The Cisco® Managed Media Solution 2.1 is a platform for delivering live and on-demand digital media, differentiating an operator's services from other content providers on the Internet. The Managed Media Solution allows high-speed data (HSD) operators to host content in the online video and addressable advertising markets from within their cable and wireline (DSL and FTTH) broadband access networks, while reducing expenses related to third-party hosting services and creating a new source of revenue and a clear return on investment. Operators can negate competitive threats, expand their advertising options, track content-consumption trends, and grow and retain their customer base-while delivering innovative media services and a compelling quality of experience that improves subscriber satisfaction.
There is a growing trend for HSD subscribers to watch streaming media over their high-speed connection, with their PC, IP-connected device, or personal media player. There are very few barriers to accessing third-party-hosted video on demand (VoD) and live streaming content and services today, with many services providing free access to their "premium" content. These services are offered by an entity on the Internet that is not within the last-mile of the Internet service provider (ISP) network. Such a service is accessed through that ISP's network and is perceived to be competitive to similar services offered by the ISP, commoditizing the operator's services. Furthermore, the number of hosting sites that offer over the top content is steadily increasing.
User-generated content has become a key contributor in the progression toward converged networks, forcing operators to expand their markets beyond their traditional connectivity methods in order to remain competitive. The Managed Media Solution provides the intelligent, rich-media transport for delivering multimedia to IP-connected devices and beyond, allowing operators to expand into these new markets.
The foundation of the Managed Media Solution is the Cisco Content Delivery System (CDS), which enables operators to provide differentiated content services to existing subscribers and future new markets, while retaining control of the content in distributed network architectures. When used in conjunction with a third-party asset-management solution, the Cisco CDS becomes an automated, end-to-end content delivery architecture, establishing a network-aware platform. Network awareness helps ensure that HSD subscribers are granted a greater quality of experience, similar to that which traditional MPEG video services experience at the set-top box today.
Content Sources Beyond Your Control
Today's savvy subscribers of HSD services obtain streaming video from sources such as Google, Joost, Yahoo, and hundreds of others worldwide. Unique challenges have evolved from trends created by the "be seen" communities such as Youtube.com and video.aol.com, which have created personalized ties between content and the consumer. As access bandwidth and bandwidth penetration rates increase, many Internet-based services are now expanding their offerings to include "broadcast quality" content significantly better than the low-bit-rate Internet video of the past. Millions of HSD subscribers have access to a wide array of streaming content, both professionally and individually created outside of their operator's control, in addition to contributing their own self-produced content. At the same time, many operators have access to a substantial number of video assets that are commonly overlooked as potential online content. It is not uncommon for an operator to be affiliated with one or more media companies, as well as with their local markets, which have content and addressable advertising focused on a respective local region.
Traditional video assets have been delivered over MPEG, rather than encapsulated in IP for delivery. The Managed Media Solution, with its distributed architecture, allows operators to deploy a system more open than the traditional server-cluster-based broadcast and on-demand system. The Managed Media Solution expands the operator's ability to interact with numerous content sources, applications, and access models, making it much easier to cache or pre-position content under the operator's control, as well as to participate actively in the delivery of premium and user-generated content markets. Each enhancement to operator control facilitates the marketing of an enhanced quality of experience for the subscriber, while enabling detailed content-consumption reports that the operator can use for future content production and distribution planning or revenue-related purposes.
The Cisco Content Delivery System
At the foundation of the Managed Media Solution is the Cisco Content Delivery System (CDS) for Internet streaming. The solution architecture enhances end-user services such as live PC-based television, VoD services, and subscriber-contributed content acquisition, distribution, and playback delivered to the PC, mobile wireless device, or IP-connected personal media player.
