Børre Sandvik
January 18, 2022

Why do you need an OTT CMS, and what is it anyway?

“So, what does your product do?”. Although it's been quite a while since any of us had the opportunity to present our products at an exhibition, this is the opening question in many conversations at the Vimond booth, both at NAB or IBC. And maybe the question is asked for a good reason. Around the area of our booth, you will see exhibitors with posters like: Online Video Platform, Video Streaming Platform, Content Management System, OVP, OTT Platform, OTT CMS. I could have continued. The terms are many, and maybe not as explanatory as we might think. You will see it in RFPs as well. Not just the terminology, but also the scope of what the various vendors can deliver will differ quite a bit, making a comparison of two vendors a challenge.

We see it in analytics reports. According to Frost & Sullivan´s report one of the top challenges in the industry is the lack of understanding among prospects and customers about the value proposition of an OVP. Also, with the number of features that have been associated with an OVP, the report points out that customers are confused about what essentially constitutes an OVP.  


As the report is using the term OVP, which stands for Online Video Platform, let's start with the definition:


An online video platform (OVP) is a fee-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) online content solution that enables content owners to ingest, transcode, store, manage, protect, publish, syndicate, track, and monetize online video.

 - Frost & Sullivan´s report


The OVP definition is a good start, but not enough to answer the opening question at the booth.


Earlier this year, the topic regarding the scope of an OTT CMS was discussed in Kauser Kanji´s VODProfessional debate show OTT Question Time. Here the term OTT CMS, or even just CMS was the predominant term. 


Let us get the definition of OTT out of the way as well:


OTT means an over-the-top media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the types of companies that traditionally act as controllers or distributors of such content.

-Wikipedia


In my day-to-day work, I have typically been using the term OTT Platform or calling our collection of products a Video Streaming and Content Management platform. To ensure I am using one term consistently throughout this article, I will use the term OTT CMS.  From a high level point of view an OTT CMS is a solution that provides functionality for content owners to ingest, manage and distribute their content to an OTT audience. It serves as the control center for the end-to-end OTT workflow, providing status overviews of workflows and integrates the various vendors throughout the whole value chain.


My aim in this article is to clarify what an OTT CMS is and why it is a critical part in any successful OTT video streaming service. In some areas I will use Vimond VIA and its features as examples. 


The end-to-end OTT video streaming service

Your end-to-end streaming service is of course more than just an OTT CMS. But since the OTT CMS plays a central part of controlling and connecting many of the services to work together end to end, let's start with a quick look at all the areas that typically will be included to offer a video streaming service to the consumer.


The OTT CMS ecosystem 


First, you need the end-user applications where you will engage with the consumer and make them able to find and watch your content on any device. You might build them yourself, or you choose a vendor. You want the consumer to become a registered user and subscribe to your service, and based on your subscription model, you might need a way for the consumer to pay for the service. Maybe it is ad based, and you will need an integration with an ad server. You might want to have a recommendation engine to promote the right content to your consumer based on previous user behaviour. You want to track the user behaviour of your service to gain insights, so you need the data to go to an analytics platform.

All of these things are not in scope for the OTT CMS. Yet, it is still essential that the OTT CMS is easy to integrate with, and perhaps more importantly, that many integrations are already in place so you can easily put together your preferred end-to-end ecosystem. 


The OTT CMS acts as the control centre of your end-to-end workflow, and is required to give you a good overview of the status of many of the surrounding services in your solution. You want one place to monitor the complete workflow. 


The scope of an OTT CMS

Let's describe the basics of what constitutes an OTT CMS. Basically, you need to be able to do three things, in addition to being the control center: 

  1. Get content into the system (ingest). The content is primarily metadata, images and video. 
  2. Work with the content (content management). Structure, curate, promote and enrich it to add additional information to serve its purpose for the end-user which is to build engaging and compelling end-user experiences.
  3. Publish and make the content available for distribution in multiple outputs. Create the business rules that define the availability in different regions, languages, multiple devices, blend in personalisation and ensure you adhere to your content rights.


Let's look a little deeper into the basic functionality.



Ingest of content

Ingesting content needs to be simple and intuitive. 


