OTT: a hot topic at the Southeast Asia Internet Video Debate 2019

David Godfrey, VP and GM, Bitmovin, pens down his thoughts on the nuances of OTT consumption in India
Southeast Asia Internet Video Debate, Advanced Video Coding, Android, Chrome across India, OTT, Commercial viability, Highest quality content, Mobile-friendly market

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Today, the rules of video are set by consumers, decided by the platform and device they use, and when and where they use them. The appeal of no longer having to endure multiple ad breaks and with television series’ and box sets at your fingertips - without having to wait a week for the next episode to air - is part of the reason why revenue in the OTT market has accelerated globally. The Indian OTT market in particular has witnessed exponential growth in recent years and is likely to be ranked among the top ten markets globally, by 2020. This is a result of increased connectivity and the region being a mobile-friendly market, which has facilitated consumers’ desires for content - anytime and anywhere.

Recently, senior executives and video engineers from India’s leading Internet video streaming companies gathered together for a one-of-a-kind debate on the future of Internet video in India and Southeast Asia, discussing the accelerating topics of OTT, multi-codecs and video production. Bitmovin’s Southeast Asia Internet Video Debate 2019 brought together a mix of attendees ranging from senior executives to engineers, product leaders, sales and marketing.

India is now a multi-codec country!
One thing almost everyone agreed upon, was that India is now a multi-codec country -- H.264 is no longer the only codec in town!
For years, the venerable video codec H.264, also known as Advanced Video Coding (AVC), has remained king of video codecs, partially because of its value as a ‘lowest common denominator’ codec: almost every device with a screen supports some sort of H.264 video codec playback - whether iOS, Android, PCs, set-top-box or even a second hand phone.
But this convenience comes with a cost to viewers: the new phones we have in our pockets now come with beefier processors and dedicated hardware decoders, with next-generation codecs beyond H.264. This means most consumers and OTT providers waste bandwidth -- and viewer battery life -- on low quality video.
But the ecosystem of VP9 is here to the rescue! Thanks to the proliferation of Android and Chrome across India, VP9 came up time and again in discussions as a compelling alternative to H.264 with excellent bitrate profiles and deployment capabilities. Device and browser support across much of India and South Asia more generally is increasing to the point where all service providers of reasonable volume are already transcoding into VP9 if not at least exploring next steps to enter the multi-codec world.

Lower latency and sports are fast friends
Low latency through CMAF is seeing continued interest, especially for sports, betting and other live situations, where lower latency can add significant viewer value. Attendees seem to accept the importance of a low latency standard and specifically mention CMAF and the positive impact it could bring to the streaming business.

Agree to disagree on AI
The discussion of artificial intelligence brought out genuine disagreement. Viewpoints ranged from true believers who are already exploring AI into their video workflow to skeptics who can’t see past the marketing hype.

Of supporters, some are already integrating AI in the form of object detection, audio transcription or enhanced encoding. These supporters point to those examples proving early commercial viability.
AI detractors cited examples such as speech-to-text, as having been around for decades. While they recognised that AI is continuing to improve, they felt that things like transcriptions still show the best results when a human is in the loop -- especially needed for regulatory compliance such as over-the-air captions. Others went further, saying that AI is really just recycled marketing hype; the word ‘algorithm’ just isn’t as exciting as the prospect of a sentient computer, when in reality, that is closer to the current state of play.

Final thoughts
The OTT landscape in India and Asia is still evolving and as it becomes increasingly competitive, both international and regional players are seeking to provide customers with an optimum online experience to differentiate their service. Innovative technology such as multi-codecs and AI, which aid in improving the consumer experience, will help creative players of every size stand out from the crowd. OTT platforms and services in India are certainly accelerating, and with the right video technology and distribution for the region, OTT streaming will be able to provide consumers with the highest quality content.

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