The Cisco CDS combines management, video ingest, storage, distribution, personalization, and streaming capabilities, as well as intelligent request routing, while supporting a fully redundant configuration at all levels. The Cisco Internet Streamers can be grouped into arrays for storage and streaming, with these arrays operating as a single logical system. Operators can easily expand capacity by simply adding additional Internet Streamers to a given regional data center. This network of Internet Streamers forms a virtual media platform designed to run the following Cisco Content Delivery Applications (CDAs) as shown in Figure 1:
• Cisco Content Delivery System Manager: A browser-based console for administering configuration, monitoring, and reporting for all Cisco CDS Content Acquirers and Internet Streamers network-wide
• Cisco Internet Streamer: Caches, personalizes, and streams RTSP, RTMP, RTMPE, and HTTP video to subscribers' PCs and personal media devices on demand, while tracking subscriber content-consumption statistics
• Cisco Content Acquirer: Ingests and repurposes content for delivery by means of RTSP, HTTP, and HTTPS before sending it to an edge Internet Streamer
• Cisco Service Router: Resolves subscriber and non-subscriber requests to the best-serving Internet Streamer device within a distributed network architecture
Figure 1. Key Components of the Cisco Content Delivery System
Creating Marketable Differentiation
Today, many subscribers use their broadband service to get premium content over IP directly from media networks and content providers that operate independently of the subscriber's high-speed data operator. Such content has become an increasingly viable alternative to traditional multi-channel services. This premium video poses a competitive threat to established operators who are not participating in new market trends. Opportunities exist for the operator to capitalize on the shift to distributing content through broadband. A move toward an IP delivery system saves capital and operational costs, creating new avenues for future differentiated services, and enables growth in addressable advertising revenue.
With the Managed Media Solution, video-over-IP applications scale by caching or pre-positioning on-demand video content as close as possible to the requesting subscriber, reducing bandwidth consumption on the access networks including FTTH, DSL, and cable networks. In addition, utilization of the traditional host video server is greatly reduced, because the Cisco CDS requests the media from the origin server only once, for both live and on-demand content-eliminating the need for thousands of server requests for the same content item by subscribers. Bandwidth consumption and server utilization within the headend data center are greatly reduced. Valuable usage scenarios for the Managed Media Solution include allowing for live and on-demand streaming delivery not only from the operator, but also from external third-party hosts. Figure 2 illustrates content acquisition by the Cisco Content Acquirer from a content origin server. The Cisco Content Acquirer then distributes the content to the downstream Cisco Internet Streamers.
Figure 2. Content Acquisition and Distribution
Live content is encoded in real time. From there, the live feed can be streamed over an IP network to the end user through the Cisco CDS hierarchical infrastructure. As a video stream traverses the network, the Cisco CDS acquires and distributes the content on behalf of the origin server, splitting the stream as necessary with any downstream Cisco Internet Streamers, as shown in Figure 3. Stream splitting can include stream transition from unicast to multicast, or multicast to unicast between Internet Streamer nodes, or can maintain the stream's original unicast or multicast form throughout the network. In this manner, the service increases network efficiency by reducing the number of duplicated streams from the source network, as well from the origin server, mirroring the distribution model of broadcast television programming.
Figure 3. Stream Splitting at the Cisco Internet Streamer
On-demand delivery involves content that has been stored in the Cisco Internet Streamer for subscriber requests. Content is ingested by the Cisco Content Acquirer and is pushed to the serving Internet Streamer's storage, or has been dynamically cached at the Internet Streamer based on subscriber demand. The video content is ultimately pre-positioned on the Cisco Internet Streamer closest to the consumer, in advance of the consumer's requests. As a subscriber requests content, the assets are served from the Internet Streamer closest to the requestor, thus reducing the load on the network infrastructure and origin servers, as shown in Figure 4. This service emulates a VoD application common in traditional cable set-top box applications.
Figure 4. Streaming of On-Demand Content
Dynamic caching of content occurs when a subscriber's request is routed to a specific Cisco Internet Streamer and the Internet Streamer does not have the content previously stored prior to the subscriber's request, as illustrated in Figure 5. The content is requested by proxy from the origin server, as shown in red, and is then stored at the Internet Streamer. The Internet Streamer simultaneously streams the media to the subscriber as it is received into the Internet Streamer, as shown in blue, preventing store and serve delays. Subsequent requests for the dynamically cached content are served from the edge Internet Streamer's storage repository. This is transparent to the user for on-demand content requests, and each request is stored within the Internet Streamer's transaction logs for any future reporting and billing.
