Fresh Meat! Sandvine’s Latest Work on Broadband Consumption Trends
By Sara Dirkse and Leslie Ellis
Sandvine released its Global Internet Phenomena report earlier this week, giving us a fresh look at how all these video streaming services — which we spend a whole lotta time studying — are performing.
Here’s the highlights.
Netflix continues to lead in fixed access (wired) downstream (toward consumers) traffic, with 31.6% of peak traffic during September. That’s down slightly, from 33% for the same period last year. But most of this data was collected before Netflix made SuperHD (1080P) content available to all subscribers – so Sandvine expects Netflix’s share of traffic to rally.
YouTube, on the other hand, grew 9% this year, and now accounts for 18.7% of peak downstream traffic. Together, YouTube and Netflix deliver more than half of all downstream traffic. (Note: This is only for fixed access — when it comes to mobile, YouTube tops the list — and Netflix comes in eighth. Go figure.)
File-sharing site BitTorrent continues to slide, netting just 4% of peak downstream traffic. BitTorrent remains #4 on the list of top traffic sources this year, but illegal/borderline illegal filesharing on the whole is losing traffic with gusto – more than a 20% drop over the past 5 years. This suggests that people will pay for streaming content, rather than going through the hassle, technically or morally, of downloading it illegally.
iTunes remains the czar of rental/VOD, in terms of traffic, but is down slightly in market share — dropping from 3.92% to 3.27%. Amazon also declined in viewing share, from 1.75% to 1.61%. That one surprised us, especially following reports of significant Prime subscriber growth in the past year.
Hulu cracked the Top 10 for the first time this year, with 1.29% of peak downstream traffic. Congratulations, Hulu. We’ll keep trying to remember to think of you first (or second, or third) when looking for stuff.
So thanks, Sandvine, for the update. There’s nothing like fresh data, from authentic spigots. It’s confirming to see some trends sustaining — like how streaming traffic continues to usurp peer-to-peer filesharing.
The jockeying of the streaming services, with toolkits inventoried with original content and service provider partnerships, are what we think will add the next contours of broadband consumption. We’ll be watching.
Much Ado about Aereo
On October 28th, Aereo came to Denver. It rolled out to the general public on November 4th, but we got early access because we preregistered months ago (and then routinely stalked Aereo’s website hoping for a rollout date.)
Aereo is over-the-air (OTA) television and local channels provided over the Internet – each subscriber has a remote DVR, plus a dedicated antenna, somewhere in a data center in Denver.
Maybe you’ve heard of Aereo in the context of the multiple lawsuits brought by broadcasters – Fox’s CEO publicly threatened to make all its content payTV only, and major networks such as ABC, CBS, and Fox filed lawsuits in multiple states. One or both seem destined to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
All this legal trouble stems from those antennas on the rooftop – Aereo claims that because each subscriber has a dedicated antenna, it is no different from getting those free-to-air channels using an antenna at home. Not surprisingly, broadcasters disagree — vehemently — and want Aereo to pay retransmission fees just like everyone else who carries their signals. So far, the rulings have been in Aereo’s favor, but another crop of lawsuits popped up in Utah on October 25th.
PayTV operators, which do pay handsome retransmission fees for those local channels, are of course watching these proceedings with great interest. A recent article in Businessweek says that DirecTV and Time Warner Cable are weighing similar technology options in the event Aereo prevails, and may have even considered buying the company.
We can’t help but wonder what would happen to the payTV ecosystem, were Netflix to buy Aereo. They both need each other — Netflix for live and linear; Aereo for a big catalog of on-demand fare. But we’ll set that aside for now.
So how does it work?
For $8/month, you get a single tuner and 20 hours of recording time. For $12, you can add a second tuner and increase your recording time to 60 hours. I doubt a second tuner or extra DVR space will get much use with 30 channels in our labs, but is probably a very sound investment for anyone who watches a lot of sports.
Aereo released a dedicated app for Android devices on October 22, and also works with iOS devices and web browsers. However, you won’t find it in the iTunes app store – you need to access Aereo’s website through Safari on your phone or tablet. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to drop a shortcut on your home screen so the end result is that you have an Aereo icon that takes you right to the website – virtually the same as using an app, and Aereo doesn’t have to give a cut to iTunes. Pretty clever, actually.
Aereo isn’t an official iOS app, but it’s easy enough to add an icon to your home screen.
Aereo works on Apple TV via AirPlay, and also has a channel on Roku. The Roku channel is not in the official channel store; you can only add it as a private channel. To do so, you go to the settings area of Aereo’s website and choose “connect to Roku,” then follow the link to Roku’s website to install the channel. Once the channel shows up on your Roku (I had to force a software update in order to see it), you just need to open it and type the confirmation code it displays into Aereo’s settings.
Aereo also has a “Two-screen Mode” for Roku that allows you to control Aereo from your iOS device:
Aereo on Roku, Two-Screen Mode. from Leslie Ellis on Vimeo.
In general, I like Aereo because it gives me a reliable way to watch local channels in an area where I can barely get an antenna signal. I’ve used a number of antenna-DVR combos, but more often than not my recordings were empty because the signal cut out.
