Number of note-worthy approaches to distributing video has grown drastically. Physical media are growing in capacity and fast network connections are becoming ubiquitous. There are also plenty of competing commercial service providers offering to transport the content all around the world. The start-up cost of distribution is no longer the critical factor and the barriers to entry are falling lower than ever. However it is important to note that the platform affects how the delivery expenses are dependent on the volume. Consequently the key to successful distribution is scaling operational expenses to meet the current demand by using the most cost-effective delivery medium.
From publisher’s point of view all delivery channels were not created equal. Television, web, p2p, laser discs, hard disks and memory cards all have strenghts and weaknesses. Every time a production comes out the publisher decides how to distribute it. Often times no implicit decision is made as most publishers just have one platform in their arsenal. Most publishers’ multi-channel strategy has relied on different partners for each delivery channel.
Traditionally the content has been re-purposed to cinematic, DVD and television releases in pre-determined time slots. Slowly simultaneous releases strategy is gaining popularity. Alternative channels are used mainly to draw sales on the original distribution channel. It seems next this promotion mentality is giving away to merchandising set of mind. As more thorough understanding is gained all channels are really starting to be judged on their own merits. The best points of view for analysis are transmission efficiency per customer, publisher’s business prospects and user perspective.
The most important distinction to make is that each delivery channel has a distinct, albeit sometimes overlapping set of viewers. Currently the differences between channels’ technology alternatives are evening out, but the basic principles will remain the same for long. Television as the leading one to many mass-media will be the cheapest way to attract masses inside a geographically constrained area. Solutions based on the Internet Protocol (IP) are best suited for global niche audiences. People still have affinity for physical media and high definition digital video discs will surely become an important collection-able item.
All technology aside what really separates the service operators from each other is their ability to monetize the publisher’s content. Television is rapidly moving from advertising-based world to a budget pay-tv package dominated one. On the Internet consumers are just taking their first baby steps to trusting global service operators. Physical media have relied on multiple layers of distributors or dominant wholesale buyers leaving fairly small percentage to the publisher.
The end-user expectation is immediate viewing and per use based billing. Clever technology emulating this demand has been able to extend the life of television for a few years. Personal video recorders are a definately the step to the right direction, but it is really only on-demand over IP that can offer what customer really wants. Format wars are making a dent in physical media’s reputation and it does not help that the development cycles are slow.
There is only one conclusion that can be reached. In the future most video content will be delivered using telecommunications networks. A bit more complicated question to answer is how exactly these transmissions shall be implemented. There are plenty of different protocols, applications, platforms and devices to choose from. The content can be accessed using scalable multicast, distributed peer-to-peer (P2P) or centralized delivery methods. Multicasting works well in one service provider environment. P2P distribution also scales well, but is fairly cheap to start off with. For web there is really no barrier to entry at all, but hosting costs add up quickly.
The most discussed attribute of delivery seems to be whether the video content will be transported linearly or in a file-based fashion. Streaming would make sense as video by its very nature is a linear media. On the other hand tapeless broadcast workflows are becoming the standard and source content is thus already file-based. The question really becomes academic if it is put into the context of metadata. After all the user selects the content based on information and the protocol used to deliver the data chunks really does not make a difference to the user experience. So, in conclusion from user perspective the data will be linear and the applications shall hide the dirty details.
There is a learning curve for each distribution platform and thus jacks of all trades have been rare. Fast communications networks can offer almost limitless variety on-demand. As such in the long run the winners will have to master this part of the industry. Lot of players have entered the industry and the consolidation in the video distribution industry is imminent.