Figure 5. Dynamic Caching
Streaming of live content from a third-party content provider or professional content creator presents an environment where the Managed Media Solution enables operators to interoperate with their hosting services. Operators can work with these content providers to host their content under the structured control of the Cisco CDS. To the CDS, the third-party content servers are no different than traditional origin servers of a live streaming service. The placement of content and its accessibility by the Cisco CDS remain under the control of the third party outside of the provider's network. The operator maintains control within the network, applying any redefined policies to streaming content served by Cisco CDS from the Cisco Internet Streamer to the subscriber.
User-generated content has become a major influence on the future of streaming media on the Internet. Presently, major hosting sites have drawn a significant amount of attention, creating interest by high-speed data (HSD) operators to host similar, competing services. Operators have expressed interest in developing their own "be seen" community services and hosting sites for subscriber-contributed content, to expand their brand identity. The Managed Media Solution provides the ability to acquire, distribute, and serve content from external hosts, using traditional "fetch" protocols such as HTTP, HTTPS or FTP, and RTSP, allowing for native transparent interaction with user-contributed content portals. When the Managed Media Solution provides the user-contributed content portal, in conjunction with an asset management system (AMS), content ingest, processing, and distribution of content throughout the network can all be automated for an easy-to-manage service offering.
Enhancing the Market for User-Generated Content
Operators who establish their own subscriber-contributed content portals increase brand awareness. For operators, the target audience is their subscriber, unlike other hosting sites whose interests are Internet users in general. The Managed Media Solution interacts with an operator's home-grown subscriber contribution system, allowing user-generated content to be acquired, distributed, and served to their HSD subscribers. The acquisition and distribution of subscriber-generated content takes place concurrently with all other content distribution within the same Managed Media Solution environment. To the subscribers, the content contribution process is no different from that provided through any other portal. They create the content, log into the user-generated content portal, enter descriptive information into the community portal, then upload the content.
Once the content has been uploaded into the subscriber Web portal, the content is transcoded into the standard portal format. With the assistance of an AMS, the content is placed in a location where the Cisco CDS then acquires it by means of either pre-positioning or dynamic caching, and content metadata is added to the subscriber portal for public access. The operator then has the option of applying bookend advertisements to the contributor's content, building additional revenue opportunity into each content entity uploaded into the user-generated portal.
New Markets: Beyond the Personal Computer
Portable media devices are among the "hottest" items on the consumer electronics market today, ranging from portable audio and video players to gaming and full-screen video playback devices. Mobile wireless devices have also found their way into this market, supporting live and on-demand content. Not surprisingly, these consumer devices, whether wired or wirelessly connected to a subscriber's HSD service, rely on content to maintain their usefulness. To satisfy the consumer's constant hunger for fresh and new content, the Managed Media Solution supports the ability to acquire content and distribute it to subscribers' portable and mobile wireless media devices over TCP/IP.
IP-connected subscriber devices extend Internet media playback beyond the traditional PC, expanding market opportunities for the operator where traditional wired subscriber endpoints no longer exist. Some devices may rely on the PC itself as a gateway to media sources, while others may connect to Internet sources through a wired or wireless connection via the subscriber's broadband gateway. New devices are introduced almost weekly; the Managed Media Solution addresses the typical media needs of a wide array of devices, including the delivery of live streaming content and on-demand content in Microsoft Windows Media, Adobe Flash, and Apple Quicktime formats.
In addition, gaming consoles gain expanded functionality with the wide availability of HSD connections. Internet-based hosts, peers, and multi-user games are all externally (Internet) sourced destinations where the Managed Media Solution can provide media for these new markets. Operators can use the Managed Media Solution to provide optimized audio, video, or unique HTTP content to gaming users today.
Within a wireline network, the combination of VoD traffic and Internet traffic can easily maximize the capacity of a given link. Oversubscription affects the viewing experience of the subscriber located downstream of the congestion. Admission control prevents such scenarios from happening, proactively surveying the network's current utilization state prior to serving requested content from an edge Cisco Internet Streamer. Some networks may be excessively over-provisioned in an attempt to accommodate all possible usage scenarios. An over-provisioned network is costly and continues to lack resource and utilization awareness for an operator's hosted content. Intelligent provisioning based on resource-availability awareness provides a better quality of experience when the edge network has reached capacity. The Managed Media Solution utilizes the Camiant Policy Server for network resource monitoring. Network resources are tracked for both VoD content destined for the IP set-top box, as well as content delivered from the Internet Streamer to a subscriber and the subscriber's IP connected devices.
