For cable operators, transitioning to an all-IP distribution can feel like a daunting challenge, especially considering the other headwinds that they now face from subscriber attrition (i.e., “cord-cutting”), rising costs for content and competition from over-the-top video providers such as Amazon and Netflix. But ultimately, the benefits of switching from standards like QAM to IP are worth the time and effort, in large part because they address the very problems we just identified.
The reasons for going all-in on IP distribution
Cable operators cannot innovate services and products on antiquated QAM-only purpose-built infrastructure that meets the demands for more seamless user experiences. In fact, a 2015 Accenture report revealed that 87 percent of connected consumers wanted this “more seamless experience” across different platforms.
“Video is no longer something consumed exclusively on a TV set.”
In fact, at the end of 2014, more than 90 percent of U.S. households had at least three devices accessing the Internet; One-quarter had seven or more, according to an Ericsson report. Video is no longer something consumed only on a single TV connected to a service provider’s network via analog coax cable; it’s also consumed on phones, tablets, gaming consoles and more.
Accordingly, cable companies are under pressure to evolve their content packages for a variety of interfaces (mobile, desktop, Internet of Things, etc.) and also to spin up new services much more quickly than they have in the past. IP is the obvious vehicle for improving agility:
- IP is already at the heart of many successful communications media, including video, voice and data solutions ranging from Hulu Plus to Skype. It is a reliable suite of technologies, with a proven track record in supporting streamlined user experiences.
- Software-based control is the backbone of an IP network. As such, it permits levels of scalability and flexibility that would be hard to reach on traditional infrastructures that are limited by specific devices like legacy set-top boxes.
- Similarly, IP distribution also allows for perks such as personalized service offerings that only send the channels currently being watched a given subscriber group. It can do this since it can deliver the same video quality as QAM at a fraction of the bit rate.
In short, IP is widely supported and very flexible. Let’s turn to some of the eventual dividends that cable operators can expect from all-IP distribution such as more cost-efficient network architectures and a greater ability to aggregate and manage both OTT and integrated videoVideo on Demand content options.
3 real benefits of all-IP distribution
Making the move from QAM to IP can be challenging in the short term.There are, for example, a lot of expenses tied up in rolling out necessary infrastructure like mobile profile encoding and DRM servers, but it pays off in the long run in several ways:
1. Operators can target a wider range of devices
Legacy distribution networks were built with TVs in mind. However, their successors need to address many other devices in addition to TVs, from streaming boxes like Roku to PCs. These gadgets are all IP-enabled and have been the go-to ways of accessing OTT services for years.
An all-IP distribution for cable companies enables a more consistent, intuitive experience that adapts to screens of all sizes. As service offerings become easier to use, subscriber churn can reduce.
2. Driving down the price of supplying a service
Customer premise equipment like STBs are huge cost centers for cable providers. Moreover, they usually have clunky interfaces and slow down software development cycles, as even severely limited models have to be accounted for during upgrades.
With IP in place, CPE/STBs can be turned into something far less cumbersome. IP Hybrid STBs such as those from Evolution Digital are much better equipped to keep up with changes in network technology and content offerings. There is the underlying benefit of having what amounts to a Web browser in the STB, capable of quickly grabbing changes as they happen on the network. With eVUE-TV, Evolution Digital has introduced an IP video platform that provides cable operators an easy and cost-effective way to deliver Video on Demand, live TV and DVR IP content.
3. The network can be future-proofed
“IP means you can scale and that all these processes can be automated,” noted Clyde Smith of Fox Network Engineering and Operations to Broadcasting and Cable. “It is a win all the way around, with the best part being that you can future-proof your operations.”
The emergence of 4K (“Ultra HD”) TV and other innovations means that cable networks must have reliable upgrade mechanisms in place. The cloud- and software-based nature of IP simplifies matters, ensuring that the network is future-proof.