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January 2007
Volume 10 / Number 1

Making IPTV A Reality: Optimizing the Network for Digital Media Services

By Kay Benaroch


Experts predict that massive incremental investments in content management and information technology will be required to serve up branded, content-rich digital media services such as IPTV. However, solutions are available today to help networks deliver the functionality and intelligence to create and manage content repositories that serve mass viewing habits as well as niche, personalized catalogs.

For example, Digital Asset Management solutions enable programmers to quickly scan, acquire, and assemble bundles of television and rich media files organized to fit the viewing habits of consumers. Additionally, the latest in network management software can reach deep into the IP network and gather data that offers service providers an end-to-end view of how well the network is functioning — and enables them to forestall any problems before they surface as customer complaints.

If content and distribution are mutually reliant in the IP-based services market, then new approaches are needed for:

  1. Content management: Maximizing content choices available to network programmers to drive revenue growth and attract customers.
  2. Content distribution: Optimizing the network’s content distribution and delivery channels.
  3. Network management and optimization: Ensuring Quality of Service for consumers via reliable network performance.
  4. Content storage: Information lifecycle management and tiered storage strategies can optimize management of large volumes of media assets — at the core and edge of the network.

This article details how new advances in content management, content distribution, network management and storage technology can help service providers meet the distribution and delivery challenges associated with digital media services.

Hidden within all the conferences and press announcements about IPTV is one underlying fundamental fact: television and rich media exist to entertain and inform consumers (and sell products with advertisements). To be effective, rich media services must be able to deliver what people want and are willing to spend money to view.

Although much has been written in the business and technical press about IPTV including network access, equipment, business, and regulatory views, one subject is noticeably absent: content management and content distribution.

Most industry pundits agree that simple mirroring of IPTV services that are indistinguishable from existing cable offerings will not create a compelling experience that will entice consumers to switch their media purchasing habits. In order to offer new and compelling IPTV services, a complex environment that marries the universe of content choices with ease of use will be required. In order to provide this, IPTV Service providers will need to consider both content management and distribution requirements in designing their networks.


Content Management — Assets are More than Titles

In order to offer a multitude of programming choices while leveraging volume purchase agreements with studios, Service Providers will require incremental investments to serve up enormous volumes of the latest in programming while simultaneously offering the “long tail” archived content and user-generated programs such as Weblogs. The latest in Digital Asset Management software and storage platforms on the market today have the capacity and intelligence to effectively create and manage video vaults that efficiently serve individual customer viewing habits as well as niche, personalized catalogs.

When handling hundreds of thousands of hours of media assets, these systems must be able to:

  • Ingest content assets and metadata files quickly and automatically,
  • Accommodate multiple content formats,
  • Enable programmers to review and edit meta data files and partials (trick files, movie posters, product ads, preview clips, etc.) associated with assets as separate objects,
  • Interface with the leading video editing or authoring suites to allow reviews and screening before releasing the products to video program catalogs and mobile portals.

The majority of today’s leading Digital Asset Management (DAM) commercial software products have the capabilities stated above built into their suite of features. The advantage that Service Providers receive by using these products is that they get tested and proven systems capable of handling very high volumes of content objects, the systems are supported by carrier-grade middleware, and they include Digital Rights, and media transformation capabilities. These software suites allow programmers to quickly scan and assemble bundles of television and rich media files organized to fit viewing habits of consumers.

Metadata is a subject of increasing importance for service provider or distributor programmers. If a carrier wants to ensure maximum viewing of each file, it needs the ability to easily review and edit metadata attributes in order to promote content titles correctly..... That is, it will need to describe the titles correctly in the Key Program Guide or Navigation program, classify them under the right headings, and link them to the correct pricing and expiration tags.


Content Distribution — Leveraging Existing Network Switch Centers for Scalable Multi-Cast Operations

Today’s VOD operators handle the need for additional content by increasing the number of servers with direct attached storage. However, because of the sheer volume of content objects that get distributed to hundreds of sites closest to the customer (the network “near edge”), this model is not sustainable. Instead, media vaults or repositories that can store hundreds of thousands of hours of archived content can sit at hubs or distribution sites in the telephony infrastructure. When combined with software that distributes files in a multicast method, the hub-based repositories can serve up (within the appropriate timeframes) content objects less frequently requested and VOD servers can deliver consistently requested content the points closest to the customer. The media vaults are linked via the network to local offices where VOD servers act as “catchers” to serve up the most recent or frequently accessed files. If an older file is needed from the media vaults, networks can quickly retrieve the content in time for viewing by consumers with their Set-Top Boxes.

A well designed architecture can reduce the number of servers required to support expected acceptance rates for Digital media by 50-75% which is an important cost consideration when deploying media services. With this approach, multiple servers dedicated to a specific geographic site can share a single copy of content — thereby reducing content replication (and trick file and metadata file replication) requirements — and saving money and time.


Service Assurance — Extending Reliability beyond the Five 9’s

Network performance management software helps ensure customer satisfaction by reaching deep into the IP network to gather metrics that provides carriers with an end-to-end view of network functionality and enables them to react to issues before they become customer complaints. Reliability of IP based servers, switches, routers and content repositories become critical factors. Nobody wants to pay $4.99 to watch a first-run movie if the network stalls and IP packets are delayed in getting to and from the media vault to the playout server.


Maximizing Business Revenues — Applying Information Lifecycle Concepts
to Consumer Entertainment Assets

To implement a Media Vault for rich media files such as movies it makes sense to consider storage platforms that utilize Network Attached Storage (NAS) file-based operating systems. These platforms contain data movers to effectively direct files to whatever destination or VOD server site requests them. Reliability and scalability for NAS products has already been tested and proven extensively at media and telecommunications service providers. Combining NAS storage platforms with server reductions lowers Capital Expenditures (CapEx) by 55% or greater compared to traditional means of distributing content assets.

One important success factor for digital media services is the ability to provide current “hot” picks from a playlist — thus files must be constantly refreshed and expired to make room for new items. Current technologies for hierarchical storage management exist to create policies and procedures that will automatically move older titles to lower classes of storage independently of network management. All IP addresses are still retained in the master product catalog, in case the asset is needed later on (e.g., the beer commercials that only air during the holidays or a movie catalog of an actor which needs resurrection when the star dies). Applying information lifecycle methods takes time to classify files and create business processes. However, that time savings is more than recouped from the time and labor savings needed to retrieve assets later on — or to ensure that older versions of content have been removed from media vaults to the satisfaction of the content partners.

The good news for service providers is that advances in IT technology are ready to help satisfy consumers’ insatiable appetite for entertainment content. The risk is ignoring the back office until demand peaks. Content and distribution are joined at the hip when it comes to making services like IPTV a reality.

Kay Benaroch is Telecommunications Marketing & Solution Development Manager of EMC Corporation. (quote - news - alert) For more information, visit the company online at


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