Everyone has experienced the disappointment of an unexpected video blackout. It’s the feeling you get when you log in to view an event on a streaming service and are told you can’t view it due to licensing restrictions.
Blackouts are the side effect of complex, domestic and international, licensing contracts among streamers, sports leagues, program producers, television networks, film distributors, and content owners.
Broadcasters need to set up robust video blackout management processes to help maximize profits, even when license agreements get in the way.
What Is Video Blackout Management?
Video blackout management is the process of determining which customers can receive requested content and which cannot. At a minimum, video blackout management ensures that broadcasters don’t breach a content license. However, the best management processes mitigate revenue loss by serving substitute content or switching content to keep your streaming customers engaged.
How to Replace Streamed Video Content
Pure blackouts in streaming are akin to dead air on the radio -- they lose you viewers and revenue.
One of the simplest ways to circumvent required blackouts is to stream replacement content. Content replacement ensures that legal commitments are fulfilled while providing a good user experience.
Efficient blackout management tools are able to substitute segments dynamically, serving up predefined data to target the best customer. Using a DAI solution that supports blackout management through manifest manipulation allows you to dynamically customize the manifest allowing you to, for example, create custom per-user manifests in real-time.
Other examples of video blackout management include:
1. Program Substitution
Content replacement is straightforward when a program simply cannot be shown to specific IP addresses. Managers set up a program switch schedule – determining which programs should be switched out at what times, based on streaming location.
2. Splicing Live Events
Live events aren’t continuously broadcasted on a predictable schedule. Times for local programming such as high school or college sports events aren’t always as predictable as syndicated shows, for example. One solution is to send two streams out simultaneously. The stream associated with local IP addresses will show local content. Everyone else receives different programming.
Key Architectural Components of Video Blackout Management
It’s easier than ever to replace blacked-out content with secondary streams. The reason has to do with several architectural developments in broadcasting and video streaming over the past 15 years.
SCTE-224 is an ESNI (Event Schedule Notification Interface), which allows content providers a means of communicating channel schedules and content policies to distributors. ESNI enables content distributed to audiences to be controlled based on attributes of that audience, including geographic location and device type. Content providers send SCTE-224 schedules to distributors prior to airtime, but they can be updated dynamically. With regards to content replacement, SCTE-224 works in tandem with SCTE-35.
The SCTE-35 standard allows broadcasters to embed advertising metadata in their streams. SCTE-35 was designed to embed local ad splices in otherwise non-local streams, enabling you to fill in predesignated spaces in any given stream with your content. SCTE-35 architecture enables broadcasters to quickly update or swap out ads and other content in streams.
The Benefits of Manifest Manipulation
Content replacement works best when the substitute content appeals to the person streaming. Individual streamers have different tastes, however.
How can you determine what to stream to whom in place of the blacked-out content? How can you possibly do this in real-time?
It’s easy using Harmonic’s VOS360 cloud streaming platform. Just manipulate a streamed program’s manifest based on your customers’ data, and insert appropriate content or ads in near real-time.
How Manifest Manipulation Works
A manifest is sent to a streaming device at the beginning of each streaming session. The manifest file acts as a playlist that the streaming device should be expecting, providing details on the order the video and audio files should be played in, when ad content will appear, and where content will be served from.
The manifest can be dynamically created and updated based on the characteristics of who is streaming it. Personalized ads based on user data can be inserted into the ad placeholders using the customized manifests.
Manifest Manipulation for Video Blackout Management
Manifest manipulation is often used for ad placement, but it’s even more critical for video switching when there is a blackout. Create multiple manifests for different audiences who cannot view the live streamed content due to restrictions, and then allow customized ads to be served to those various streams based on individual streamer traits.
Three Functions All Video Blackout Solutions Need
There are three features your streaming platform needs to ensure you keep customers engaged – even during a blackout.
In addition to having a platform that can create secondary streams for different IP addresses and demographics, it should include the following features:
1. Multiple Video Formats
Your manifest manipulator should be able to package programming into each of the dominant ABR protocols in use today:
2. Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI)
Dynamic ad insertion technology allows you to splice ads into your streams. DAI solutions are what insert the ads at the pre-coded points in the stream’s manifest. They stitch the ads together with the stream for a seamless viewing experience across devices.
DAI can use collected data to send your streamers targeted ads based on:
Previously viewed content
Content being shown
DAI coupled with manifest manipulation goes beyond saturating your subscribers with generic ads. Harmonic’s cloud-based DAI solution, for example, allows you to customize manifests based on a specific viewer’s known behavioral traits – in real-time!
3. Content Security
Your solution should be able to secure your content with watermarking, session-based encryption, and access controls. CDN or multi-CDN solutions can also be harnessed to ensure that your streams remain uninterrupted, even in the midst of DDoS or server attacks.
Cloud-Native Software Is the Ultimate Video Blackout Management Solution
Video blackout management is feasible using cloud-native solutions like Harmonic’s VOS. VOS can be deployed in the private or public cloud. It is platform-agnostic, integrating seamlessly with your current workflows. It’s also flexible – allowing for automated manifest manipulation with manual override.
Platforms like Harmonic’s VOS360 cloud streaming platform include built-in monetization features such as overlays, ad click-through, trick-play management features, and ad tracking to maximize revenue streams. Multi-CDN solutions can work with DAI to enable user-based ad embedding.
Ready to streamline your video blackout management? Check out Harmonic’s VOS360cloud streaming platform today.
Robert Gambino is a Director of Solutions at Harmonic. He provides business development and strategic direction for Harmonic’s line of cloud native video solutions including media processing, origination, personalization, and monetization. Robert joined Harmonic after 17 years in telecom, running presales, architecture, and product strategy groups for operators and vendors in the video and ad tech spaces.