Technologies for distributing linear content over IP

05 May 2023

Linear content, including live TV and other scheduled content, is increasingly being delivered to consumers via IP networks. This move is being driven by both audiences and content providers. Audiences enjoy new features like higher definitions or the ability to pause content, while content providers are increasingly valuing those functionalities too as well as exploring new channels and targeted advertising. Meanwhile broadband networks and internet infrastructure players are innovating to find new ways to meet the demand for IP video content, especially the large peaks which might be generated by more linear TV viewing happening over the internet.

To understand how broadband networks and internet infrastructure players such as Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are innovating, we commissioned a study from Analysys Mason which is published below. This study gives an overview of the range of technologies capable of delivering linear content over the internet. These include technologies like unicast, multicast and ‘deep CDN’-assisted unicast. The report sets out the technical benefits of each technology, with a particular focus on efficiency of load on the internet and broadband network. The report also highlights other factors such as user experience and energy consumption as relevant to decisions on delivery technology.

Adoption of these technologies will rely on more than technical proficiency. Commercial arrangements between different stakeholders in the value chain will be needed to enable the coordination necessary for widespread adoption, and the report does not comment on the best way for these to be decided. For example, the report highlights that for some content types (especially linear TV content) multicast technology has been observed to be highly efficient in theory and in practice. This can reduce costs and environmental impact for broadband network operators.

On the other hand, multicast is also not straightforward to apply and requires some degree of end-to-end control for the broadband provider. Factors such as the need to ‘opportunistically’ switch between multicast and unicast delivery, the increase in non-linear and near-linear viewing, and the development of personalised linear channels and advertising are likely to restrict the applicability of multicast to some extent. The report concludes that a mixture of technologies are likely to be necessary, even for linear content.

Technologies for distributing linear content over IP (PDF, 399.3 KB)