Videonet has been publishing an ongoing series of articles by David Price and myself. We concluded our previous article, ‘Thoughts on mitigating data caps’, with a challenge: how can Pay TV operators retain video subscribers when broadband is the only strong card in their hand?
At the same time, how can operators prevent a future that paints them in as just a dumb pipe? Our latest article attempts to answer question in two words: Artificial Intelligence.
We look at AI applied to three areas… See the remainder of this article on V-Net!
Videonet has published the latest blog entry by David Price and myself
Our story so far: After beginning an experiment in cord-cutting, David received a rude awakening from his pay TV provider. This got us thinking about how to get around broadband data caps. Two approaches occurred to us right away.
The first is to make better use of available bandwidth by using improved codecs. The second is to postpone data cap charges with a hybrid broadcast solution. Both have their advantages and challenges…
- Steve Hawley
The transition by broadcasters and pay TV operators from traditional services delivered to TV set-top boxes, to multiscreen distribution, seems to have created a two-headed beast with respect to video quality assurance.
On one hand, monitoring for MPEG delivery to STBs involves comparison of the source video before and after encoding, monitoring for data communications errors in transmission, and evaluation of the video after processing or delivery: characteristics like clarity, chroma, luma, A/V sync, the integrity of closed captions, plus things like channel-change latency and so on.
On the other hand, monitoring of adaptive bit-rate (ABR) streaming is more about determining buffering time, rebuffing and freezes, DRM errors, how often the stream changed video profiles adaptively, whether or not the viewer abandoned or completed the video – all of which are more transactionally-oriented. Of course, the data generated by this kind of monitoring is also useful to marketers (and not just to video and network engineers)
In reality, end users generally are not aware of the technologies that make their video experiences possible, nor should they care. Therefore, video providers must take an ecosystem approach that helps ensure the quality and continuity of the overall consumer experience, regardless of delivery or the nature of the end user device.
As it turned out, the first 4K content was distributed over adaptive streaming. But 4K, by definition, is high resolution, and to the end user, it doesn’t matter that the distribution was ABR.
So, in reality, the considerations inherent in the ‘two-headed beast’ of traditional and streaming video quality assurance are really one. The preservation of content integrity during transmission (QoS), the perceived quality at the consumer device (QoE), and whether or not the experience had continuity are equally important. And no matter how the video is delivered, monitoring gives video providers more tools to attract advertisers.
My Spring 2017 report for SNL Kagan, on Multiscreen Video Quality Assurance provides further details and analysis of this situation.
Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple. Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.
My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:
1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.
2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports. Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,
3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,
4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor. People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,
5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive. Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,
6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story. Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,
7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,
8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?
9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet. Really?
10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy. Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.
And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:
11) Software stability: iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps. iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%. iOS 9 was problematic too.
12) Technical support: Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi. I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.
I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better. But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three. The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)
After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.
Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them. Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering. Much like the current MacBook line-up. Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.
Apple announced a new MacBook computer this week, during a press event that also provided the release date and pricing details for the upcoming Apple Watch. Everyone seemed to agree that the MacBook is a beautiful thing.
But why this machine?
I wish I could be more delicate, but the MacBook impresses me as being a totally unnecessary product. It might be a good ‘casual user’ machine: sufficient for accessing the Web, watching (cat) videos and for short emails perhaps? But so is the iPad. It might be a good “Office” machine: good for making presentations, writing, working on budgets. But so is the MacBook Air, which is less expensive and much more powerful. Instead, Apple seems to have aimed it at the less expensive Chromebook Pixel.
This was a major lost opportunity for Apple. It could have been the one form-factor that Apple is missing – the one that would have addressed the three things that the Microsoft Surface has over the iPad. The MacBook could have had a full computer operating system (as opposed to iOS), the ability to remove the keyboard portion so it could function as a tablet, and a port for file transfer and peripherals. These could have made the MacBook an instant hit. Instead, it has a mobile processor and people are already complaining about the keyboard.
I also immediately imagined a folder-like leather cover that would go behind the screen portion and under the keyboard portion. With the screen removed, the part of the cover that went behind the screen would simply fold down over the keyboard to protect it.
