March 3, 2021

A buyer’s guide to TV as a service

Terminology, like viruses, evolves and mutates over time. But words change so fast in our industry that sometimes all sense of meaning is lost. I think that’s the case with the phrase “TV as a Service” (TVaaS). It’s used so often, in so many different ways, that it becomes hard for operators to see exactly what they’re getting in their procurement process. So let’s look more closely at some of the key things you should look for when purchasing a solution that’s billed as TVaaS.

SaaS vs PaaS

I think there’s a general understanding of the term Software as a Service (SaaS) - the provision of individual applications hosted in the public cloud to solve a business challenge - from Salesforce to Sage accounting or Microsoft 365. With Platform as a Service (PaaS) things start to get more cloudy (pun intended). PaaS typically includes multiple pieces of hosted software that work seamlessly together to meet a full set of business needs, relieving companies from the expense and hassle of operating them in-house. PaaS comes in many flavours: public cloud, private cloud, or a hybrid. 

The Pay TV difference

So how does TVaaS differ from other SaaS and PaaS offerings? Some vendors use the term to mean a regular PaaS that is hosted by a vendor but used and maintained by a TV company’s own tech team to deliver their multi channel offering. Others, including our team at 24i, believe that TVaaS should be so much more than just the technology, it should encompass a set of defined additional services or, for the lack of a better term, a managed service. 

For larger operators that have already invested in their own in-house technology teams to monitor, manage and support their video backend, apps and STB network we are delighted to offer our Smart Video and Smart Apps products as an element of their multi-channel technology strategy. These products, naturally, come with a robust SLA and great support. We also offer a mix of on-premises and cloud hosting to suit the needs of different operators (more of that later). 

But even if you choose a well supported, fully-cloud hosted solution with a great SLA, it’s still not truly a TVaaS. Such a solution requires in-house technical expertise for architecture, maintenance, support and monitoring. The cost of this can be prohibitive for smaller companies, Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (vMPVDs) and regional cable operators, especially new startups who are still building their subscriber base from zero. They must operate apps on multiple consumer devices to stay competitive with their bigger rivals, but they cannot justify the expense of a team to manage the full app lifecycle (all those operating system updates!) and troubleshoot issues in the various elements of their video backend and the integration that binds them. Our recent infographic demonstrates that this not is the only option for pay TV operators

So what should they look for in a managed TVaaS solution?

Offloading the technology challenges of a pay TV operation

Choosing an end-to-end solution from a single vendor, complete with monitoring, maintenance and technical support, is a much more practical and cost-effective solution for these smaller operators. That’s what we believe TVaaS should really mean. A service provider needs to implement an established service management methodology (ITIL for example) to cover the full set of process steps for the TV platform - development, release, updates and upgrades. 

Most operators will want to manage their own BSS environment. But even if they want to maintain some other processes and components in house - such as STBs or a CDN, an integrated approach with a service provider using defined processes will maximise efficiency and quality for both the parties. Of course, there are differences of approach for different businesses. For the ultimate in simplicity,  some operators might opt for a full suite from one vendor - in our case, 24i can even supply STB devices from our sister company Amino. Others might want to take most of it from one supplier, but retain control of certain components in-house while utilising the service provider’s framework and processes.  

TVaaS should include 24/7 incident monitoring, performance monitoring, and capacity monitoring with alerting and proactive maintenance. All this should be extended not just to the application layer or the operational (backend) layer but also all the components and integrations between. In short, a true TVaaS should enable the pay TV operator to offload all the day-to-day technical challenges of running their service to a trusted third party. 

A seamless incident response service

It’s inevitable as part of normal operations that some incidents will arise - an issue with a networking switch, a problem with the incoming signal from your channel distribution or metadata partner. The operator should not need to wait for a flood of viewer complaints to resolve the issue or have their own alerting system. Their service provider should be able to proactively identify, troubleshoot and remedy the problem on the operator’s behalf, liaising directly with third parties where necessary. 

Cloud hesitancy and a fully-hosted future

This type of managed service has become quite commonplace for OTT companies that offer just VOD content and a few live events. It allows small, specialist services to launch and grow without investing heavily up-front in their own technical infrastructure and engineering team. 

Event driven services are also ideally suited to a fully cloud-hosted PaaS model as it allows them to take full advantage of the flexibility, scalability and robustness of the public cloud. One example includes Flow Sports, a multi-platform app from Carribean pay TV operator CWC which uses 24i’s cloud-hosted Smart Apps and Smart Video products to deliver live sports content to subscribers.

Data egress costs currently charged by major cloud hosting companies like AWS, Azure or Google make this an unattractive option for most multi-channel TV services today. I believe that these costs will fall in the future when one of those major companies decide to offer flat-rate egress fees to tempt operators from their rivals. But in the meantime, operators should look for a TVaaS provider who will offer them the same level of end-to-end service management for their on-premises encoding, encryption and streaming infrastructure as they would for a fully cloud-hosted solution. Or find a partner that offers a mix of on-premises and cloud deployment models, especially for VOD elements of their service where cloud-based workflows are already faster, more flexible and more cost-effective than any on-premises deployment. 

24i is already delivering this level of service to some of our pay TV customers and proving it’s possible to run a multi-channel, multi-platform pay TV service with just one or two members of your own operational staff. 

If you’d like to find out more, check out our solutions for pay TV operators.

By Joachim Bergman, CEO of 24i

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