OTT: the evolution of television
Traditional television has always had a linear operation that takes place through an intermediary.
Whether cable, satellite or IPTV, content is always offered by specific providers through their own infrastructure. In the case of traditional television, this means that television companies offering cable services lay the lines and users can only see what is broadcast at a given time. What is broadcast and at what time was and still is decided partly according to the classic top-down method. OTT, short for “Over The Top”, is revolutionizing this system.
Between traditional television and OTT: what is IPTV?
With increasingly wide Internet connection bandwidths and the shift from ISDN to DSL standards, IPTV has emerged to compete with traditional cable television. Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) was the first step for telecommunications providers to expand their television offering, for example by adding replay functions to choose the viewing time of a program, investing in programming and providing the video on demand (VoD) option. But even this new Internet television is only available through an intermediary. Major IPTV providers, such as Vodafone, TIM and Sky, offer their Internet-based television only through proprietary devices, such as set-top boxes and receivers.
OTT as an evolution of television
A further evolution of IPTV are the so-called OTT services. OTT stands for “Over The Top , and refers to content that is offered via an Internet connection over which the relevant providers have no influence or control. OTT services are therefore independent of infrastructure providers. The best known OTT providers in the market are Netflix, Amazon Prime, Infinity, DAZN and Eurosport Player. Users can receive streaming services only thanks to an Internet connection and the application of the OTT provider, which can then be used to stream the desired content at any time, anywhere and with any Internet-enabled terminal.
Whether it’s sports broadcasts, movies, TV series, live streaming of video games or video on demand: users have full control over television and can adapt television reception to their personal viewing habits. While IPTV providers, such as Sky, TIM or Vodafone, offer only a small selection of pre-filtered VoD titles, Over The Top services offer their users huge catalogs with thousands of content accessible at any time.
Receiving and using OTT
OTT providers offer streaming content to users. OTT operators’ databases, such as Netflix or Amazon, are located on central servers. If a user decides to watch a particular movie in streaming, he or she will receive the data in IP packets and the transmission takes place via the Internet provider’s infrastructure, which is used by the OTT provider only as a transmission tool. Since the Internet service provider is ultimately only responsible for the transmission of the data packets, it assumes no legal liability for the content used.
In order to be able to transmit content in HD quality, a strong and stable Internet connection between the sender of the OTT content and the recipient is also required. Too low a transmission speed or an overloaded DSL network can compromise the quality or cause interruptions to the video during streaming, leading to a drop in interest from the audience.
A good connection ensures flawless reception of OTT content. Unlike IPTV, users are no longer tied to a specific device as a means of reception. Any device with an Internet connection can view OTT application content, whether it’s a tablet, laptop, notebook, computer, even Smartphone! So users are free to choose when and where to view their favorite content. OTT applications can also be installed directly on Smart TVs. If the technical features of the TV do not allow its installation, users can easily access it through specific sticks. The Amazon Fire TV Stick can, for example, be connected to the TV via a USB port and allows users to access a number of pre-installed OTT applications.
A special feature regarding the reception and availability of most OTT content is that the content is provided according to the destination country. The Netflix catalog of titles available in Italy, for example, differs from the French catalog. The national catalogs are unique and differ from country to country. Sometimes private TV broadcasters, cable or national pay TV operators purchase the broadcasting rights to certain films, series or sports events for several years, preventing many OTT services from broadcasting such content in the countries concerned. OTT services target the user’s IP address to determine the country from which they connect, preventing them from accessing content whose display is restricted by national rights of use or specific broadcasting laws.
OTT services also offer high quality original productions. Netflix and Amazon have become major producers of movies and TV series.
How will television evolve?
OTT competition is now so strong that traditional TV broadcasters are struggling with declining ratings. How seriously traditional broadcasters and IPTV providers take OTT’s competition is evident from their counteractions: in Italy, for example, private media companies such as Sky and Mediaset now run their own streaming platforms, Now TV and Infinity TV respectively. Now TV is a streaming service that offers on demand and live content, as well as some original Sky channels and content, depending on the type of service chosen. Infinity TV is instead by Mediaset and also offers an online streaming service, but without original content. These hybrid services are very similar to OTT services, mainly U.S., both at a functional and platform level.
OTT has already changed the viewing habits of many people. The fact that private broadcasters are also adapting their formats and offerings to the changing television habits of Internet users shows in which direction Internet-based television will develop. However, it remains difficult to predict if and when cable, satellite and IPTV will become obsolete. What is certain is that the Internet will continue to shape the future of the television industry.
Meaning of Ott
Ott, or over-the-top, are defined as all those media companies that offer services and content directly via the Internet, i.e. bypassing traditional distribution systems, such as digital terrestrial or satellite in the case of TV.
Ott: meaning and use of the expression
Precisely because video and television content was among the first and most frequently remedied by digital actors like these, OTT ended up vulgarly indicating only video streaming services on the Netflix model. This is obviously a simplification: the official definitions of OTT do not discriminate in terms of type of content, but only consider how the transmission takes place. According to the Canadian Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, what distinguishes OTT media companies is that they do not have dedicated facilities or networks for the transmission of their content, unlike, for example, satellite or cable TV broadcasters. The expression “over-the-top”, after all, refers to the ability to operate over the networks of the subjects in question, i.e. without exploiting a proprietary network but relying, for example, on what in jargon are known as content delivery network (CDN). In Italy, AGCOM, within a study on next generation TV, has defined OTT the distribution of “web based content, through broadband connection over open networks, accessible through a variety of devices”.
Over-the-top media services: characteristics and types
A broadband Internet connection is essential to be able to enjoy this type of content or services, so much so that market analyses cannot fail to point out a certain negative correlation, for example between digital divide and adoption of OTT services: where the penetration of broadband connections is lower, the use of web content and services only is also lower.
As for the type of OTT services or content, we present a simplified distinction:
- OTT television, also known as Internet TV and which consists of subscription television streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video and similar to which are added, more and more frequently, traditional players of the television landscape that distribute via the Internet many original content and designed for the web, as much content already passed on the television schedule on the model of Sky Go;
- OTT messaging, that includes most of the instant messaging services, such as WhatsApp or Telegram, provided by third parties than the telephone operator (links through these platforms to access digital content, especially Telegram);
- OTT voice services, i.e. so-called VOIP such as Skype or Viber that allow users to make voice calls using data connections or WiFi.
The success of OTT and the effects on traditional media
The increasing popularity of services such as these, has not only changed the habits of users, bringing to fashion, phenomena such as binge watching or second screen, but has inevitably forced the traditional players operating in each market to review their strategies
How has OTT TV viewing time varied, and how will it vary in the future?
No wonder that telephone operators now offer tariff packages in which data connections are increasingly important or that traditional TV stations are undertaking strategies that encourage multi-screening and that the advertising market has adapted to the presence of services such as these, inventing ad hoc formulas such as pre-roll or mid-roll and seeing many investments in this direction.
In conclusion, due to the rapid and continuous evolution of technology will reach increasingly high peaks and horizons further and further away, all this to move towards a future where technology as we know it today will be just a memory.