My first impression of the Apple Watch is that its not something that was designed for the ages. Luxury watches are designed as heirlooms and have century-long life expectancies, not 18-months.
Apple could still pull off a coup for $10,000-to-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition buyers if its Applecare extended warranty were to consist of replacing the electronics every couple of years. That would also reinforce the notion of Apple as a luxury brand. Or, instead of doing it under Applecare, just do it for free. The electronics probably cost less than $100 under mass production – the BOM (bill of materials) cost is probably much lower than a smartphone. iPhone 5S’ BOM was $199. It would be a pretty small percentage of the price.
But are they jewelry?
If Apple intended the new MacBook to be “jewelry,” it’s too big for a lady to carry in her pocketbook. And as for the Apple Watch. I imagine that it will sell, but not in Version 1.0. Too big. One of the appeals of the FitBit is its size and light weight. Once Apple manages to skinny down the electronics, then yes maybe.
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the emerging range of online video services might give pay TV subscribers little incentive to cut the cord, reunite existing cord-cutters back with pay TV, and even start driving would-be cord-nevers to adopt pay TV.
The conventional wisdom about OTT has been that the cost of online TV would be much lower than for traditional pay TV. Along comes DISH Network’s Sling TV, which only seems to reinforce that point. Comparing Sling TV’s $20/month with the typical entry-level pay TV package at $40/month – excluding monthly service and equipment fees – seems to bear that out.
Or does it?
A reality-check against the conventional wisdom
For the first time, there are enough actual online TV services that it’s becoming possible to make an objective comparison. So, let’s compare:
Basic Pay TV (for about $40 per month)
- Broadcast networks: CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox
- Networks found on pay TV: AMC Networks, CBS, Discovery Communications, The Walt Disney Company, Netwarko Grupo (Latino), Scripps Networks, Time Warner, Viacom and others
Online TV (…for about $40 per month!)
- DISH Sling TV ($20/month): AMC Networks, Disney/ABC, Netwarko Grupo, Scripps Networks, Time Warner
- Sony Playstation Vue (TBD, but let’s say $20/month): CBS, Discovery, Fox, NBC Universal, Scripps, Time Warner, Viacom
- Broadcast networks (live linear): Sony will offer CBS and Fox linear feeds in selected local markets.
- Or in place of Sony, you can opt for a combination of CBS All Access (which offers CBS linear feeds) plus HBO’s upcoming direct-to-consumer online TV service; probably for about the same $20/mo.
You might have noticed that Sling TV’s programming and Sony’s are almost mutually exclusive. They have only Scripps and Time Warner in common. So, an online-only subscriber who wants to come at all close to replicating a traditional MVPD’s line-up would need both DISH and Sony.
Is price the right metric for comparison?
My comparison make it look as if there’s price parity between online and pay TV, but this is not a truly fair comparison. Pay TV’s $40/mo for pay TV excludes monthly equipment rental and service fees; which bring it to about $60-70/month. Not to mention what the price might rise to after the new-subscriber promotional period wears off.
Okay: $60-$70/mo for pay TV, versus $40/mo for online. But unless the online subscriber abandons their Netflix, Hulu and/or Amazon Instant Video (or Prime) accounts – and many online subscribers take two or even all three of those, at about $10 each per month, plus or minus – the price comparison again comes closer to parity. (And let’s also acknowledge that $60-$70 price points are a lot higher than many of us envisioned…)
Both may taste great, but one may be less filling
Purely on the basis of the number of available channels, pay TV wins. Compare the lineups and prices from Comcast, AT&T U-verse and DISH Network (not SlingTV) with those from SlingTV and Sony Playstation Vue. Add all of the local and independent channels, and live local sports programming that you don’t get online.
One might protest that you can fill the local sports gap with online programming from professional sports leagues. But MLB.TV blocks programming for local games, in order to drive people back to local broadcast or pay TV. This may change, but for now, that’s the way it is. Plus, my local MLB games are included with my pay TV subscription, but MLB.TV starts at $19.95 per month. Yikes!
This situation makes me wonder: was it the plan all along to drive people back to pay TV? In the end, there may be very little incentive for pay TV subscribers to cut the cord, and very little reason for cord-nevers not to ultimately adopt the pay TV cord. DISH Network, for one, might be quite pleased with such a turn of events – and maybe this was DISH’s objective all along.
