Adobe released its Primetime platform for television at the NAB Show, announcing Comcast Cable and NBC Sports as launch partners, together with an ecosystem of other supporters. Notably, it will support the Apple approach to adaptive streaming and incorporate support in its Flash player, in what appears to be a significant concession to achieve conformity across different devices and displays. Is it too late for Adobe to retain a leadership position in online video?
The Adobe platform, previously known as Project Primetime, integrates video publishing, a player, rights management, closed captioning, advertising insertion and analytics in an attempt to simplify the creation of multiscreen services. It was announced as a concept over a year ago and released on a trial basis in November 2012.
Comcast first announced its TV Everywhere initiative in June 2009. In March 2011 Adobe announced its TV Pass solution for TV Everywhere, which was adopted by a number of operators. This was followed by a second version in August 2012. The latest Adobe initiative is a more ambitious attempt to offer a complete solution for online television services.
Comcast Cable, the largest pay-television operator in the United States, is using various Adobe Primetime capabilities across certain XFINITY web properties, although so far only on personal computers, it seems. NBC Sports, now owned by Comcast, uses aspects of the solution for Major League Soccer, National Hockey League and Golf programming.
The question is whether Adobe is still a major league player when it comes to online video. Adobe Flash was once dominant, but excluded from Apple iOS devices it began to lose supremacy in the face of standards based alternatives.
Nevertheless, according to the US Digital Video Benchmark numbers Adobe has also announced, its customers delivered 15.6 billion video streams in the last quarter of 2012, a 30% increase on the same period the previous year.
Authenticated streams using Adobe Pass rose from 18 million in 2011 to 222 million in 2012, a significant increase but a relatively low volume compared to television viewing in general. Notably, over 70% of those views were to mobile devices. In comparison, the BBC iPlayer alone produced 1.5 billion online requests for television programmes in 2012, in the United Kingdom alone, with a population a fifth the size of the United States.
The Adobe Primetime Player will be available for Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS and will support connected televisions as well as Xbox and Roku later in the year. Ecosystem partners include Akamai, Amazon Web Services, Cisco Systems, Elemental Technologies, Envivio, Harmonic, iStreamPlanet, RGB Networks and thePlatform.
Adobe Primetime supports HLS, an approach to adaptive bitrate streaming developed by Apple. On iOS devices it will use the native HLS software stack. Support for HLS will be provided for Android devices using the Adobe Primetime Player. By incorporating HLS into the Flash player for desktops as a native format in the latter half of 2013, Adobe aims to allow content creators and distributors to reach a broader audience with a single format.
Adobe will also continue to support its own HDS approach to dynamic streaming. Adobe is promising future support for MPEG-Dash, an international industry standard format that aims to unify the fragmented world of HTTP streaming.
The world of online video appears to be moving beyond the web to network-connected consumer electronics devices. Those involved with network infrastructure and consumer products tend to prefer interoperable open industry standards, even if they take time to establish and integrate.
Adobe is opening its approach in response to this, with a solution that aims to address the fragmentation of the online video technology landscape. The issue is whether the entire communications industry will accept a solution proposed by a single vendor, even if it is relatively open to integration with third-party systems. If the industry is frustrated by fragmentation, it is even more suspicious of end-to-end solutions.
“Bringing TV to every connected screen requires broad technology collaboration across the ecosystem, which is core to Adobe’s DNA,” said David Karnstedt, who leads media and advertising solutions at Adobe. “With our integrated approach and as a trusted technology provider to the industry, Adobe is uniquely positioned to support and drive this increasing demand in digital television.”
The real challenges that face online video providers are not so much technical as commercial, to do with rights, advertising and a fear of undermining the value of the existing television economy.
Adobe Primetime platform appears to offer a simpler solution for operators aiming to introduce TV Everywhere style services across different devices and displays. However, having established only limited support with Comcast over a year after it was first announced, there still seems to be some way to go before Adobe is really ready for prime time.