How iview Is Costing The ABC A Fortune

The ABC's iview service is by far the best catch-up TV service in the country. Success comes at a price, however: the service is so popular that it is costing the ABC millions of dollars each year for content delivery networks (CDNs).

TV Tonight reports on remarks which ABC director of television Richard Finlayson made on the ABC's PM radio program:

We have to pay every time a video is initiated. We have to use a content distribution network and that's in the millions of dollars a year at the moment for the ABC. Every dollar that we spend on that is a dollar we can't spend on content going onto the screen.

Prices for CDNs have fallen heavily in recent years, but at this scale it's still an expensive business. Any suggestions for how the ABC might reduce that cost? Share them in the comments.

iview costs hitting ABC Hard [TV Tonight]


Comments

    Unfortunately, I'm sure the Abbott camp has already drawn up some plan for the iview service offered by the ABC for free . I myself would much prefer paying more in the levy to keep that great service going, an extra dollar from each and every one of us would be a hell of a lot cheaper and affordable than any Neo-lib plan. keep up the wonderful work ABC. JP

    They could negotiate with ISP's - $5/month on top of every internet plan, for the privilege of having iView not count against monthly quota?

    Or, better yet, negotiate better deal with avaricious content providers...

      They could negotiate with ISP's - $5/month on top of every internet plan, for the privilege of having iView not count against monthly quota?

      How exactly does that make it cheaper for the ABC ? You're suggesting that the ABC subsidise everyone's internet plan ?
      I haven't had a coffee yet, so entirely possible I'm reading your comment wrong..

        I believe the proposal was something along the lines of:
        Users pay $5 to ISP
        said $5 goes to ABC
        User can now watch as much iView and not have it count towards their download limit.
        ???
        ISP profits

        He's suggesting that the ISP charge $5/month for those wanting iView omitted from their quota, and pass some of that money on to the ABC.

        I can think of one way that this could be implemented, but there isn't much of an incentive for the ISPs to do this. Quota-less content is a selling point for them; this would make it less attractive while raising resentment in customers.

          Ah ok, that does make more sense, though it would exclude all of iiNet's customers - they get it quota free anyway.

    I understand having a CDN for global content delivery. But if you only have you end-users in a single country why would a CDN be so pricey? I mean for Australia you maybe have a server in Vic, and NSW, and maybe another one somewhere near Perth and that's going to be 90% of where the ISPs are routing from anyway. There's no use having a server in Tasmania for example because all ISP are routing to their own network in Victoria before looking going to an outside network.

    Agree with the top comment, Having the content hosted at the ISP level would be a lot faster and cheaper (for the ISP if anyone).

      CDNs do a lot more than provide local content, they also scale quickly without requiring new hardware be implemented. Sure you only need POPs in the major states, and maybe WA and FNQ, but when that new episode of Doctor Who airs you're going to need to ramp up your bandwidth and server power pretty quick.

    Look at what Netflix does in the US:
    https://signup.netflix.com/openconnect

    Installing special caching servers directly with each of the core providers, eg. Telstra/Optus etc.

    I'm confused why aren't they (iView) being paid for there service by "CDN's"..? Cut 'em all off and let us access it via the net as originally intended for free and make anybody that want's to stream it pay for the privilege..? Of course I probably have it bass ackwards.. but then explain why..?

      Ultimately SOMEBODY has to provide the bandwidth (and servers) for the outbound stream. If the ABC doesn't outsource it they will need to do it themselves, which will probably wind up costing more as they don't have the same economies of scale.

      The consumer (that's us) doesn't pay the CDN in any way as there's no advertising on iView. Their only revenue stream is what they are being paid to host content.

    i would be glad to view a 30 seconds ad to replace "ad breaks" if it would meant the service free forever.

    I love iview, because I have spent the last 5 decades missing out on shows. Nothing quite like being a shift-worker. Finally, at last, I can see all the episodes. However, I hadn't thought about the cost of how it is set-up. If we have to be charged for each viewing then I suppose it will have to happen.

