually deliver that video,” said Chris Van Noy, chief strategist for digital media, Akamai, “That’s one of the main problems we’re trying to tackle.”

He was speaking on a panel titled Streaming-Media Formats: Weighing the Options at SVG’s fourth-annual Digital Sports Summit in New York City on Wednesday.

So Many Flavors To Choose From
In determining the platform and format for disseminating video, the decision often comes down to quality vs. quantity. Although the most basic of formats might get the largest number of viewers, it will not provide the optimal video experience.

“When you look at reach and getting to the broadest set of devices, there are a lot of questions,” said Chris Carper, director of business development for Microsoft Silverlight. “If you want broad reach, you’re going to have to go to a common denominator across all the devices and platforms you want to reach. Typically, it comes down to deciding between broad reach or the best possible quality for a specifically targeted device.”

This issue becomes especially difficult when developing apps and Websites in-house. Streaming video in different formats often requires entirely separate development teams and resources, which many content owners simply do not have.

“Taking this all in-house and saying that you want to support all these formats is going to be a pretty high cost point,” said Jens Loeffler, technical evangelist, strategic alliances, for Adobe Systems. “At some point, you have to just ask yourself, what do I really need? Do you need Flash and Silverlight or just Silverlight or Flash. It really depends on your situation.”

The Rise of HTML5? Not So Fast
With the proliferation of the iPad in recent months, there has been much buzz surround HTML5, the latest proposed version of the basic Web language used for Apple’s iPad and iPhone operating system. Many view HTML5 as a cure for the ultra-fragmented set of formats and proprietary video players that has made life so difficult for content owners. However, others beg to differ.

“A lot has been made of the HTML5 argument,” said Carper. “At the end of the day, HTML is a great presentation engine, but it’s still lacking [answers to questions like] things like what video codec do you choose, what’s your protocol for delivery, how do you protect the content. There’s still a lot of unknowns that people haven’t addressed. The vision is there, but whether or not you can do it is still to be determined.”

Nonetheless, HTML5 remains the only way to build apps for the iPhone and iPad, making it a staple in the modern streaming-video scene.

“It comes down to using the best tool possible,” said Loeffler. “HTML5 definitely has value on the iPad and iPhone [which don’t support] Silverlight or Flash, so it’s all that you can use. But that does not necessarily make it the best tool in every situation.”

One Platform for All
Akamai believes the solution for content providers is simple: its HD Network. The Akamai HD Network is said to be the first platform that allows content providers to leverage existing H.264 and MPEG-4 video workflows and automatically package content to the format required — whether Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, or the Apple iPhone/iPad.

“Our HD Network allows you to actually input one type of format, and the Network will automatically change it into those different formats and bitrates and then serve it out to those different types of devices,” Van Noy said. “The whole concept behind HD Network is moving beyond just enabling. We want to be able to take the ever growing complexity away from the content provider and be able to put it onto our network and allow them to do what they do best, which is develop, promote, and market content.”

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