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11 April 2019

Harmonic goes nuclear with NAB news – reactive or proactive?

Harmonic made itself heard early on at NAB 2019 with a slew of announcements, boasting customer wins at PCCW Media and IndyCar, alongside adding support for Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure and expanding its partnership with Akamai.

The US broadcast industry’s compression darling was not budging though on expanding details regarding our big scoop from last week about MPEG-5 embracing V-Nova’s technology, but more on that in our separate article. “What I will say, and our CEO is here to testify for me, is that as a software-based company, we can embrace any codec; we don’t need cloud technology (Microsoft Azure’s GM was on stage looking less than impressed),” said Harmonic’s Head of Video Strategy Thierry Fautier.

Immediately, the mention of IndyCar brought to mind MX1, the SES Platform Services and RR Media technology outfit, which recently won a deal at the very same US sports car racing franchise. Faultline flitted between the MX1 and Harmonic stands, but still neither vendor had an inkling of insight into how the respective contracts were related despite appearing similar on the surface. We smell something fishy and are working on digging up some details. In the meantime, we know MX1 provides distribution services and operational support, alongside IMS Productions which handles transmission of races to international rights holders across 80 countries. The initial difference appears to be that Harmonic has won a contract at the sanctioning body of the NTT IndyCar Series, while MX1 has a bigger slice of the pie.

This week, Harmonic has slid in with its VOS 360 SaaS platform for live sports streaming, handling full workflow from playout, transcoding, packaging and origin server – on a pay-per-use business model. Fautier bragged – and understandably so – about IndyCar’s rapid five-week deployment time. “You may remember back at IBC, we spoke about deploying Telkomsel in Indonesia in six weeks, so this is the next step up,” he noted. Indeed, these five weeks included the entire design, set up and deployment process for VOS360 SaaS – significantly higher than the industry bar which we would say probably sits somewhere between 8 to 12 weeks, dependent of course on infinite mitigating factors.

IndyCar represents a sizables deal for Harmonic, with the most recent race back in September hitting 638,000 viewers including streaming, the fifth highest audience recorded on NBCSN, although full year 2018 ratings were down in total. PCCW Media, however, arguably represents an even larger opportunity. Neither Fautier nor CEO Patrick Harshman went into great deal during the company’s time-constrained early NAB 2019 press conference, but winning a deployment for its VOS Cluster SaaS for PCCW’s Now TV, Now Player and Now E services is certainly celebration worthy.

VOS Cluster, unlike the public cloud-based VOS 360 product, is a cloud-native on-premise deployment. For PCCW Media, it enables a unified system for IPTV and OTT content preparation and delivery – using Harmonic’s media processing expertise to speed up time to market for new services. PCCW says it wanted to simplify the way it prepares and delivers video content to its IPTV and OTT platforms while migrating to new streaming formats and reducing storage usage.

But neither of these customers wins were emphasized by Harmonic during its press conference, instead assigning extra time to talk about its deepening relationships with two OTT video heavyweights Azure and Akamai. Microsoft Azure’s GM of Communications, Bob DeHaven, and Akamai’s Senior Director of Product Management, Jon Alexander, were invited to the stage, with DeHaven talking about bringing hyperscale cloud to the partnership – highlighting that Azure’s uniqueness lies in it being a platform cloud as opposed to an aggregator cloud like its primary competitors.

We believe DeHaven was referring to cloud services brokerage (CSB), a more common term for cloud aggregators, as a business model where a company or other entity adds value to one or more (generally public or hybrid, but possibly private) cloud services on behalf of one or more consumers of those services. The services offered by a CSB can include one or more of the following: Aggregation, Applications, Arbitrage, Analytics, Billing, Context, Customizations, Governance, Insurance, and Security.

Back to the point, making VOS 360 SaaS available on Azure with video content delivered by Akamai Media Delivery hardly needs any justification. Reach is virtually unlimited, while the elimination of egress costs will be a significant selling point – bringing agile and scalable media processing and delivery workflow capabilities to service providers. Both DeHaven and Alexander heralded the proliferation of OTT video services as the reason joining hands between three industry experts makes sense and we have little doubt their collaborative efforts will go some distance to improving end user viewing experiences.

We aren’t finished just yet. Potentially the most significant yet unsubstantiated announcement of the bunch is Harmonic’s claim to have “reinvented primary distribution” as it unveiled a new CDN-enabled workflow for supporting VOS 360 SaaS. “This was a very hard technical process but we cracked it,” said Fautier, adding that already a major US broadcaster had deployed the technology to deliver 200 broadcast affiliate feeds to virtual MVPDs – replacing the need for dedicated networking links and satellite transponders.

The Primary Distribution innovation is pitched as technology enabling the streamlining of management and delivery of linear channels from programmers to affiliates, whether pay TV operators, vMPVDs or local broadcasters, anywhere in the world.

Finally, not forgetting ATSC 3.0, Harmonic teamed up with Sony Electronics to demonstrate how VOS 360 SaaS can deliver both OTA and OTT components of hybrid services running on Sony Electronics’ TV software – highlighting practical hybrid use cases currently being implemented at the Chicago ATSC 3.0 trial by Weigel Broadcasting.