It comes down to priorities. Would you be satisfied enough with the limited lineups of online TV, and okay with filling the gaps with services from individual networks? Many people are. Many people are not.
Is TV having a dialectical moment?
In the discipline of philosophy, there is a method of resolving disagreements, called the dialectic process, which consists of a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. Here, the thesis has been that OTT would drive people from pay TV. The antithesis has been the empire striking back, that pay TV would have sufficient value stem cord-cutting.
But this also can take an entirely different direction. The synthesis might be the emergence of the “hybrid subscriber,” in which one might take pay TV for local news and live sports, plus whatever else they get with the lowest cost basic subscription, and then get his or her premium content online from Hulu and perhaps HBO. In any of these scenarios, the alternatives might add up pretty close: a cord-never might end up paying the same as a pay TV subscriber would pay.
Today’s Net Neutrality declaration by the FCC is unquestionably the most important telecommunications policy decision thus far in the 21st century. In recent weeks, it had become increasingly clear that this would be the FCC’s direction.
There had been doubts, given FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s previous associations in the telecommunications industry. From 1976 to 1984, he was President of the NCTA and from 1992 to 2004, he was President & CEO of the CTIA, which lobby for the cable and cellular industries, respectively. Both groups oppose Net Neutrality today.
In addition to the Chairman, the FCC is governed by four other Commissioners. The FCC’s majority reflects the political party of the President, so therefore, Mr Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are Democrats. They voted ‘Aye.’ Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly are Republicans, and voted ‘No.’
Chairman Wheeler summarized the ruling in his statement
“We asked the public to weigh in, and they responded like never before. We heard from startups and world-leading tech companies. We heard from ISPs, large and small. We heard from public-interest groups and public-policy think tanks. We heard from Members of Congress, and, yes, the President. Most important, we heard from nearly 4 million Americans who overwhelmingly spoke up in favor of preserving a free and open Internet.
“Building on (a) strong legal foundation, the Open Internet Order will:
- Ban Paid Prioritization: “Fast lanes” will not divide the Internet into “haves” and “have-nots.”
- Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.
- Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
“These enforceable, bright-line rules assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.
“The Order also includes a general conduct rule that can be used to stop new and novel threats to the Internet.”
What the opposing Commissioners had to say
Those who watched the FCC proceedings online, as I did, were given a real treat. After Mr Wheeler’s opening statement, the Commissioners took turns to make statements of their own. Given today’s antagonistic political environment, the primary role of the two opposing Commissioners was to misrepresent the outcome and use scare tactic positioning as they expressed their disagreement with the decision. I must admit that they are very good at what they do.
For example, Commissioner Pai made several points in his statement:
- (Paraphrasing) “The Internet will be taxed.” And he went on to talk about the Universal Service fee *** on your phone bill, and how a new line item will show up on phone bills for the Internet. In reality, “the Order DOES NOT require broadband providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund under Section 254. The Order will not impose, suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees – there will be no automatic Universal Service fees applied and the congressional moratorium on Internet taxation applies to broadband.”
- “The Internet will be slower and prices will be higher.” Large carriers attempt to justify their claim about slower speeds by saying that Net Neutrality would be a disincentive for them to invest in their networks. So AT&T or Verizon would actually give Comcast or a future DISH Network wireless broadband service an opening to take market share away from them?
- “Nothing in this order will promote competition… If you liked Ma Bell monopoly in the 20th century, you’ll love this in the 21st.” Actually, today’s ruling is very clear (see above) that there will be no preferential treatment for access or interconnection. Creating a level playing field that anyone can enter; a sound foundation for competition.
*** It should be noted that the Universal Service fee helped give telephony to rural areas in the 1930s, and in a very real sense, helped incubate IPTV among rural operators a decade ago.
Commissioner Pai used words like “takeover,” “sham proposal,” and “special interests” to position the Net Neutrality decision exactly inside-out from what it really is. He also claimed that the government didn’t create the Internet, hoping that listeners may have forgotten that the Internet was ‘invented’ by DARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency within the US Department of Defense, a government agency), and a community of government-funded academic institutions.