There are multiple ways of ingesting content. The easiest way, for non-technical staff, is by creating it through a user interface (UI). You type in all the relevant metadata such as title, descriptions and genre, and you upload images as well as the original video file which sends it through the transcoding pipeline. The upside is that it is easy, the downside is that it takes time as a manual task. 


Another approach is through a drop folder for the video file, with an additional XML file containing the metadata. In the case of an AWS S3 bucket, you can use S3 Event Notifications to trigger the ingest workflow when a file is uploaded.


Yet another is through a feed ingest mechanism, where an MRSS file describes a collection of video assets, and with a reference to where the video file is located. The system will then retrieve the video file and send it through the video transcoding pipeline. By doing it programmatically, you can also use the available management APIs directly to ingest. This approach is often used when the OTT CMS is integrated with an upstream broadcast system or a Media Asset Management System (MAM). 


(* A MAM is also a system for managing media content, videos and metadata. The metadata is quite often more technical in its description of the video content. The MAM system also holds the original video files in addition to the ones prepared for distribution to OTT services).


The latest addition to all of this is through content connectors. Content connectors are readymade plugins that make it easy to search and import content from third-party systems directly into the OTT CMS. You get presented with a preview of the available content in the system you are integrating with. Through the UI, you just mark the ones you want to ingest.


Manage your content

Once the content is available in your OTT CMS, you can work on it through the UI. 


Typically, you want to enrich your content with additional metadata, perform quality control by viewing the various video formats available, ensure that all episodes are available in the season, all subtitles in all languages are present, and promote your content for the end-user applications through curating it and building curated lists. You might want to add time-based metadata to your videos as well, such as creating chapter marks for each goal in a football match or marking the different news stories in your 9 pm news. Or you could even be more creative and mark the start of the most action-filled scene in a James Bond movie, enabling functionality to jump to that scene in your highlights reel. Maybe you also want to add trailers and additional material to the main video asset. 


For the editorial team, adding time-based metadata can be a vital part to create a more engaging user experience. To truly empower the editorial team to improve the viewer experience, they need to get data and insight into how the various pieces of content perform. For an OTT CMS that does not also handle the end-user traffic, this data will not be available to build insight upon.


This is key in defining the value proposition of an OTT CMS: Editorial staff can add additional value to the services by improving the end-user experience through metadata enrichment, specialised for the OTT services


In addition to work performed manually by the editorial team, you also want automation. The purpose of automation is to remove mundane and repetitive tasks. An example is to make the portal live through scheduled publishing or ensuring updates in the curated and featured lists of content throughout the day. Here, flexible and well-documented workflows and APIs are key.


You also need to ensure that you adhere to the content rights, meaning that content is published and unpublished according to what you have acquired the rights for. Can the content also be available in offline mode? Do you need to add DRM protection? Geo-blocking? All of this is typically controlled by an OTT CMS, with the integrations to services offering the core of the functionality.


Content also needs to be structured and categorised. If you are to monetise content, you need to package the content and map it to the products you sell. You want to define product packages, their prices  and map the relevant content to be included in the respective packages. And when a consumer hits play, you need to check if the user is entitled to watch the content.


Make the content available and distribute

Once you publish the content, it needs to be available in multiple outputs. The APIs need to offer business rules that define the availability in different regions, languages, platforms and devices and adhere to content rights windows. And of course, personalised based on your usage of the service.


You need to have efficient and flexible API´s to enable the discovery of the content available in your system. In today's market, you need to have flexible and scalable APIs that can take your service to a global audience. These are the APIs that are used to build your consumer-facing apps and web portals, and need to be cost-efficient. It is worth noting that not everyone defines these scalable APIs as part of the OTT CMS. The reason being that the non-functional requirements are fundamentally different from the backend editorial workflow. An OTT CMS that has scalable consumer APIs will enable you to collect valuable data about the usage of your service and gain insights about your consumers. A key differentiator in OTT services is the ability to know in real-time exactly how much content has been consumed from your catalog. 


The control center

The ability to control the various components that make up an OTT CMS is among one of its key benefits. The OTT CMS needs to be flexible and offer well-documented APIs on how to be integrated with. It also needs the ability to easily add new components and third-party integrations, and to enable flexibility in choosing the various best-of-breed components that you want in your service.


