Monday, February 9, 2009

You reap what you sow

Over the wise objections of my spouse, I thought it would be great family time to have the various members of the family unit explore the myriad short and long form video content available on the internet. I had visions of us sitting together, like a Norman Rockwell painting, enjoying past Hill Street Blues episodes and pontificating how this is a precursor to the beloved and fast paced 24. The reality is that, after 3 minutes, the family unit degraded to the plural; family units. Screens were displaying a myriad of video content in four separate rooms and I found myself assigned four room popcorn kernel corralling Dustbuster duty.

Fortunately, we have a number of distinct access points so 4 HD/VHS quality streams were not too taxing on our bandwidth, but it set me thinking about the 'real time' video experience that is about to hit the beach. The vagaries of video encoding, coupled with network congestion issues, caused uneven experiences in our unscientific family sample. Most of us were watching Hulu, where the stream is around 700kps (VHS quality); or their HD channel which I suspect is closer to 2Mbs. No doubt the uneven experience would have been exacerbated if we all chose to watch true 4+Mbps HD content.

An even larger macro issue facing the industry is scalability of provisioning a network to economically deliver a positive 'real time' viewing experience. Our industry has learned in many ways and countless times that adequate provisioning is really over provisioning; where networks need to have the infrastructure ready for the peaks, not the normal traffic load, is an equation rife with the potential of economic losses.

For many reasons, I am normally a fierce advocate of non-client solutions. Nevertheless, it seems likely that, from a combined cost/quality perspective, we are (and should be) heading towards a hybrid client/cloud solution for the living room internet experience. Content will be called from the cloud and streamed via a hybrid P2P solution (see Pandonetworks) that can cost effectively deal with the massive over provisioning required in an uncertain forecasting world.

This may be stored content, or 'live' streamed (see Octoshape and what they did with CNN, delivering 25mm streams around Mr. Obama's inauguration). Provisioning to such a large, and uncertain number of viewers exclusively via CDN's would break the bank for many revenue starved networks. In an era of challenged advertising budgets, network shareholders no longer tolerate spending like drunken sailors, especially when viable solutions that increase quality, lower costs, and provide better viewing information are available.

If the premise that we are heading towards a hybrid P2P client/cloud delivery solution holds true, it is logical that the client would also incorporate features that enable you to download once to the house and enable distribution to multiple family unit(s) (see Tversity), offer PVR capabilities, and an enhanced discovery/search capability.

Sometimes, fantasies come true.

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