    I wonder what at point does it become more economical to become your own CDN essentially? Millions of dollars a year buy a lot of servers and bandwidth. Working with ISPs to co-locate your content/servers in their state or regional POPs must be starting to look like better value now.

      I would hope with NBN coming, They could hook up some really fat pipes they could possibly roll their own CDN relatively cheaply, though i don't pretend to know the costs of running and maintaining that many servers.

        The NBN won't really do much to change the price of the kind of backhaul CDNs need to use. It's all about consumer/end users with the NBN, it's still up to the ISPs to build up their own core networks.

          From my POV, purely internal NBN traffic (eg from ABC servers to user both on NBN) SHOULD be free under certain content provider plans or at least pretty darn cheap at least (im not saying it will be, but it they should be made to have it that way or something similar).

          The only way i see that IPTV will really take off is if the providers dont have to pay millions in fees for sending data, as well as the end users also paying for receiving it. If every TV in australia used IPTV instead of broadcast for its FTA TV it doesnt seem viable if every show cost $1+ for them to send out in hd (unless we get a lot more ads). If they had half a brain at NBN they would be designing it with VOD and even broadcasting in mind. Or perhaps i'm just too idealistic.

            "Free". Someone still needs to pay for it. Who's going to pay for the bandwidth used? Every time you stream a show from iView, it uses bandwidth on an internet connection, at your end and the server end. Bandwidth is a finite resource, you don't have unlimited bandwidth.

              I didn't claim otherwise.

              Bandwidth yes, they pay for the pipe with no quota costs, as i recall, ISPs buy the bandwidth from their provider without transfer limits, the ISPs have quotas for users because Telstra charge a fee for each byte that passes through their equipment and to manage the contention (this is the reason that off peak was introduced, they had these massive pipes that were not being utilized overnight even though they were being paid for).

              I don't know what the raw cost from an energy POV to transfer data across the NBN nor do i have any information about how much or if NBN is charging ISPs for data transfer or just bandwidth (i would hope that it is just bandwidth, then my idea is at least plausable).

              After looking at simon hacketts presentation
              http://simonhackett.com/2013/07/17/nbn-fibre-on-a-copper-budget/

              I doubt that NBNCo is competent enough with present management too support a cost effective IPTV arrangement. I actually have great fears about the way the NBN is heading, they should put Hackett, Malone and a few other ISP CEOs in charge of NBNCo (with oversight of course, but even without oversight they couldn't screw it up any more than it currently is, and keep in mind i am a very much pro FTTH NBN)

                Transfer limits are rudimentary tools used to limit the total bandwidth usage vs. capacity. These artificial limits aim to control how much end-users will consume.

                These are completely different to the backhaul internet connections large content providers need. Here's your getting connections commissioned at Gbps at a time. It's not about how much data you transfer here, how about how much capacity you have in total and how much you need. If you get half a million people wanting to download the latest episode of Doctor Who at the same time you'll need lots of capacity to deliver that. It's largely irrelevant where that capacity is, if it's just one big fat pipe going into a data centre in Sydney, or if it's a few hundred smaller pipes going into co-locations on the ISP's core networks. In either case you need capacity, you need to buy that capacity.

                  I understand all that and that's what I'm saying, but i don't think that NBNCo should have any transfer limits for its clients (its not like the NBN will have a lack available bandwidth), only those that sell access to the internet should have limits as a way to manage their contention for their internet links.

                  All the ABC would need is the same hookup as an ISP does into the NBN, granted that would have been much more viable when it was a 7 pop with dual redundancy network instead of a 121pop no redundancy disaster waiting to happen.

    Either host it yourselves at abc which would require a large amount of bandwidth Or get the major ISP'S onboard.

    The other option is to have a national fee/tax on internet say $1-$5 that covers a national IPTV service like free to air but for all the free to air channels. e.g. ABC, Nine, Prime, SBS, Ten.

    This would probably be better but also it would be good for smart tv's to only have to go to the internet link or app.

    Obviously, due to iView's success, IPTV isn't going to go away in Australia (thank god), so the ABC would benefit from the long view, and start building it's own CDN network, especially if they are paying millions per year.
    In time, they could lease out parts of it to other parties, such as SBS, thus making it a solution that pays it's way.

