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19 March 2020

Solidarity sweeps service providers – tech vendors must push on

Continuing our theme of positive coverage among all the hysteria, a spate of solidarity has swept the video streaming and communications worlds – bringing enemies together and putting profit margins aside, for now.

Last week’s focus was on the rise of virtual events and since NAB 2020’s cancellation, a torrent of virtual invitations have flooded the Faultline inbox. But while contingency plans for B2B virtual trade fairs are in the fledgling stages, the consumer side of the coin is experiencing an unprecedented surge in OTT video that the industry was not prepared for, but from which many will prosper.

Global streaming forecasts have been thrown into disarray as a result of lockdowns, prompting some to begin offering video streaming services totally free. UAE-based telco Etisalat for example has just unveiled SwitchTV, an OTT video package offered free of charge to existing mobile subscribers. We see this as a selfless gesture with a long-term plan – hooking in consumers for monetization further down the line.

SwitchTV comes with free live channels spanning sports, entertainment and news, alongside a decent sized VoD library and catch-up TV. Premium channels are available for purchase with Etisalat hoping extended lockdown periods will push SwitchTV users to eventually buy into added services.

It’s a perfect opportunity for freemium services to thrive. In doing so, bandwidth capacity will be put to the test like never before. So, what are companies doing about it? Faultline heard exclusively from storage vendor Object Matrix last week about the likelihood of deploying dedicated infrastructure to support its virtual NAB endeavors, but this is on a tiny scale compared to what the MNOs and ISPs are having to deal with.

Vendor suppliers will feel the heat most but rather than being squeezed, this sustained period of home workers and binge watchers should – in theory – mean that 2020 becomes a wildly lucrative period for technology vendors on a vast scale. Among the technologies to be called into action are the various components that comprise CDNs, compression software, piracy, low-latency protocols, WiFi management, cable technologies, remote production, asset management, storage, cloud infrastructure, edge computing, cellular infrastructure, and many more.

Beyond OTT video and general internet usage, markets like gaming and esports are also poised for growth on the back of stay-at-home advice.

Filtering through what feels like thousands of knee-jerk press releases to the outbreak, Faultline has identified a few with substance – throwing previously unheard-of technology firms straight into the spotlight.

Remote editing studios will become a valuable resource this year for media organizations and a MAM vendor called IPV has hurried through the launch of its CuratorNow software. CuratorNow is designed to fast-track working from home conditions, enabling rapid ingest of hi-resolution video and logging of crucial metadata, plus remote asset search and editing with frame-accurate proxies using 98% less bandwidth than hi-res files.

Another to catch our eye came from UK-based Blackbird, in similar fashion launching a virtual pre-NAB 2020 cloud video editing platform. Blackbird claims to be the “only professional video editor in a browser” – with professional standard tools available even on low bandwidth connections.

Kaltura is an interesting case of a company we have followed closely for years actively pursuing business in these trying times. Better known for its work powering cloud-based telco TV services at Vodafone, Kaltura is also an influential name in the world of educational video. Before recent weeks, we have taken little interest in this side of Kaltura’s business – one that is providing invaluable platforms for virtual classrooms, for example. As a result, Kaltura is well-positioned not just to survive this storm, but to thrive from it.

And while WebEx, Microsoft, Zoom and Google are offering free versions of video conference software, smaller vendors are hoping to profit from the virtual event hype.

Perhaps the most significant move so far has come from the US MNOs – rallying together to offer free mobile data to certain users deemed at-risk and also waiving late fees.

It comes as part of the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge initially covering 60 days of support for people and companies hit hardest. Verizon has pledged to keep residential and small business customers connected to mobile services no matter what for the 60-day period. Verizon is also tripling data allowances for schools involved with Verizon Innovative Learning and donate $10 million to select non-profits in education and healthcare.

T-Mobile US meanwhile has allocated an extra 600 MHz of mobile spectrum for the 60-day period to provide extra data capacity, in partnership with Dish Network, Comcast, Bluewater, Omega Wireless, Channel 51 and more.

Likewise, over in Canada, Cogeco has promised not to cut off subscribers of internet, TV and telephony services if they are unable to pay bills and Shaw Communications has opened up its public Shaw Go WiFi network free of charge to everyone including non-subscribers.

Over in Europe, operators are already feeling the ramifications of such generosity. Some Spanish telcos are getting twitchy, releasing a statement politely asking subscribers not to go overboard. They have requested moderation of downloading large documents in peak hours, sending links to large files, and using bandwidth-intensive applications like gaming and video streaming during off-peak hours only.

Our concern is that once the 60-day grace period in the US ends, it could be a consumer bloodbath, although it’s likely the solidarity phase will be extended with the support of government funding.