The other opposing Commissioner, Mr. O’Reilly, also pulled no punches, calling the Net Neutrality decision an “unlawful power grab.” Then Mr O’Reilly went on about how Title II is all about price regulation and taxation. So the truth comes out: taxation is bad. Net Neutrality should be opposed because it is a new tax, and that “this is back door rate setting authority.” Despite explicit statements in the ruling that it is not.
But read the FCC’s order, read the statements of each of the FCC Commissioners, and then decide for yourself.
Fear ruled the weeks leading to this decision
These comments by the minority Commissioners simply reflected the meme that had been running unchecked in the wild.
In the days and weeks leading up to this FCC decision, the opposition played on anti-Obama sentiments with ridiculous propositions like “Barack Obama is shutting down the Internet,” and insulting statements that Tom Wheeler is “simply Obamas’s (colorful language for the word ‘tool’) on this.” US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) insisted “Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet.”
One commenter went so far as to say that (I’m paraphrasing and can’t remember the source) ‘..only four million people submitted comments to the FCC, out of more than 300 million Americans,’ implying that the 4 million were meaningless.
What the Net Neutrality decision really means
Today’s ruling put an end to the notion that “open access” to the Internet was to be a function of lesser or greater means. It’s that simple.
I have no doubt that some of my friends and colleagues stand as opposed to Net Neutrality as I stand in favor. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But as opposing parties begin to notice that Net Neutrality has opened market opportunities to them that otherwise would not have been available, they will thank the FCC.
The other FCC decision on this day
The Net Neutrality discussion overshadowed another important ruling that was announced the same day: that the FCC granted petitions from two community broadband providers in North Carolina and Tennessee, to expand broadband services into neighboring unserved and underserved communities. The opposition was from incumbent service providers.
Update 11 Feb 2015: The majority of FCC’s five commissioners are always of the party of the sitting President. So when FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai exclaimed: “I have studied the 332-page plan in detail, and it is worse than I had imagined,” it was no surprise, as Mr Pai is one of the two Commissioners in the Republican minority.
The wait is nearly over: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted an article with Wired that previews the FCC’s decision on Net Neutrality. At risk of alienating some old friends and making some new ones, my opinion is that the FCC’s pending regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 is exactly the right thing to do. Operators with their own network facilities have challenged NN and will continue to do so, but their bark is worse than the bite.
Why? Because the FCC holds the keys:
- The FCC set the precedent for N.N. in 1934 by mandating a responsibility to put phone calls through (common carrier), and reinforced it in 1996 by adding transparent handoff between wireline and wireless.
- What happens when any of these network providers starts producing its own content (As owner of NBC Universal, Comcast comes to mind), and gets throttled by another network provider? The FCC is the arbiter.
- If any of these operators actually did go ahead and not play by the FCC’s rules, the FCC can issue warnings, followed by fines, followed by revoking their licenses to operate.
Besides, do you honestly think that your favorite cable, telco or wireless operator would actually walk away from business (e.g. stop investing in their networks, as AT&T and Verizon have each threatened to do) if the FCC put NN in place? Really? Would you like to buy a bridge?
In my opinion, N.N will result in exactly the opposite. Readers of my blog know about my trevails with Centurylink, which currently has no incentive to give me more than 3.2mbps down and .9mbps up. I am out of mobile range, and no cable operator serves my neighborhood. If Centurylink were suddenly to have competition, I would expect them to protect their share, not abandon it.
In other words, I believe that NN will spur a race to the top, not the bottom.
Microsoft launched Windows 10 this week, the first Post-Steve-Ballmer Windows “dot-oh” release. My first impression was positive, followed by “meh” followed by tentatively positive, followed by caveat all-of-em.
My initial positive impression was because Microsoft has proactively moved past the disasterous and unusable Windows 8 – so far past it that it skipped Windows 9 (or perhaps 8.1 was really 9).
The “meh” was that Microsoft has jumped into the VR and immersive UI game with HoloLens, but it’s pretty late in the game. I’m not convinced that the Oculus Rift, for example, will go anywhere other than with gamers and professionals that need walk-throughs, such as engineers and architects. Maybe high-end realtors. And I don’t think Microsoft has broken any new ground, other than to embed it into a mainstream OS. Another ‘meh’ is that although Microsoft is acknowledging that the client software needs to be common across a multi-device ecosystem, again, both MacOS and Linux were designed to enable multiple software form-factors, tailored for different devices.
