On Demand Entertainment - Dream or Reality?

Date:   Sunday , October 27, 2002

PETER PARKER, A STANFORD ALUMNUS AND A college football fan, is currently on a business trip in Boston. Peter wants to watch the Stanford-Berkeley game playing that day. No problem! Peter picks up his cell phone and calls for “sports,” one of the services offered by his cell-phone carrier. The voice-detection system activates the sports service with a quick welcome prompt. Peter says “football” followed by “Stanford” and “today's game.” The system checks for his location and confirms that he is not near Stanford and is eligible to receive the game.

The cell-phone service provider then orders the “Stanford-football-game” video-on-demand service by contacting the college football game distributor services. The distributor checks the validity of the carrier service and sends back the appropriate information, such as the time and price of the game. The East Coast time for the game appears on Peter's screen followed by the price for ordering it on demand. Peter selects to pay by hitting a key on his keypad.

Within seconds, his order is processed and his hotel information appears on the screen asking for confirmation. This information appeared on his cell phone automatically because when Peter checked in to the hotel, he had ordered “booking the hotel” and “payment for hotel” on-demand services and had granted permission to save this information in his profile. He hits “OK” and the carrier service provider activates the video-on-demand service. Infrastructure services, such as “video-on-demand server” and “connection bandwidth,” are also activated and Peter gets to watch his favorite game on the television in his hotel room.

Is this a dream or a reality? While not yet a reality, this scenario, from a technology perspective, is plausible-if not today, then at least in the near future. Below, we'll define exactly what it takes-from services to technologies to financial, organizational, and business model issues-to make Peter's football fantasy a dream come true.

What's Behind Entertainment-on-Demand Services?

In the scenario described above, an ecosystem of various service providers-including mobile carriers, content providers, and others (hotels, credit card companies, and so on)-partner to offer Peter an integrated, seamless "entertainment on demand" experience. Broadly put, five distinct services were activated on demand in this example:

• Ordering the sports event • Authorization and authentication

• Transaction processing • Content delivery-on-demand • Viewing-on-demand

Whether a mobile carrier or a sports distributor, neither service provider is responsible for just one of these five services, but for a portion of the sub-services under each of them. Additionally, it's important to note that except for the “content delivery-on-demand” component, most of the functionality needed to deliver the other four services (ordering, authorization/authentication, transaction processing and viewing) is already available within the existing IT infrastructure of the participating enterprises, embedded within their ERP, Order Management, and CRM systems. Wrapping in this legacy functionality using technologies and standards (such as SOAP/XML) and offering it as a set of Web services require some work but are relatively straightforward, making the entertainment services-on-demand scenario even more likely. Let's take a closer look then at the "content delivery-on-demand" service to see what enabling technologies are needed to activate it in order to successfully deliver the Stanford-Berkeley game to Peter's hotel room.

Two categories of enabling technologies are essential to activating the content-delivery-on-demand service: content management and content distribution, which involve the following components:

Content distribution infrastructure

• Streaming and broadcast/multicast: Streaming is the ability to distribute continuous digital content over networks in real-time. Multicast is the equivalent of broadcast for the Internet and is used mainly for streaming live content.

• Download: It costs more to stream than to download and, in some cases, if the content is small and not necessarily live, it is more practical to download it to the end-user's devices.

• Content caching: There are many approaches to accelerating the delivery of content by staging it at points along the edge of the network, closer to the requestor: o Push: When a user requests content, it is downloaded from the origin server and is also stored on the ISP's caching server closer to the user. All succeeding users who request this content located close to the caching server are served from the caching server, instead of the origin server. o Intelligent Push: The content distributor dynamically analyzes where the content should be deployed and pushes the appropriate portion of the content to the edge of the network. o Routing/Bandwidth Management: Routing and bandwidth technologies adjust bandwidth allocation dynamically, depending on the audience size, expectation of quality of service, geographic spread of the target audience, data file size and mode of deployment .

Content Management infrastructure

• Digital Asset Management (DAM): Digital Asset Management is a set of coordinated technologies and processes that allow quick and efficient storage, retrieval, and reuse of digital content files.

• Digital Rights Management: Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology has historically been viewed as the methodology for the protection of digital media copyrights. DRM refers to any series of enabling technologies and services that together control, create, protect, market, and maintain business rules for the use of any digital content in public or private networks. There are many subcomponents of DRM, including:
Contracts management: Contracts rights involve the legal agreement between the content creator and publisher, or between publishers.
o Usage tracking: This is the technology that tracks the usage of the content delivered to the client and appropriately reports the usage information back to the contracts management system.

o Encryption: Encryption is used for protecting the content. It requires the exchange of keys used for encrypting the content, encrypting licenses, or encrypting digital certificates.

o Watermarking: Watermarking is the imperceptible insertion of information (visible or invisible) such as text or numbers into content.

• Portal Management: Traditionally known as content management, Portal Management is the technology for managing information on portals. The functionality supported by portal management includes: roles-based access, aggregation, segregation, personalization, authoring, collaboration, and workflow (edit, review, publish) management, and library management. For example, in Peter's case, the “cell-phone” screen is the portal that delivered all the information Peter needed to order the game.

Now that you have an idea of the technologies behind “entertainment services on demand,” you're probably wondering what it takes for this to become a commercial reality. Technology is the easy part; the hard part is addressing the fundamental business model: the financial and infrastructural issues.

The most important issue to address is the question of how to create a compelling value proposition. Which entertainment services will the customer (in our case, Peter) pay for? How much is he willing to pay? How could Peter's experience be enriched? Will Peter pay more for value-add services, such as interacting with his classmates who are also watching, or accessing statistics on any player? What rights does Peter have over the game video? Is he allowed to save the game for later viewing with his wife who missed it live, or can he email specific clips to his friends?

While the financial transaction behind this one media sell may be small, the context surrounding it-for example, knowledge of Peter's tastes and preferences-may be worth a whole lot more. In this scenario, Peter could order the service quickly, because the service providers knew Peter's current location and credit card number. Who owns all this information? Can they save it? Can it be used to remind Peter of the next Stanford game? Can it be sold? These are all issues that must be addressed before entertainment services on demand can happen.

Finally, in this example, Peter's mobile carrier knew who he was and where he was, enabling Peter to check into a hotel room, as well as to order the game. Would Peter have bought the same services if he had to sign up separately with each provider involved in this scenario and pay multiple bills? Would the added cost and complexity have changed his behavior? Who is responsible for ensuring the coordination and collaboration among all providers? How do all ecosystem members make money, and what motivates them to collaborate?

While these are difficult issues to face, the fact of the matter is, if businesses innovate and offer compelling, reliable services at reasonable prices, customers will pay. As mentioned earlier, most of the functionality needed is already available and embedded within existing ERP/Order Management systems. Providers simply need to wrap Web services around them. The challenge of deploying the missing technology pieces-in this case, the content delivery infrastructure - can certainly be tackled today by solving the technology problems.

The most critical task left, then, is solving the fundamental business model, ecosystem, and infrastructure issues. When these challenges are successfully addressed, you too will be able to enjoy your favorite football game at any time, no matter where you are in the world.

Pallavi Shah is the Market Segment Manager for Digital Media, Content Management, and Video infrastructure at Sun Microsystems.