The way people consume media has overwhelmingly shifted towards over-the-top (OTT). In addition to live TV, the number of video streaming platforms l has grown rapidly. Along with the near unlimited choice of content, consumers have come to expect a seamless user interface with the ability to pause and toggle between shows.

By: Christophe Vaissade, sales director: EMEA at Western Digital

While the cloud has unlocked powerful capabilities for both service providers and consumers, a shift to Cloud DVR presents a challenge for service providers to deliver an ever-growing content library to an increasing number of consumers. For example, Cisco’s Global 2020 IP Traffic Forecast projects that global IP traffic will reach 4ZBs in 2022, with 82% of that being video. By the same year, busy hour traffic will grow at a 37% CAGR, up to five- times where it was just in 2018.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, further highlighting the bandwidth challenge. But there are solutions to ensure the quality of service that consumers demand, from the end-point to the edge, to help maintain the quality of service that is expected.

The bandwidth challenge

Consumers watch more video on demand (VOD) and recorded shows than ever before. Even watching live TV, they often pause and make use of a recorded pause-buffer. The pandemic exacerbated this need, as millions of people were locked down at home. In fact, some streaming platforms reduced video quality for a month to help reduce the strain on broadband providers and in accordance with European government officials’ requests.

Many pay TV providers offer their subscribers the ability to pause live TV and record programmes as part of a bundled package, enabled by a storage element in the Set-Top-Boxes (local DVR) or in the cloud (Cloud DVR). In the past, users stored content on local DVRs, and once a programme was recorded, all the actions such as pause, rewind, and fast forward were seamless, with minimal bottlenecks. However, as the DVR has transitioned to the cloud, and more streaming services have come online, the pipe has become more constricted putting greater strain on the networks.

With lots of content now being recorded in the cloud, the network becomes a common bottleneck for all. The storage must be balanced at the edge (in-home network) and in the network (where the content is being distributed through) to achieve the best user experience and TCO, since there are different scenarios whereby the network load is impacted drastically.

Pause-storm impact

Take a pause-storm (for lack of a better term), for example. This happens when a large number of viewers switch from watching live TV (multicast stream) to viewing time-shifted video (unicast stream), such as a major sporting event. In a local DVR scenario, this would have no impact on the network as the time-shifted video plays from the local buffer on the hard disk drive (HDD). However, in a Cloud DVR scenario, since no local buffer exists, a pause-storm will create a large spike in network load.

Looking forward, demand for content consumption will only grow with a larger library of titles at higher resolutions (4K/8K), driving the need for more storage and bandwidth. At the same time, users’ habits are getting more sophisticated which demands a seamless interaction with all entertainment options.

Consumers will expect smoother interfaces with their TV services going forward. Video service providers need to be aware of this when deploying their DVR solutions, as low latency is crucial to the customer experience.

When crunching the numbers, many operators find that leaving some storage in the STB goes a long way in reducing total cost of ownership (TCO), while improving user experience. Pause-live TV (PLTV) can be implemented by buffering the video to flash storage attached to the STB. Viewers experience no latency, and operators save by mitigating the peak demand during increased time-shifted viewing (such as during pause-storms).

Future-proofing the network

Even as we talk about ZBs of content (and growing) being generated, stored, and moved around the cloud, adding just 32GB or 64GB of local storage at the STB devices goes a long way to ensure the quality of service. The enhanced STB will serve as a time-shift buffer (TSB) as well as a supplement for Cloud DVR. By caching video at the edge, network traffic is also significantly reduced.

To maximise the longevity of the STB, the local storage solution needs to be high endurance to handle a workload of continuous programming and erasing, many times a day, over the life of the device, as well as offer telecoms operators’ remote access so they can run network diagnostics and health checks periodically. On top of that, AI and ML based algorithms can help determine which shows will be watched earlier, and automatically pre-populate the STB device accordingly.

So, whether it’s a traditional STB or an Android-based STB that combines Pay TV services with OTT services, local storage is a proven solution to “extend” the network to the home and provide a seamless Cloud DVR experience. Storage at the edge device is important to maintain the revenue stream from Pay TV subscribers and a competitive edge within the market.