It’s getting better
My impression returned tentatively to positive with features such as Continuum, and Surface Hub‘s integration with Skype to enable IP conferencing. But Continuum looks more like catch-up with Apple’s Continuity, and WebRTC enables customized video-enabled applications in any Web browser without plug-ins. For now, the best part of Windows 10 that average users will appreciate the most is the fact that it will be a free upgrade for users with Windows 7 and above, for the first year after release. It’s a smart move, and will go a long way toward re-building customer good will. But it won’t be free for new users, as MacOS X is; since Microsoft’s hardware business does not subsidize its OS as Apple’s does.
Despite my seemingly not-quite-impressed attitude, I did come away from this Microsoft milestone feeling more optimistic about Microsoft. They have a lot of catching up to do, but they seem to be no longer mired in 1980s (Read: Steve Ballmer) thinking. They are finally acknowledging the realities of today’s information technology, software, and mobile industry. It’s a far cry from when Ballmer mocked smashing an iPhone on stage (when, instead, he should have bought one for each of their engineers – which would have been less costly than buying Nokia’s handset business and laying off all those people last year).
But have they really changed?
But it remains to be seen, whether or not Microsoft’s competitive practices have changed. Microsoft has been actively hostile to Apple users for more than 30 years. Even though Excel came first for the Mac, Microsoft has long crippled the advanced functionality of Office for the Mac (Word and Excel in particular). Microsoft has never offered the Visio flow charting tool or the Access database for the Mac, and it discontinued Microsoft Project for the Mac when the Mac was still beige. Word? Crashes all the time, even with basic copy/cut and paste operations (Both Office and my Mac are current: Versions 14.4.7 and 10.10.1 respectively). Saving a new Excel file: “The file path you entered is too long. The file path cannot exceed 255 characters. Enter a shorter file name or select a shorter file path, and then try saving the file again.” Even though I can bury the file twelve layers deep and it will open just fine. Come on, guys. MS-DOS legacy limitations? Faked ones no less? Most users don’t even remember DOS or even know what it was.
But Microsoft isn’t the only company that attends to business selectively. Apple wants you in their ecosystem – to buy hardware and content through them. Google wants ad impressions – it’s the only reason that Android and Glass and everything else they do exists. Some of you might say “Gee, Amazon is great because you can get Kindle apps for iOS and Android” but remember their mission and their recent ventures in hardware: Fire phone, Fire TV and Echo, to intrude just enough to sell you something else, and then position it as a convenience.
Users should quit complaining
Rather than complaining, what do we do about it? Simple: take control. Here’s my five step program:
- Be willing to live outside of a vendor’s ecosystem when you have to. Use your own domain, rather than Gmail. Use a third-party cloud like Backblaze for backups, or Dropbox for file transfer, instead of iCloud.
- Text via your mobile carrier, not via Gmail etc. You’ll still receive the message.
- Visit commerce sites using a browser (mobile or computer) instead of a seller’s dedicated app.
- Turn off things like advertising, access to location, and (in Google Earth for instance) access to your contacts. This is easy in iOS settings, although sadly, Android’s settings usually don’t allow this – so…
- Read the developer’s terms before downloading, to give yourself the option to opt out before opting in. Know how to disable the stealth software that some vendors install on your computer (“You opted in to our terms, so we can”)
Google announced that it is ending the experimental phase of Google Glass, by ending its beta program and transitioning it into a different business unit.
In my opinion, the primary purpose of Glass has been to test the social boundaries of acceptable advertising practices. You have to give Google credit for convincing ‘early adopters’ that the Glass beta was cool enough to pay for. This level of uncritical goodwill toward Google won’t last forever.
Virtually all of Google’s technologies are in service of their advertising model. With that in mind, always make sure you know what you’re opting in to before you buy. Ask anyone who has ever downloaded an app from Google Play and has had to accept the terms (flashlight apps with access to your location, etc).
Remember that song from the ’80s: She Blinded Me With Science. Just sayin’…