OTT, AKA?

Brandon Grosvenor wrote this on Nov 13, 2019 | 0 comments

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What is OTT? 

OTT stands for ‘over the top’, an idiom traditionally meaning excessive*. However, in modern internet parlance, OTT equals streaming video. It’s easy to picture whichever Silicon Valley start-up first mis-coined OTT at a caffeinated VC presentation. They probably meant ‘on top of’—as in, this content isn’t delivered the same way as traditional TV; it works over the top of the box—but the expression stuck.

OTT video content streams from some decidedly non-traditional TV players. Sure there’s those juggernauts we all know like Netflix, Crave and Prime Video, plus the newest entrants, potential category killers Disney and Apple.

But video streaming is not just TV and movies. 

OTT includes services like YouTube and Vimeo, elements of Facebook, Instagram and the suddenly ubiquitous TikTok. But streaming video goes well beyond clips of tweens twerking to Baby Shark like latter-day Gong Show contestants. It’s also any video chat.

You know those Skype, Zoom or FaceTime calls you make from your PC, tablet or phone.

Consider how huge this category is. Calling OTT online TV is like mistaking cumulus clouds for a definition of weather. How can we arrive at such an over-the-top explanation? The answer lies in how OTT works and so do the implications.

To access OTT all you need is an internet connection. 

Traditional TV came into living rooms over the air, then also through cable. OTT arrives wherever there’s an internet connection. Laptops, tablets and smart phones transported television and home video nights from the living room to anywhere there’s Wi-Fi.

Remember, too, streaming also entails video chat. Traditional telecommunications came through your landline at home or the office. With streaming, again, it’s anywhere you can get online and it’s everything from Sunday Skypes with granny to terrifying Facebook Live sessions with terrorists. Internet-builder Cisco estimates by 2022, live online video will account for 17% of all online video, growing 15-fold from 2017. 

Why it matters. 

Consider how easy it is to stream the latest Marvel superhero confessing ‘It is my blessing; it is my curse’ from your phone at Starbucks. Now remember Disney and Apple started streaming this month!

No wonder Cisco also estimates that by 2022, video will represent 82% of all internet traffic. The sheer ubiquity of OTT is, well, over the top!

Culturally, OTT’s a boulder dropped on a still pond, reverberating waves 360 degrees. Some implications are great, like being able to watch the latest blessed-cum-cursed Marvel hero on your phone over coffee.

Some other implications need attention. Your teenage daughter on your data plan watches Marvel movies from, makes videos on, and video chats with, her phone—but not just at Starbucks. She’s sitting on the bus and marching at climate strikes. Your data charges aren’t just over-the-top, they’re WTF!

Other implications frankly need legislation, not just Canada’s over-the-top data charges. Now that your daughter’s streaming everywhere, who else is watching? Remember TikTok, that cute service featuring 8-year olds doing silly dances in giraffe costumes? It’s owned by the world’s leaders in surveillance.

OTT is mostly blessing but we need to think before it becomes an over-the-top curse.

*According to the Oxford dictionary, the expression surfaced from the trenches in World War One. Going up over the parapet into No Man’s Land was a futile self-slaughter. So ‘over the top’ came to mean way too much.

 

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