Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Do we really need to transcode video in the cloud?

I hear a lot of talk in the market about the challenge of format proliferation in streaming video delivery. The thinking goes that the number of devices that can stream video - phones, TVs, set top boxes - is growing and so content distributors must transcode into an increasing number of formats to service them. This creates a mare's nest of connections and formats to service consumer demand.

I wonder whether we should also consider another world, where devices increase in processing power and application platforms become standardised across categories of devices (e.g. Android on TVs). In this world, distribution becomes a trial of bandwidth at the edge and possibly also in the core and the devices shoulder the burden of making viewing a rich experience.

A similar thing happened when the mobile web was young. Operators spent tens of millions on hardware and software to enable web pages to be viewed on phones. It didn't take long, however, for phones to gain the processing power to repurpose pages, standards to be developed for designing pages and browsers to reach the handset. It seems to me that telecoms always try and answer emerging demand with big, centralised technology and the answer almost always turns out to be light-weight software that consumes their bandwidth!

For me, the same seems likely to happen with video. There will always be new devices. Creating new 'cloud based' format transcoding regimes for each is just dumb. Right now, if I was a retailer or broadcaster wanting to service non-browser-based demand, I'd be thinking very carefully about how much capital I was going to commit to it. If someone else is willing to do it in the short term, for opex-only outlay, then best to consider it. On a short contract!

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