Video drives most online content. Since the creation of film and television (TV), the recording, reproducing or broadcasting of moving visual images has fascinated viewers all over the world, resulting in some instances an addiction that gets many glued to cinema or TV screens for hours on end.
Over time, the distribution mechanism of video has undergone significant transformation; with digital technologies pushing new frontiers. One of the new evolving delivery mechanisms of film and TV content via the internet is called OTT, which means “over the top”.
OTT is a networking phenomenon which describes the delivery of services, applications or content over the internet by relying on network infrastructure which are owned and maintained by internet service providers and mobile operators.
OTT is any service which users consume on the internet but is not provided by an internet service provider or telecoms company by a third party relying on their network to provide mostly a free service but with no relationship with the internet provider. They are essentially providing the pipe to deliver content. Essentially, OTT applications rely on the internet to provide media and communication services while bypassing traditional cable and satellite distribution systems.
For example, a client can watch a TV show on a pay per view network. In this case, the network provides the services over satellite or other means and charges the consumer based on options they select. In the case of OTT, the consumer typically downloads an application from their preferred service provider, pays for internet access and then proceeds to watch TV content and programming for ‘free’. Some premium OTT providers may charge a minimum monthly fee, while others may require customers to view adverts in lieu of paying. Leading providers in the OTT space such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video offer video streaming services for a monthly subscription fee. The subscriber is able to consume their content such as TV shows, movies, videos, documentary or audio content over any internet-connected devices.
Usually, a lot of subscribers access these content on their Internet TV whereas consumers without such TV sets can purchase video streaming devices such as Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV which transform their ordinary TV into an Internet TV.
Beyond the use of OTT to deliver streaming videos on TVs, OTT can be found in the area of voice/video calls, for example skype or Facetime, WhatsApp for messaging on mobile devices, as well as gaming.
Net neutrality and OTT
A discussion of OTT cannot take place without net neutrality coming into play. Net neutrality can be described as the practice of internet service providers charging a higher fee for prioritisation of feed, which leads to faster content delivery. In essence, a consumer of OTT services pays higher or premium fees for their Internet use because they have signed on to value-descripted services and not just plain internet packets (neutrality).
OTT In Ghana
There are basically three broad types of OTT applications or services, namely voice and messaging, application eco-systems and TV. In Ghana, WhatsApp (voice and messaging) is the most popular OTT application. The second most popular is application eco-systems such as Dropbox, icloud and google drive, mostly used by corporates to store data and files. TV as an OTT service is fast catching up. There are a number of providers such as ZIP TV’s IPTV streaming platform which offers linear television, transactional Video on Demand (VOD), subscription VOD and set-top box (STB), as well as entertainment packages such as African Movies on the GO (AMGO) and IROKOtv Ghana.
A question which always arises is the regulatory frameworks which should guide such endeavours carried out in a country. With regard to such a framework for Ghana, the National Communication Authority (NCA) press release issued on Monday, May 9, 2016 (https://www.nca.org.gh/assets/Uploads/Press-Release-OTT-Services-v2.pdf) states: “[We are] reviewing the situation and will in due course take decisions for an enabling regulatory environment that will benefit all stakeholders, including both the operator and consumer.”
Advantages and disadvantages of OTT
Lower cost of content delivery, free communication opportunities, increased usage of the internet and an increased opportunity for content creators to distribute their content to a larger local and international audience cost effectively can be stated as some key advantages of OTT.
Some disadvantages, especially through the eyes of telecommunications and internet services providers, include a loss of revenue from SMS and phone calls. Security concerns are also mentioned when it comes to OTT since there is claim that these services are not secured.
In conclusion, the widespread availability of internet access, especially on mobile devices is providing a major boost for OTT providers and services. This is throwing a big challenge to traditional content providers who are now also looking into ways of leveraging this technology. Overall, OTT space is becoming very competitive; leading to more options for consumers with resultant lower charges as well. Ghana will need to invest more in leveraging the full potential of this fast-evolving technology.