2024 Video Tech Predictions

You’ve probably already seen a bunch of predictions about streaming in 2024. Maybe Evan Shapiro? Maybe Thierry Fautier? And while these are excellent sources for looking at streaming as an industry or a business, I’m not really interested in that. As the Executive Director of the Streaming Video Technology Alliance, I sit in a unique position: I am privy to the technology discussions and challenges driving the streaming industry forward. Of course, those don’t just happen within our working groups. It’s why we have liaisons and working relationships with so many other organizations. Collectively, all of our organizations are helping to smooth out, and sometimes set forward, the technological path of our industry. So my predictions will focus on that: on the technologies that streaming operators evaluate, test, and eventually implement (or abandon) as part of delivering a high-quality video experience at scale.

My Thoughts On Making Predictions

Technological change does not happen overnight. Big companies are hard to move. Because new technologies can potentially interrupt revenue streams, testing and implementation can take months or even years. And that, inherently, impacts the ability to make predictions. Anyone who says, “next year will be when all streaming companies implement XYZ technology” doesn’t understand the technological inertia of an already established industry like streaming. What’s more, in some cases, it’s not the technology itself but the way in which it is implemented (i.e., cloud versus on premises).

Before I Get To Making Specific Predictions…

Because of the pressure around profitability, I see a lot of the resources once allocated to emerging technologies (AR/XR/VR, Web3, Ultra-low Latency, Commerce) being shifted to technologies that directly support subscriber retention: service resiliency, scalability, QoE, etc.

2024: What’s Going Up and What’s Coming Down

I’ve decided to take a simple approach to my predictions by addressing key technologies as either “coming up,” meaning there will be more resources spent towards implementation, or “coming down,” meaning there will be less resources allocated. I’m going to start with technology buckets and then dig into specific technologies.

Bucket Up or Down? Thoughts
Security Up I’ve addressed this in a section below, but a lot of attention will be put on this in 2024.
Commerce Down The idea of purchasing directly from within a streaming video (or even through surrounding elements in a player) is definitely plausible. But, this just isn’t panning out right now to make it a financial priority when keeping subscribers is far more important.
Advertising Up With the growth of FAST, all streaming operators are realizing that they are leaving money on the table by not showing ads. But the implementation is complicated and hard to scale. Lots of effort going into this in 2024.
Interactivity Down Disagree with more or not, if the viewing experience sucks or the content library is lacking, no amount of interactivity, whether Web3 or otherwise, will help keep subscribers.
Delivery Up There is always emphasis on improving the delivery architecture. Tech like Open Caching is promising to unify the management of delivery architectures.

Cloud: A Little Up [12]

The cloud is proving to be a way to save costs and an operational nightmare at the same time. DevOps pipelines have become more complicated to account for container and cloud deployment across multiple providers. But the general migration to the cloud continues as traditional datacenter-based or on-premises systems are virtualized. Of course, there are exceptions.

Cloud Side Note: The Edge (A Little Up)

First, it’s hard to define the edge as there are many of them so this category more closely relates to the use of compute resources closer to the viewer. This could be at the edge of the ISP network, within the home, on a mobile phone, etc. Streaming operators are going to continue to experiment with closer placement of key elements, such as server-side ad stacks, to reduce the impact of round-trip time and other latency. But, the edge isn’t for every use case and part of the slight growth of this in 2024 will be figuring out the use cases that work (and don’t work) for edge deployment.

Cloud Side Note: Serverless Functions (Coming Down) [15]

There was a lot of hype about serverless functions over the past few years but it hasn’t really panned out. Yes, there are uses of Lambda and other functions to trigger elements within DevOps pipelines, but there hasn’t been the full-scale disassembly of streaming workflow components into serverless functions. It’s probably a combination of the infancy of the cloud edge with experimentation still happening around the feasibility of serverless-function based services within the workflow. But, like other non-revenue focused technologies within the stack, experimentation may still happen, just with a lot less resources.

Cloud Side Note: Encoding In The Cloud (Coming Down) [11]

Encoding and Transcoding in the cloud is expensive. There’s no way around it, especially for FAST channels and live providers. I have heard lots of grumblings about moving encoding out of the cloud and back to the datacenter, especially using ASIC-based VPUs (like those from Netint). I think 2024 will end up with some good case studies from major streaming platforms about doing this. Do I think ALL encoding will move on-premises? No. I think operators will probably take a two-pronged approach with some encoding virtualized but most of it physical.

AR, XR, VR: Coming Down [1]

Unfortunately, I think we are coming into the “trough of disillusionment” (Gartner Hype Cycle) for these technologies. Do I feel that there are practical applications in other industries? Sure. But the value within streaming is still questionable given that the hardware still isn’t ubiquitous. Yes, some of these can be used through common devices like smartphones and computer browsers, but it’s not the same as having an HMD. 2024 will see the attention turned away from the “glamor” and “hype” of these technologies to more practical concerns, such as scale and video quality.

Ultra-Low Latency Streaming: Coming Down [2]

There is a very small subset of use cases, such as betting and interactivity, which really need ultra-low latency technologies, such as WebRTC and HESP. Regular live sports do not. But technologies like WebRTC and HESP have constraints. Where WebRTC is not that scalable, HESP requires a special player plugin. The combination of the lack of demand for these subset of use cases, combined with the technical issues involved in deployment, will see resources that might have been put towards implementing these technologies allocated to other, more pressing concerns.

