View All Posts
View All Posts

The Ultimate Guide to Primary Distribution of Video Content

April 26, 2022
6-Minute Read
Sr. Manager, Contribution & Distribution Solutions

Video streaming consumption is thriving and has created an evolution in primary distribution. Video primary distribution refers to the delivery of a fully originated linear channel by a programmer to distribution partners or affiliates, including pay-TV operators, free-to-air broadcasters, MVPDs, vMVPDs and OTT platforms.

Traditionally, there have been two main types of network architectures used for video primary distribution: satellite and IP. However, as video streaming grows, and as business requirements change for content providers, more flexible and agile distribution methods become a must-have. This blog will guide you through how video primary distribution is evolving, why it is happening, and how you can prepare for the future of primary distribution.


The Evolution of Video Primary Distribution

Up until today, the traditional primary distribution of video model was very reliant on satellite to share content with affiliates.

But traditional satellite distribution faces challenges as video streaming and other advancements in video distribution accelerate. In many cases, setting up satellite transmission and reception links require significant investment in equipment and hardware to transmit and receive the satellite feeds. Hardware equates to an increase in real estate, power, cooling and cabling costs. Maintaining and operating multiple reception links and reception sites requires a lot of internal resources.

 With the rise in video streaming, content providers need a more streamlined and flexible way to manage and deliver linear channels to affiliates and content aggregation platforms. IP-based delivery and the cloud have emerged as an opportunity for video programmers to gain unprecedented flexibility.

As primary distribution evolves, what does the next stage of video delivery look like?


A Preview of the Next Phase of Primary Distribution  

Today, we are seeing a shift to primary distribution via IP and the cloud. IP and the cloud enable operators and service providers to reach more subscribers, reduce costs, and gain agility as video delivery requirements evolve. 

At the same time, we’re seeing operators and service providers transitioning from traditional primary distribution networks to hybrid distribution frameworks that combine satellite and IP. Hybrid frameworks more easily integrate streaming services to foster video business growth.

Drivers for the Evolution of Primary Distribution of Video Content

There are a few reasons why primary distribution is experiencing a transformation.

  • Personalized content is in high demand. Consumers are looking for greater choice of content and compelling services that are personalized to their interests, regions and viewing habits. With the cloud, there are limitless personalization possibilities. For instance, you can personalize and distribute sub-channels to individual affiliates based on their specific audiences. You can deliver targeted ads at the individual viewer level. You can make relevant content recommendations.
  • Distribution platforms are growing. Content is being distributed to an ever-growing number of platforms, including direct-to-consumer streaming platforms and Operators and service providers are finding the flexibility they need in the cloud.
  • Technology breakthroughs in video processing and delivery are improving viewer experiences and streamlining operations. Technology such as edge processing is changing how you can handle and process video content. Bringing processing functions closer to the delivery point, at the edge, reduces the gap between source and screen. You can significantly reduce latency issues, streamline operations and optimize your video workflows by moving video processing closer to the end-user device.

Moving video delivery applications such graphics insertion for targeted advertising, HDR processing, format conversions, transcoding, and loudness control to the edge improves the viewer experience, reduces buffering times and optimizes bandwidth.     

  • Satellite bandwidth is shrinking.  Satellite operators are in the midst of giving up bandwidth to support the rollout of 5G. That means much less C-band spectrum is available to deliver content via satellite.

Harmonic is pushing primary distribution to the next level with its Primary Distribution 2.0 solution, which leverages:

  • VOS360 media SaaS as a cloud-native SaaS for reception, processing, and distribution of video content to multiple delivery points or affiliates, using HLS over CDNs or SRT based point to point links.
  • The XOS Advanced Media Processor as as a software-based edge processing solution

So how can you ensure you’re ready for the next phase of primary distribution?


Preparing for the Future of Primary Distribution

  1. Cloud capabilities: A cloud-based platform for primary distribution ensures that you have a flexible, scalable and reliable foundation for your content customization and distribution without requiring a significant investment in equipment.

Cloud is an excellent choice for primary distribution because it enables you to quickly establish links to new affiliates. Cloud distribution uses the open internet and public CDNs to deliver video content, including live events, from content programmers to multiple delivery points or affiliates with high reliability and security.