As shown in Figure 6, the operator's operations support system/business support system (OSS/BSS) provides network resource state information, which the Camiant MPE Manager aggregates and provides to one or more Camiant Policy Servers deployed within the operator's network. Network resource information includes network topology from Cisco Internet Streamers to end users, including link capacity, device attachments, subscriber entitlements, and their allowed bandwidth usage. The Policy Server provides the required network-state information to the Camiant Content Delivery Application Manager (CD-AM), which responds to the Internet Streamer's request to deliver a requested stream. To complete the Admission Control process, the response to the Internet Streamer either allows or denies the stream's delivery to the subscriber. Admission Control is achieved once the Policy Server has validated that network resources are available for the requested stream, and the subscriber is entitled to the requested content.
Figure 6. Admission Control
Digital Rights Management
Digital Rights Management (DRM) maintains an important role in the Managed Media Solution, addressing a key challenge that many operators face today: how to accommodate the contractual requirements established by the content owner. The Managed Media Solution supports DRM for Microsoft's Windows Media and Adobe's Flash Media content. Not all video assets need to be protected by DRM, and certain content may be deemed freely available to the subscriber. Within the Managed Media Solution, DRM may be selectively applied via the Asset Management System (AMS), under the instruction of the operators or content owners themselves.
For content protected under the Managed Media Solution, the DRM server issues a license to a client requesting to view video content. Specifics such as play count and time expiration become valuable controls that the operator maintains before or during the content playback process. Managed Media Solution clients may play the content until a predetermined time before needing to request another license, or only a limited number of times before they no longer have rights to access the content.
Operators seeking to monetize the assets delivered by the Managed Media Solution require reporting tools that represent content-consumption statistics in an easy-to-read report or graphical chart. With the use of report-generation tools, transaction logs generated by edge-serving Internet Streamers can be translated to form graphical reports based on transaction log content.
The reporting tools used for statistics reporting of Managed Media Solution delivered content include the capability to allow the operator to establish different profiles or report formats. These profiles will allow the operator to customize the format of the report to the technical or business needs of a given department or content provider. An operator can create reports that represent consumption statistics for a given asset, group of assets, number of times an asset has been served, or the volume of bandwidth consumed by a given asset. Each unique statistic is relevant for those who fulfill business requirements, such as billing of content providers, or for planning for future content placement within the network. Figure 7 illustrates a very simple content-consumption report, including the number of times a given page has been viewed, the assets within the page downloaded, and the volume of bandwidth consumed in relation to specific assets under the control of the operator.
Figure 7. Content-Consumption Report Sample 1
Formatted reports include pie charts, bar graphs, or line charts, each based upon the contents of a transaction log, which can include details such as the client's media player, operating system, IP address, or country of origin. Operators require configurability; especially if they are transitioning from a third-party hosting service to a self-hosted Cisco Managed Media Solution. A flexible reporting application will allow for operators to tune their usage reports to match functionality that they may already be accustomed to, easing the transition from an external to internal content-hosting environment. Figure 8 illustrates a simple representation of bandwidth consumed, number of asset downloads, and the number of unique visitors observed by an edge Cisco Internet Streamer.
Figure 8. Content-Consumption Report Sample 2
Geographic Location Awareness
Operators might allow external access to their portal content by those who are not within the operator's data network. The Managed Media Solution provides an accurate method of routing off-network content requests to a Cisco Internet Streamer that is closest to the requesting user's geographic location outside of the network.
The Managed Media Solution's implementation of off-network request routing uses a third-party IP-address-to-geographic-mapping database from Quova to determine the precise location of content requests. Mapping allows for control based on country, state, city, or longitude and latitude coordinates.
With specific knowledge of the requestor's location, addressable advertising systems can serve suitable "local" advertisements and generate added addressable advertising revenue. Unlike traditional advertising to cable set-top boxes, which are installed in known locations, advertising to off-network requestors relies on accurately identifying the geographic location of the requestor's IP address. With accurate knowledge of the requestor's international location, relevant ad placement can now take into consideration city, state/province, and country data to place language-appropriate advertising in front of the content requestor.
