Skip to content
Deacon JohnsonMar 5, 20246 min read

The Codec Lifecycle


It might surprise you to learn that codec lifecycles aren’t short. In fact, they are among the longest lifecycles of any technology. In a survey with our LinkedIn audience, 12% thought that codecs lasted for 10 years, and 40% believed it was closer to 25 years.

Considering this, we thought it would be interesting to delve a little deeper and discuss just how long codec lifecycles actually are – and how incredible their impact on the video industry is.

What is a Codec?

Codecs are at the center of the video industry, encompassing all broadcast and media use cases. The word ‘codec’ is a portmanteau of the words ‘encoder’ and ‘decoder’, meaning that it is capable of both compressing and decompressing video files. Once these files have been compressed into a ‘container format’, video can be efficiently transported and later decompressed for viewing.

Video codecs are an essential ingredient to every step in creating, editing, and delivering digital content. Not only can they compress and decompress video, high-quality codecs are also employed in the creation and archival of cinematic video and professional productions that later gets transcoded for content delivery as linear TV channels and live streaming programs over the internet. Essentially, the better the codec used, the better the overall viewer experience will be for subscribers. In the last decade, codec variety has flourished, opening new doors of opportunity with each new video product or service that enters the market.

Codec Standardization

Standardization is critical for a codec to achieve scale in the mainstream market. As such, from the moment the video codec standardization procession begins, it starts a lifecycle, and over time, sometimes a lot of time, it may eventually be widely adopted in the market. In sum, the standardization process is an essential practice in the world of video codecs, as it enables decoders and encoders from different manufacturers to work together across a wide range of applications and workflows.

Arguably, some of the most widely used codecs today belong to the MPEG family. MPEG-1 was standardized in 1993, originally developed for video and audio storage on CD-ROMS. MPEG-2 was standardized just one year later in 1994 and supports video on DVDs and standard definition TVs. The next major release was MPEG-4 Part 10, standardized in 2003, also co-published as AVC/H.264 – the most widely used video codec to this day. HEVC/H.265, (the successor of AVC) was standardized 10 years later in 2013, this time with added support for ultra-HD video up to 8K resolutions and frame rates of 120 fps. In 2020, the video industry saw the release of VVC/H.266, providing new insight into the most efficient and high quality 8K compression available to date as well as being built with future use cases in mind.

Codec Year Approved
MPEG-2 1994
AVC/H.264 2003
HEVC/H.265 2013
VVC/H.266 2020

From the moment of standardization, MPEG-2, AVC and HEVC went on to become popular and widely distributed video codecs, with MainConcept leading the way to ensure each codec was built with impeccable quality to support their journeys after standardization. Although VVC is in the introductory stage of its journey, MainConcept is market ready and raring to go with a high-quality implementation of this codec, too. Another recent addition, MPEG-5/LCEVC (Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding), was approved in 2021 and is showing market potential. While LCEVC is not a true codec, but rather an enhancement layer that sits above AVC, HEVC, VVC and other codecs, it offers great possibility to further extend a codec lifecycle while adding to its functionality. As we begin 2024 all these codecs are still alive and well and being used in the industry, with some just starting their journey to success; which begs the question – just how long is the codec lifecycle?

How Long is a Codec Lifecycle?

With AVC standardized in 2003 and still going strong today as the standard for most video compression and transport, it’s safe to say that codecs can reach impressive ages for the video industry.

The average codec lifecycle is 25 years, with some even surpassing 30, and that’s after standardization. Of course, not every codec that is standardized will be accepted by the market. There are many factors that make a codec a success or not, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

The successful codecs will develop in a lifecycle that goes something like this:

  1. Introductory Stage
  2. Growth Stage
  3. Mature Stage

The introductory stage starts the date the standard is published, which can sometimes be years after it is first defined and ratified, take VVC for example. For now, this codec will be reviewed by the industry, being slowly adopted by providers and vendors for its effective compression prowess. Only four years after standardization, VVC is on track to realize its potential, including compression improvements of up to 40% for broadcast and OTT. It takes time for a new codec to be adopted, if at all. The introductory stage reflects the time and financial investments needed by vendors, broadcasters and consumers. In the case of VVC, there is little doubt it will see its growth stage before long, becoming a welcome addition to the video codec ‘Hall of Fame’.

The growth stage can be nicely demonstrated by HEVC. Standardized in 2013, this codec has now had over a decade to be used and applied in the video industry and to grow as part of the wider codec picture. This is usually the stage in which bigger organizations using video codecs will strike for investment, followed quickly by the rest. MainConcept have traditionally been early adopters, adapting these codecs for various professional offerings from Canon, Panasonic, SONY, and others.


As is inevitable with almost any product, a codec will eventually enter the mature stage. AVC is a great example of a widely popular and distributed video codec that has now reached its mature stage. Standardized in 2003, this codec has been the industry workhorse for a long time and is famous for the mark it has made on the industry since. This entire process – introduction, growth and maturity – takes, on average, 25-30 years before the codec has ‘finished’ its lifecycle.

The Future of Codecs in The Video Industry

As is the same with everything in broadcast and media, nothing stays the same for long in the video industry. As consumer habits continue to change on an unprecedented scale, video providers need to be ready and future-proof their workflows for success. With exciting new prospects being announced in the industry every day, it’s becoming more evident than ever that codecs have a trick or two up their sleeve for a brighter tomorrow.

What might drive the codecs of the future? While we can’t predict the future, who would have guessed that massive TV screens and hand-sized mobile devices would dictate the requirements for where we are today? To look forward we have to consider variables including higher resolutions, increased network traffic, more content and even the further decline of linear TV. With new use cases popping up all the time, it’s no doubt that codecs are going to have a substantial effect on what the future of the video industry looks like. Then there is AI, the impact of which is still an unknown.

To take a look at the ways in which MainConcept continues to lead the way in the video industry with the release and standardization of new codecs, visit our software development kit library to browse the entire span of codecs we offer.


Deacon Johnson

Deacon Johnson, SVP and General Manager at MainConcept, has 20+ years of experience in professional and consumer digital audio and video media technology. With six online technology patents, he brings in-depth knowledge as well as passion and creativity into all of his endeavors—which range from intellectual property creation and licensing to business strategy/development and marketing. Deacon has worked for organizations such as Prima Cinema, Inc., DivX, Yahoo! and Intel. He studied Business Administration at Oregon State University, enjoys spending time with his family and traveling, and is a voracious reader of non-fiction audiobooks.