Migrating to IP-HTTP: How Canadian TV Service Providers Can Comply With CRTC Practices, Including Simultaneous Substitution
November 12, 2019
The TV industry in Canada is facing many changes, with the two main trends:
- Legacy Canadian operators are migrating from traditional QAM or TS-based delivery to IP-HTTP (HLS or DASH) delivery, mainly for efficiency, modernism and to better address their customers’ needs.
- New actors, traditionally focusing on providing broadband service only, are currently adding TV services to their offering. Arriving late to the market, they are building a video platform from scratch based on the latest technologies, such as HLS and DASH.
You can learn more details about this migration to IP-HTTP video streams in my recent blog post. It is focused on the U.S. market, but most of the topics raised in the article apply to the Canadian market, too.
Even though it is a future-proof technology based on its flexibility (open standard) and versatility (multiscreen delivery), IP-HTTP streaming protocols still need to comply with traditional regulatory practices. Here we will discuss in more detail the case of simultaneous substitution (also known as SimSub [my favorite nickname 😊], simsubbing or signal substitution). It is mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for Canadian cable TV, direct broadcast satellite (DBS), IPTV, and MMDS television distribution companies.
Legacy platforms, such as cable, satellite and traditional IPTV, are currently dealing with that at the multiplexer level, which is hardly usable with HTTP for two main reasons: it is cost prohibitive, and the implementation is too complex on the player side.
Nevertheless, with the right technology, SimSub is easily deployable with HTTP streaming formats. Even better, it can be a source of monetization opportunities and allow you to comply with legal and distribution requirements.
What exactly is SimSub?
The concept is to force the distribution of the signal of a local/regional TV channel in place of the signal of a foreign/nonlocal television station, when the two stations are broadcasting identical programming simultaneously.
This is in order to make sure TV viewers always see the commercials that are paid for and meant to be distributed in a certain region.
Let me try to illustrate with a use case:
- Imagine John, a Canadian TV viewer who is tuning his STB or his phone to a U.S. broadcaster on cable TV. John is looking to watch the Olympics, the Stanley Cup or a TV series.
- If a Canadian broadcaster has acquired the rights for that particular content and is showing it in Canada at the same time, the TV service provider shall force John to watch the Canadian linear feed, in particular, the Canadian commercials.
- Additionally, when the same content, like “The Sopranos,” is broadcast in GTN Toronto, GTN Montreal, GTN Ottawa, and GTN Vancouver simultaneously, all the feeds in the Toronto region (for instance) will be forced to the GTN Toronto versions so only the advertisements of GTN Toronto will be viewed. In that case, you can imagine that if a user tunes to CTV Toronto, he will actually see CTV Montreal.
Which particular requirements should SimSub comply with?
- You need to be able to manage SimSub events many days ahead. Most of the slots are known in advance and can be automatically applied to a scheduled time.
- Some SimSub switches are related to sport games. Based on what happens during the event (i.e., overtime, cancellation, postponement), a manual intervention could be necessary to make the substitution at the right time.
- As explained above, the SimSub switches could be different based on the region. Regionalization is an important parameter to take into account.
- The slots information is usually provided out-of-band by a third-party company aggregating information from broadcasters (e.g., Mediastats or Broadcast Control Inc). It typically comes in a XLS, DBF or CSV format and contains the following: channel simsubbed from, channel simsubbed to, begin datetime, end datetime, if begin/end times are live and has to be monitored.
How can Broadpeak help you to deliver SimSub?
Broadpeak offers a comprehensive solution composed of two main products:
- BkM100 Video Delivery Mediator, which uses open REST API to ingest SimSub events. With the BkM100, you can control Broadpeak’s BkYou Manifest Manipulator. By forwarding the info coming out-of-band from the third-party aggregators to the BKM100 APIs, you can schedule all of the slots in advance. The manager will then be in charge of conveying the info to the pool of BkYou manipulators in charge of the manifest deliveries to either a CDN or directly to the end user. It is fragment-based and real-time sensitive, so you can manually intervene, if necessary.
- Broadpeak’s BkYou Manifest Manipulator relies on the manipulation of the manifests that are used to announce to a player what chunk of video it should request. In case of a SimSub event, the manifest sent by the origin server is modified by BkYou in order to reference the targeted channel to substitute instead of the channel that was substituted. That modification is done using end-user geolocation information, which is coming from the HTTP GET done by the client. BkYou uses either the IP address or query parameters to identify where the end user is from.
These two components are deployable in a full Broadpeak ecosystem (which includes the BkS350 Origin Packager and BkS400 CDN Streaming Server) or with any other origin and CDN. No change to the existing workflow is necessary to use this technology. It can be hosted over a public or private cloud, or on-premises, which enables service providers to have a more flexible solution design.
What additional opportunities does SimSub offer?
By putting in place a manifest manipulation capability on the video platform, service providers can eventually manage additional use cases:
This is a requirement coming from the TV programmers themselves. It asks for a full switch of a complete program to a slate or to other random content because the rights are not available in a dedicated region.
A good example is city-based: if a stadium is not filled to capacity, the local game cannot be transmitted in this city but can still be transmitted nationally. A service provider would have to switch to another TV network during this event for an end user tuning in this particular city. For instance, a Toronto Maple Leafs game on GlobalTV is replaced by CTV in the Montreal market.
Other rules are also applicable based on the device used for playout. For instance, a stream on a mobile device may respect more blackout periods than on an HDMI1 STB, which is another complexity to manage for cable operators switching to OTT.
As you can imagine, everything we manage to do for SimSub is also applicable for blackout. Blackout can be also triggered by in-band cue tones (even though unfortunately not all programmers are using those flags today), such as SCTE 35 tags (delivery restrictions parameters in segments_descriptors). BkYou can recognize those to activate the switch.
National and local public warning, recognized as “Alert Ready” in Canada, or EAS (“Emergency Alerting System”) in the U.S., is a requirement coming from the CRTC and the FCC. TV service providers need to relay emergency messages at any time, for any screen and any services.
By using BKM and BkYou, the content watched by end users is replaced by a national or a regional live feed showing the alert message seamlessly within 10 seconds. At the end of the alert, the HLS or DASH streaming session is played back from the point of interruption, which is a pretty innovative solution – the traditional solutions involving an interruption of service.
Please note that the system can be, once again, triggered by out-of-band (API REST calls) or by in-band (multicast or EAS-net) following current integration work done with the main alert providers, such as Monroe or Viavi.
- Targeted Ad Insertion
With BkYou in place, service providers can now activate dynamic server-side ad insertion in order to capture additional revenue. This may involve inserting new advertisements (generally for VOD channels) or replacing existing ads with personalized ones (generally for live and nonlinear channels). The intent of this blog post isn’t to provide too much detail about our ad insertion solution. That would warrant a full blog article, in itself, but it’s important to know that the BkYou can use static rules or rely on SCTE 35 tags for dynamic substitution. It is agnostic to the ad decision server and can roll with any legacy solution, such as Freewheel or Cadent. It also works with web-based vendors, such as Google Double Click, for example. The overall solution handles ad blockers and track ad skippers and can provide a full range of analytics coming from the servers or the players using our SmartLib for ad tracking.
Manifest Manipulation: A solution to comply with rules, and also to open new lines of business
As explained above, SimSub is a mandatory practice in Canada. Legacy solutions are too costly, complicated, and are not future-proof. That’s why Broadpeak came up with a range of products to meet the requirements, as well as open up new areas of business for service providers.
If you are currently or on your way to delivering video over IP with HTTP, the Broadpeak NAM team would love to discuss more details about our existing deployments and provide you with some best practices.