Sky toying with Synamedia’s upgraded Smart Rate Control

Making only its second IBC appearance under the slick new brand, Synamedia treated attendees to a press session where we got the chance to hear from and grill existing customers Sky and beIN – two broadcast industry heavyweights busier than most when it comes to OTT video endeavors.

Naturally, Synamedia kicked off proceedings by outlining the problems it sees facing today’s TV ecosystem, namely piracy and credentials sharing where its new fraud prevention unit is knuckling down, then moving into network convergence, which it addressed recently with the launch of a unified head-end.

So, what’s next for the Permira Funds-owned Cisco Video predecessor? One of the buzzwords of IBC 2019, heck one of the buzzwords of 2019 so far, has been aggregation – as pay TV operators and their vendor suppliers increasingly chatter about a new wave of aggregation looming large. There is an element of truth here admittedly, yet the term coming back around is also a little annoying, as we see the term aggregation being driven and recycled by cable TV operators as a medium for sustaining higher ARPUs and lower capex, when in reality the opposite is happening.

But that doesn’t mean some consumers don’t want aggregation in the OTT age. Synamedia is one such vendor arguing that traditional pay TV operators would prevail and be the ultimate aggregators of the future, but the likes of Apple and Amazon are not going to lie down and allow the TV old guard to roll them over. Indeed, Synamedia CEO Yves Padrines was insistent on getting his message across, imploring “the death of pay TV is premature.”

Jean-Marc Racine, CPO and GM of the EMEA business, stepped up to go over one of Synamedia’s most recent forays, its Smart Rate Control algorithms – technology with some serious disruptive potential as our recent coverage professed. We therefore jumped straight in to ask Fraser Stirling, CPO at Sky UK, if the operator had deployed or was running trials of Smart Rate Control. It transpires Sky is not currently using the latest version, but has deployed some older algorithms for reducing latency and is investigating what the newer model – unveiled in the run-up to IBC – has to offer.

Stirling would not, however, comment on how using Smart Rate Control affects Sky’s existing supplier relationship with Velocix, the CDN technology spin off Nokia inherited when it acquired Alcatel. Velocix drives the Sky On Demand set top-based OTT video traffic and the system was then upgraded from taking OTT content to the set top – by far the hardest part of the job – to taking on Sky Go and Now TV’s traffic too. Sky uses a mixture of pure play CDNs including Akamai, along with its own in-house CDN where the Velocix software sits, rerouting traffic accordingly with assistance from Conviva analytics.

This sudden interest in Sky’s CDN usage arose from refinements made to the Infinite Video platform, which Synamedia says reduces latencies at every stage of the workflow. Specifically, its Smart Rate Control algorithms have gone under the knife and resurfaced with intelligent encoding algorithms capable of minimizing bandwidth requirements to the extent of significantly reducing the required dependency on pricey third-party CDNs.

At the time of the update, we interpreted Synamedia’s CDN-crunching algorithm updates as throwing down the gauntlet to Velocix, but in hindsight the refresh appears to be targeted more at the big guns like Akamai and Limelight, because in the case of Sky, Velocix is the cheapest CDN in the multi-CDN architecture as it has been installed and run by Sky directly.