    If they started putting a lot of their ABC shop into a digital format, then they could start selling content in a manner similar to iTunes., or even rent out old issues of programs - though I'm not sure if that conflicts with any FTA licencing agreements.
    Given their expansive and interesting archives, I'm sure there is a treasure trove of digital content there to be rediscovered.

    They could also look at charging for all of the FTA stuff for overseas customers - currently it's geoblocked to Australia, but the ABC is known globally for quality programming, much like the BBC.

    Whilst I imagine re-runs of Neighbours isn't going to bring in the bacon, opening up their digital catalogue to an international audience not only boosts their revenue, but also increases global exposure of genuine Australian talent.
    Any FTA licencing agreements will not apply to overseas viewers, because they're not taxpayers, so the content may be open to being purchased in micro transactions.
    If they headed in this direction, then they could look at brokering an agreement with overseas providers such as Netflix with the understanding that content viewed is subject to a charge, and vice versa, though realistically, the American licensing system is so convoluted, it becomes a web of digital nightmare.
    That said, I'd rather see the ABC be successful with this, than the hamfisted venture that 7 of 9 is working on.

    Just as a side note, articles like this make me chuckle when I remember a senior manager at Austar telling me only three years ago "there is no future in IPTV".

    Last edited 29/08/13 1:42 pm

      I'm pretty sure the channels have had discussions about a shared streaming platform, but nobody would agree. The latest is that Nine and Seven are looking at doing something together...

    Why not use a distributed delivery system and let the users provide the storage for them: Bittorrent

      Because you can't stream Bittorrent. And the licensing rights that the ABC has are for streams, not downloads.

        I think @redartifice is correct. Usually at the enterprise level solutions are bound to the confines for legal and business, not what is technically best.

      So why not use Bittorrent for those programs that the ABC has legal title over - and can negotiate rights for.

    Well this finally explains why the ABC hasn't implemented HD streaming yet. If it's costing them a fortune now, I can only imagine how much more it would cost to have full 1080p streaming. I always assumed it was because they didn't think there were enough people with decent internet for it to be worthwhile (which is mostly true, and will continue to be true when the Coalition gets in).

    One alternative might be to have a levy like they do in Britain, where content production is funded through taxpayers, which frees up resources for stuff like iView. This way, you avoid difficult arguments like cross-subsidies between people who use the tech vs. people who don't - funding content that people don't watch is an easier argument to make than funding tech that people don't use.

    Last edited 30/08/13 12:17 pm

    There's a lot that we don't know.
    What proportion of CDN provisioned content is 'owned' (made by the ABC) and what is licensed (eg Doctor Who). There are probably more restrictions on the latter and they may not be permitted to receive any revenue from transmitting licensed content, or may have to share it.
    Making own content available for download, as opposed to streaming, may be cheaper but might take revenue from DVD sales from ABC stores. Similar with encouraging people to record from the original broadcast.
    ABC3 shuts down at 9pm. Not sure whether this saves money or whether they could broadcast on this without extra cost. Repeating shows may cut down the use of iView.
    I wonder how much is children's content. Being able to 'repeat' a favourite show for small children any time is very welcome.
    From the ABC financials, they pay over 150 million for transmission services. and 24 million in communications.
    http://about.abc.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/ABC-Annual-Report-2011-12-Part-6.pdf
    iView delivery costs were 1.6 million in 2009/10
    http://www.itnews.com.au/News/164585,abc-iview-to-cost-293m-this-financial-year.aspx

    Rather than wondering just how to reduce CDN costs, it would also be interesting to know if there could be cost savings by shifting *from* broadcasting to streaming. Plus there's the opportunity to reuse the spectrum.

      Considering they have been able to cut transmission costs recently as they turn off analogue broadcasts, you'd think they are up overall despite the iView costs.

    Why doesn't it come out of users monthly download limit? Is there some reason why we pay for viewing everything else and not this? I have 80gb that I don't go through, so why does ABC pay for me not to use it...

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