Linear TV, VoD, and playback control
What modern services offer and why EPG, TimeShift, TV archive, and PVR/nPVR improve user experience.
Operator’s video blog
An existing IPTV/OTT operator talks about how modern viewers watch content. Discover what playback control services you need to implement to be competitive.
Linear TV: channels and programs
Linear TV — also known as traditional TV — refers to scheduled TV programs, movies, and tv shows. Content is available to everyone who turns on a channel at a certain time.
If the operator is yet to implement playback control features, their subscribers will only be able to watch scheduled programs. Subscribers will neither be able to pause or rewind videos nor watch them after their scheduled broadcast.
Linear TV is a basic service. Viewers aren’t able to control playback or watch content whenever they want, e.g. to watch programs after they have been broadcast, pause playback, and record certain programs. Below, we describe the corresponding features and services.
Whether the operator will be able to offer video-on-demand services and playback control functions to its viewers depends on the middleware capabilities. Its supplier can either implement them immediately or offer them to the operator for an additional fee.
EPG: Electronic Programming Guide
The EPG stands for the ‘Electronic Programming Guide’. It shows when and on which channel you can watch movies, news, shows, and series. Subscribers can check which programs are currently being broadcast and which ones have already ended or will be broadcast later.
Without the EPG, no operators can provide these modern services. This feature makes it easier to choose TV programs, movies, and series. The electronic programming guide is closely related to other operator’s paid services, e.g. TimeShift, Catch Up, PVR, and nPVR.
TimeShift: pause and rewind
The TimeShift service allows you to rewind and pause TV programs. If a viewer has turned on a channel in the middle of a program, this service enables them to replay the program from the beginning. With this service, users can pause videos and then continue watching without missing anything.
TimeShift won’t allow you to overtake the TV schedule. The fast-forward feature is available only if a viewer has stopped playback or rewound content. While the video is paused, the scheduled broadcast carries on, and subscribers can catch up with it.
Catch Up: archived TV programs
The Catch Up service is a lot like TimeShift. This technology also enables viewers to watch programs after they have been broadcast. The Catch Up feature is closely related to the EPG: a subscriber can go back a few hours or days in a broadcast schedule and choose the content they are interested in.
The TimeShift and Catch Up services share the same basic idea: all videos are recorded and stored on the server and remain available to users for a certain time. This period is called the archive depth.
All files exceeding the archive depth are deleted from the storage. If the archive depth is 3 days, a subscriber won’t be able to watch a movie that was on air a week before.
The operators set the archive depth at their own discretion. If the archive depth is 24 hours, viewers will miss their programs. However, it would be too expensive to store content from dozens or hundreds of channels for a whole month. It’s important to strike a balance between what viewers want and what resources you wish to devote to this service.
PVR and nPVR: personal content recording
PVR (Personal Video Recording) and nPVR (Network Personal Video Recording) services act much like a video cassette recorder. These services differ in how the files are stored: PVR allows for recording into the client device’s internal memory and nPVR does so into the cloud storage.
When a user plans to record a program, their set-top box turns to the middleware and requests to save certain content to a certain place. When the recording is done, the middleware provides access to it. The nPVR’s additional advantage is that it can record several channels simultaneously. While watching one channel, a viewer can record another one and therefore won’t miss programs even if they are on air at the same time.
The operator controls how the PVR/nPVR services function thanks to the middleware. The control panel settings determine how long any recorded content will be available, how many times a subscriber can play it, and whether they will have to pay each time it’s watched.
PVR/nPVR services are less in demand than TimeShift and Catch Up, but they have a unique feature: viewer’s recordings are stored indefinitely (if the operator allows it). Viewers can take advantage of this to watch their favorite movies or programs: PVR/nPVR enables creating your own video library.
On-device recording features are losing ground since it poses copyright infringement risks, as some users find ways to distribute the recordings. The nPVR service is much more popular because it saves space on the operator’s storage. Unlike Catch Up, it enables the provider to record not all the scheduled programs but only the requested content.
The video-on-demand service or VoD enables viewers to receive content on demand. Users can request programs, movies, series, or event recordings.
The VoD service is mainly provided by IPTV operators. However, it is sometimes offered by hybrid cable operators as well. In this case, user devices receive TV channels via a coaxial interface, while VoD is provided over Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
The major streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, mainly focus on VoD. However, most local and mid-sized operators combine VoD with linear TV: it’s easier to get a license to deliver TV channels and, moreover, viewers need news and local programs.
Services offered by successful operators
It’s better to provide subscribers with all services at once. Nevertheless, this isn’t always possible in practice, as operators most often implement Linear TV and then add more and more services on top.
So as not to waste resources on needless services, you’d need to conduct surveys and discover the viewing habits of subscribers. Any feature that you plan on adding should be of interest to at least half of your audience.
Disable unprofitable services. This could be TimeShift if only 2–3% of your subscribers use it since you have to store the weekly recordings of all TV channels.
If you plan to implement VoD and all the playback control functions gradually, it’s best to do so in the following order:
A basic function for IPTV/OTT services. It makes it easier for viewers to find interesting programs, movies, and series. Besides, other playback control services are based on this function.
Today, viewers want to watch, rewind, and pause content at any time. This is enabled by VoD, Catch Up, and TimeShift.
The nPVR’s features are almost identical to those of more popular services (Catch Up and TimeShift). Its unique advantage is the unlimited access to content in terms of time (if the operator allows it).
This service becomes increasingly irrelevant as it doesn’t ensure that content will be protected from unauthorized access and copying.
To keep your service competitive, you need to implement VoD and playback control features: EPG, TimeShift, Catch Up, and PVR/nPVR. Explore your audience’s interests and implement the most popular services, as this will reduce your maintenance costs and make your service more profitable.
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