But what about other features that are typically associated with an OTT CMS?


What about transcoding - is that included?

Not the actual transcoding itself, but the workflow of starting the transcoding process, connecting the video outputs to the asset metadata, ensuring status monitoring from retrieving the mezzanine file to it is distributed to a CDN. Again, controlling the flow of activities needed to make the video available in the formats required. 


We call it VIA Orchestrate. VIA Orchestrate comes with a pre-integrated video pipeline using AWS MediaConvert and AWS MediaPackage.


What about live - is that included?

Here, the answer will definitely differ between the vendors. Surely, on the metadata side, it can be treated and ingested much the same as for VOD content. You can import the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) for linear live channels as asset metadata, make it available, and add in information about when the program is live. Typically, you only reference the output of a live stream encoder to distribute the live content. You can also do it in a similar way for ad-hoc live events. But viewers typically expect you to also have built-in live-to-VOD capabilities. Once the live event is over, you should be able to watch it on demand. Or even, if you are 5 minutes late, you should be offered to see it from the beginning, while the live event is still happening. So the level of integration with the live encoder varies, hence also limiting the functionality and control you have in the OTT CMS.


We call it VIA Live. VIA Live supports AWS MediaLive as an encoder, and includes live-to-VOD capabilities.


In addition, we have support to reference external encoders and live streaming services, where we handle and manage the metadata and can reference your existing live video setup directly.


End-user facing APIs and services

As mentioned earlier, due to the difference in non-functional requirements of a backend system and an end-user facing service, some vendors do not offer scalable end-user facing APIs. This can be worth noting if you are comparing two vendors. Even when the APIs are well-written and cost efficient, this is a major cost driver in any streaming service.


Vimond VIA comes with a cloud-native, cost-efficient, robust and highly scalable Content Delivery API, as we see it as an important component of an OTT CMS, giving you access to valuable consumer behaviour data.


Your place in the ecosystem and the marketplace

An OTT CMS needs to play well in an ecosystem of suppliers. Most of the streaming service solutions out there do not want a vendor lock-in, and they demand that your OTT CMS building blocks will work in an ecosystem with many other best-of-breed vendors. Being a central piece in the value chain where you are controlling the workflow, ease of integration is key.


Back in April 2012, AWS launched their AWS Marketplace, ​​where you can find and buy pre-configured software for the AWS Cloud. It serves as an online store that makes it easy to find, compare, and immediately start using the software you need for your business. We also see this is happening in the OTT space. One example is the Accedo ONE Marketplace. To quote my colleague Stein Erik Sørhaug, VP Channels & Alliances: 


“The Accedo ONE Marketplace gives customers that perfect one-shop stop for all the best of breed technologies that you need to build a successful OTT service.”


That clearly shows that ease of integration and interoperability needs to be a key criterion when choosing an OTT CMS.



Focus on your uniqueness - Let the OTT CMS handle the rest

Let the OTT CMS handle all the complexity around video streaming and content management capabilities, all the way from ingestion and controlling the transcoding, to media management and video playback.


Our focus is to make it easy for you to ingest, manage, discover and distribute your content. Through well-defined and well-documented APIs, UIs or content connectors, we are here to speed up your time-to-market with your content and streaming service.

We have everything you need to build a compelling and engaging video streaming service on top of our OTT CMS capabilities. 


Broadcasters and media companies are embracing multiscreen OTT strategies. If you are looking for a full end-to-end solution, with devices ranging from web, phones, tablets, AppleTV, Roku or CTVs, we have partnered with Accedo and their Accedo ONE platform. 


If you have a preferred choice of live streaming product, VOD orchestration tool, DRM provider, CDN, subscription management product, recommendation engine or more - we are either pre-integrated already, or it is easy for you to do the integrations yourself. We do not have to have control over all the components, our core is the control centre of your content metadata, its workflows.


----------------------- 

1 Frost Sullivan - Global Online Video Platforms Market, Forecast to 2023

http://www.vodprofessional.com/2021/08/30/ott-question-time-41-ott-content-management-systems/ 

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over-the-top_media_service 


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