As illustrated in Figure 9, a request arrives from an Internet user located in France. The Cisco Internet Streamer recognizes the geographic location of the requester, based on information provided by the geographic mapping server's knowledge of the requester's IP address. Policies are defined by the AMS, controlling which content is to be delivered to the requester-in this case, location-appropriate content with messaging in the requester's native French language.
Figure 9. Off-Network Geo-Mapping
Furthermore, geographic awareness through the Managed Media Solution allows operators to accommodate unique contractual guidelines that may have been established by the content owners themselves, requiring accuracy at the city or postal code level at a minimum. Also, accurate mapping of a requestor's geographic location fulfills a content owner's requirement for blocking access to specific live-streaming media events, such as sports broadcasts. Contractually, an operator may not be allowed to provide regional access to a streaming media event because of terms defined by the content owner or international regulations, similar to enforcing traditional RF broadcast "blackout" regions.
The Managed Media Solution includes asset management products from third-party vendors such as Anystream, ExtendMedia, and thePlatform. Camiant provides policy and entitlement control for cable and wireline environments. Flowerfire's Sawmill provides transaction log reporting functionality. Figure 10 shows a representation of third-party service-oriented products in relation to the Managed Media Solution. Encoding and transcoding products are not represented within this illustration.
Figure 10. Third-Party Components and the Cisco CDS
The Managed Media Solution provides the ability to control which content users are allowed to access, extending granular control to an identified domain within a requested URL. Using third-party entitlement products from Camiant, subscriber permissions are managed with rules. A Cisco Internet Streamer delivers the media to users, and actively participates in process of authorizing requests for subscriber content.
To assist the operator by checking that a provided URL of a given domain has not been altered, the Managed Media Solution's entitlement process verifies that a user is entitled access to requested content. Authentic URLs are necessary if the URL contains data in the query string used for logging and entitlement checks. Based on domain-name pattern matching, the entitlement process verifies that a URL has not been altered during the request flow. This feature integrates the Cisco Internet Streamer with the Camiant Policy Server through Camiant's CD-AM, which allows access networks to allocate resources.
Asset Management System
AMS functionality for the Managed Media Solution is handled by third-party vendors including Anystream, ExtendMedia, and thePlatform. An AMS consists of the storing, deleting, moving, encoder/transcoder control, and cataloging of live and on-demand content. The AMS provides the content and its related metadata for the automation and generation of the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). The EPG is the first place subscribers are given access to listings of what content is available to watch. An AMS system, when used with the Managed Media Solution, automates and generates the EPG, allowing subscribers to find content quickly and easily. Ease of use, quick performance, an intuitive layout, and descriptive information are all traits that will keep subscribers actively using the operator's online offering.
As broadband operators consider augmenting their existing video services, IP-based video presents an opportunity to provide competitive services and generate new revenue streams. The Cisco Managed Media Solution enables operators to promote their brand differentiation in multiple markets. Content acquisition, distribution, and delivery to subscribers are all handled by the Managed Media Solution, with the operator's network's ability taken into consideration for each stream served. High-quality streaming content grows brand loyalty and positions operators to compete with off-network commoditizing services. The Managed Media Solution supports reporting capabilities, which translates targeted advertising and premium content into new sources of revenue. The Managed Media Solution is a flexible architecture that serves live and VoD streams to both subscribers and non-subscribers who reside off-network. Operators can insert video advertisements that are relevant to specific markets and geographies. The same content that is broadcast over the RF network today can now be sent over high-speed data networks reliably, satisfying the demands and expectations of subscribers at their PC, IP-connected device, and personal media player. By using the network as a platform, advanced features such as QoS and Admission Control help ensure that the subscriber's viewing experience is among the best available today.
Furthermore, the Managed Media Solution makes content delivery a more interactive, personalized, and enjoyable user experience. Users can play, pause, rewind, and fast forward an IP video stream using native media-player protocols, paralleling capabilities they experience today at their set-top box, and from many outside "premium" content providers. An IP-based interactive viewing experience opens the door to subscriber-driven services, as well as potential new markets. With the Managed Media Solution, television-type commerce, geographically identifiable addressable advertising, and active participation with a user-generated content community become vehicles for brand differentiation, subscriber retention, and new revenue opportunities.