Web3: Coming Down [10]

Although companies like Eluvio have shown that Web3-based streaming can work, the overall drop in interest for Web3 elements like NFT, will put a damper on streaming operators experimenting with these implementations. Yes, some still will but Web3 is probably in the same place as AR/VR/XR: the Trough of Disillusionment.

Web3 Sidenote: Blockchain (No Change) [7]

There has been a lot of talk about the blockchain (or just distributed ledgers) being a way to better protect streams or even provide a way for individual content owners to monetize their assets (without giving up a lot of the revenue to platforms like YouTube). But everything here is still very theoretical. Sure, there have been some successful implementations, but not at scale and not in a way that makes sense for a major streaming operator to allocate resources for implementation. Lots of experimentation still happening.

No-Code Platforms (Coming Up) [14]

One of the biggest developments we saw in 2023 was how fast operators could spin up new FAST channels. Lots of technology vendors came to the stage with platforms that allowed companies to quickly build, configure, and deploy new streaming services. In fact, it’s a testament to how much this part of the technology landscape has matured. But many of these platforms are still complicated to use. New platforms, like Norsk, are providing visual-based, drag-and-drop interfaces (and even ChatGPT-based approaches), to setting up new streaming workflows in just a few minutes. This cures a huge number of headaches, from DevOps to Engineering, and allows streaming operators to get to market faster with premium offerings in new workflows.

QUIC: Coming Up [13]

There is a lot of movement right now around employing QUIC for delivery of media. IETF is working on Media-over-QUIC (MoQ) while streaming and network operators are actively implementing it to test in real-world scenarios. But it’s still in its infancy. The SVTA will be publishing results of a QUIC vs. TCP for Media Delivery whitepaper by the end of the year which will show that a wholesale swap of one protocol for the other isn’t the way to go. But that just means that 2024 will be a year of continued testing and experimentation.

Context-Aware Encoding: Coming Up [3]

It’s clear that applying different encoding profiles to different frames of a video (depending upon what’s happening) is more cost-effective and efficient than just encoding a video with a single profile. What we will see in 2024 is continued use, and refinement, of this technology. Whether that’s through better algorithms or the use of AI/ML remains to be seen.

Open Caching: Coming Up [4]

The SVTA has been working for quite some time on the Open Caching family of specifications but 2022 and 2023 saw a lot of codification of those specs into a testbed and actual implementations. More operators are coming to the table as well as revealing performance data of working Open Caching services. 2024 will continue to see more interest and adoption in Open Caching as well as extension, such as into home storage.

Server-side Ad Insertion: Coming Up [5]

While there has always been an ad tech stack and ad insertion within streaming video, ad blockers and other technologies available to consumers have made it challenging to deliver ads via client-side ad insertion. It’s not a question of implementation, but of reporting. Client-side ad insertion, which can be rife with fraud, is difficult to verify reporting data to ensure contractual obligations are met. Server-side ad insertion solves many of those problems but is difficult to implement and scale in a way that doesn’t impact the viewer experience (i.e., more buffering or latency). 2024 will see continued work to improve server-side ad insertion, at scale, and implementation by more streaming operators.

Real-Time Watermarking: Coming Up [6]

Sure, DRM is a pretty effective way to protect content. But it was never made to stop all piracy attacks. Encryption, which can be broken if operators are careless about keys, never really foresaw the many ways bad actors would try to pirate content. Real-time watermarking, though, which generates a mark based on individual details from the viewer, portends a way to protect content regardless of where it might end up. The issue with this approach, though, is scale and the impact to latency. Unlike other watermarking or even DRM, which protects the content prior to streaming, this “bump in the wire” approach can impact QoE.

Player Codebase Unification: Coming Up [8]

Device fragmentation is a real problem for streaming operators. It’s not the modern devices which create this, but all the legacy devices that are still in the wild and still need to be supported. The result for DevOps is dozens of player codebases to maintain. A recent project by the SVTA, the Common Media Library, presents an opportunity to unify common functions across open-source codebases so that maintenance becomes significantly easier: an improvement or change to one feature can be pushed across all supporting players rather than individually having to make the change to each representative feature in each codebase.

Content Steering: Coming Up [9]

As more operators leverage multiple CDNs to ensure a high-quality streaming experience, they need an effective way to switch to different delivery providers. Recently, HLS and DASH have implemented player-based approaches to content steering, making it far easier to redirect streams to different providers. This work will expand in 2024 to include more players and server-side components.

Deeper Perspective: Technology Radar

Of course, the concepts of “going up” or “coming down” are pretty nebulous when it comes to actually doing something! As such, I’ve put together a TechRadar with all of the predictions and how they might be addressed in 2024. Note that the categories aren’t the best so I am working on hosting this to be able to change the category names but at least it’s a placeholder for now. Given that I have just pasted in a screenshot of the techradar below, I have added bracketed numbers to each of the predictions above to be able to find them in the image below.

A Final Thought About Security in 2024

Right now, a lot of theft is happening. It may be actual files off a network (as in the recent Sony theft) or stream leakage (where pirates are stealing from CDNs and source URLs to rebroadcast through their own services). Whatever the case, it’s happening and it’s costing content owners a lot of lost revenue (in the billions of dollars). And there are a lot of ways to protect content and protect the network but not everyone is doing what they need to and not every protection technology is as effective as it needs to be. 2024 will see streaming operators leaning more heavily into security to protect valuable content assets. This will include not only continued work in improving DRM and watermarking, but also other aspects like CDNs and conditional access. There is already work being done at CTA-WAVE to standardize CDN Tokens and the SVTA is readying a “security checklist” to help streaming operators understand how they are protecting all the potential attack vectors.