There’s also a huge cost benefit associated with using the cloud for primary distribution. Leveraging the internet means you pay for what you use rather than investing in fixed capacity, long term fixed length satellite contracts. By only paying for what you use, it becomes quick and affordable to establish links to new affiliates, as well as deliver video for occasional or event-based primary distribution feeds. If you’re a new player that wants to enter the linear TV space, a cloud-based SaaS solution for primary distribution is less costly than installing satellite dishes, RF infrastructure and additional IRDs.

It is important for the primary distribution SaaS to rely on CDNs for channel delivery since CDNS are how the internet scales for media delivery. On the management side, a cloud-based primary distribution solution must provide a simple way for you to grant/revoke access to a channel on a per affiliate basis.

Telstra, a leading Australia-based telecommunications company for television, voice, mobile, and internet distribution, is a shining excellent example of a service provider embracing cloud for primary distribution. You can read more about their story on one of our previous primary distribution blog posts.


  1. Support for channel variants and content customization: Consumer demand for personalized content is growing. A cloud distribution platform enables you to create multiple variants of a single channel so that you can personalize content with a dedicated manifest file for each affiliate. These channel variants can help to increase ad space and revenue from dynamic ad insertion, or DAI.

Personalizing the video experience helps keep viewers engaged and can boost your revenue. Research from Innovid found that 43% of consumers agree it’s important for ads to be personalized. Consumers pay the most attention to personalized ads on social media, closely followed by video and television.

For example, a large television network in the United States recently complemented its existing satellite architecture with innovative cloud distribution capabilities. As a result, the network programmer is now distributing UHD HDR channel variants to over 50 stations to boost engagement with targeted audiences.


  1. Hybrid distribution: A hybrid distribution solution that supports both satellite and the cloud allow you to leverage the reliability and superior video quality enabled by satellite, while benefiting from the elasticity of the cloud. You can quickly establish links to new affiliates and expand your global reach without the long setup and commitment required for satellite.

Having a unified workflow for primary distribution means affiliates can ingress video in any format and content be received from cloud and satellite streams simultaneously, offering smooth migration from satellite to cloud, or satellite as backup for cloud.


  1. Bandwidth optimization: The 5G spectrum repack has reduced a lot the bandwidth available to operators. Whether you’re using satellite, cloud or a hybrid distribution approach, you’ll need a highly efficient codec to optimize bandwidth efficiency.
  2. Unified headends: As many operators continue to evolve to digital network operations, hybrid satellite and cloud headend are becoming more common. Hybrid distribution headend allow you to consolidate equipment and collapse functions to eliminate duplicate infrastructures. it’s is a greener approach to video distribution that will save you capex and opex.
  3. Service continuity: Linear streaming channels need to be delivered reliably and with a superior quality of experience for Adopting a primary distribution solution that leverages robust 1+1 deployments and georedundancy between multiple availability zones and different regions in the public cloud, you can deliver linear streaming channels with confidence. Cloud-neutral solutions are especially great because they allow you to implement redundancy between different cloud service providers.
  4. Instant scaling: Relying on cloud and software you can distribute content to a variety of affiliates, and scale your service as much as you need to. The cloud makes it simple for you to upgrade your primary distribution solution, scale up or down, or modify your services any time, on the fly.

Primary Distribution of Video Content Will Continue to Evolve

Primary distribution will continue to progress. An explosion in video streaming consumption and other drivers such as the growing number of video distribution platforms and shrinking satellite bandwidth have accelerated the move to cloud-based and hybrid distribution solutions.

With software and the cloud, and at the edge, video programmers have a flexible, scalable and reliable foundation to deliver linear streaming channels to affiliates, FAST services, and much more. The next generation of primary distribution solutions are an opportunity for video programmers to prepare for future business growth, reach new audiences and compete for video streaming eyeballs. This next phase of primary distribution is also an opportunity to streamline video workflows and customize channels, without duplicating infrastructure.

The transition to a fully cloud-based primary distribution architecture will take time. For most operators, there will be a temporary phase of hybrid delivery combining satellite and cloud distribution, cloud being the backup of satellite, then satellite becoming the backup of cloud before full cloud operation.

Harmonic is helping meet video programmers’ ever-evolving primary distribution requirements with our XOS Advanced Media Processor for video streaming and broadcast delivery and our VOS360 media SaaS. Want to learn more about how to future-proof your primary distribution? One of our primary distribution specialists can guide you through the process. Let us know how we can help!

Subscribe to our blog

Don't miss out! Keep up to date with the latest by subscribing to email notifications.
No thanks, I am not interested