But my Aereo antenna, about the size of a dime, is located on an undisclosed rooftop somewhere in Denver and gets an excellent signal – for the first time, I can get all the major networks, and I’ve yet to see a DVR recording that’s just a black screen.
Aereo suffers from my slow bandwidth connection, however (5 Mbps on a good day), so the video often pauses to reload even when on the lowest quality setting.
The playback on my Roku and my iPad appeared to be about equal on the Farm Lab’s DSL connection, and the two-screen mode on Roku worked equally well (this looks to be a Chromecast-type implementation where the Roku is retrieving the video from a URL rather than streaming it directly from the iPad). This also means that you can navigate to a different page or multitask on your device without interrupting the video.
Scheduling a recording from the iPad using Roku’s Two-Screen Mode.
Recording Options on iPad
However, using AirPlay with my Apple TV to watch Aereo was a different story. The video, which was streaming from my iPad to the Apple TV, paused to buffer so frequently that it wasn’t worth watching. AirPlay also relies on the app being up and the iPad screen active in order to work so there’s no multitasking, or even letting the iPad screen go dark as you watch TV.
Other than Aereo, the only way I can watch local news and major networks is using the Slingbox we have hooked up to our Comcast subscription in our Denver OTT lab. While the Slingbox does let me access a lot more content, I mostly find myself using it to watch live local news when there’s something going on.
This scenario is considerably better on Aereo, partly because the streaming quality is slightly more reliable than the SlingPlayer app, and I can watch it on my Roku. What’s more, the Aereo lineup in Denver includes 24/7 News (a subchannel of Denver’s channel 7), which plays the latest local newscast 24/7 – I really wish I had this for the floods back in September, and I’ll surely be tuning in the next time a blizzard rolls into Colorado.
But as much as I like having Aereo at the Farm Lab, there is one little thing I wish they’d change: As someone who uses TV as background noise more often than not, I like live TV because it’s linear – I don’t have to select another piece of content in order to keep watching. So naturally, I expected Aereo would work this way.
Instead, whenever a show ends, it pops up a message telling you to select something else. So if I get sucked into the first 3 minutes of whatever’s on next, I have to clear that message, navigate back through the guide, and find the current segment. Silly.
There are also a few glitches to be ironed out in the Guide by Time – future airtimes don’t list shows in the correct time slot – i.e. looking at the 5 pm slot actually gives you shows airing at 7, and because the guide is organized by show you can’t just tune in to a channel – you’re only given the option to schedule a future recording. It would be nice to have a “tune to this channel now” option in the guide.
The verdict: I’d really like to see Aereo make its linear experience a bit more linear, so that I can keep watching without constantly picking up the remote. But while it’s not perfect, Aereo is something that I can see myself using because my antenna reception is so awful. After buying expensive HD antennas and running extra-long coax all over the house, paying $8 a month for a reliable signal (and DVR) seems like a bargain, even if I should technically be able to get those channels for free.
More Open Source Lingo (Hello, Fork!)
ATLANTA–As expected, the annual get-together of cable’s technical community steamrolled a fresh mound of terminology into the field of view.
This year’s batch, wafting up from the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo two weeks ago, seemed less about tongue-twisting gibberish, and more about lingo swapping – particularly as it relates to the Wild West that is “open source” everything.
Here’s an example. “Intellectual Property leakage.” Abbreviated, IP leakage. Important: If life gives you cause to say it, do not say aloud the abbreviated version. Learn from those of us who fell prey to this linguistic trap, too many times – it’s but a variation of “it seems like IP everywhere!”
Intellectual property leakage is another early reason why cable technologists used to avoid dabbling in the open source software common to The Big Internet. Open source stipulates a “votes with code” mindset — participants contribute their efforts into a big, open repository, for anyone else to dip into.
This was seen as particularly risky when it came to set-top boxes, which contain things just too sensitive to be open. Like how encrypted signals are decrypted, for instance. Or how they tie fairly directly into things like billing data.
That all changed with the RDK – the Reference Design Kit. As was confirmed by panelists on an “RDK in Action” panel during Expo, RDK is the cable industry’s first real example of open source inside the set-tops and gateways cable operators buy to lease to consumers.
Concerns about being infected by the stuff of The Big Internet, coupled with the worries of Intellectual Property leakage, are why RDK is technically considered “shared source.” The difference between “open source” and “shared source,” very simply? The license. RDK community members gain access to the source code repository by signing a (zero dollar) license.
Then there’s the fork. Forks matter greatly in open source/shared source communities. This is more “fork in the road” than “put a fork in it,” although generally speaking, forks are bad. They happen when an open source effort decides to take a different technological course. Then, everyone who uses that code must decide: Take the fork, or stay on the original course?
This happened in September with one of the core components in the RDK stack – the web engine – which forked to a Google-built effort called “Blink.” Experts at the RDK panel at SCTE marked the development as “no biggie,” explaining that a tenet of RDK is to stay at the tip of the developments in the open source elements it selected. In other words, if Blink is deemed better, then so it shall be.
Bottom line: Cable going open source in its leased electronics is a new way of thinking about how it sources equipment. It’s part of the overall transition of the cable operator as an integrator, to the cable operator as an innovator, to quote Time Warner Cable SVP/technology Matt Zelesko, who added: “This is a key trend. It’s really important.”