Anupama AnantharamanVice President of Product Management
Over the last five years we’ve seen OTT video consumption rising steadily. It is now close to becoming the dominant video delivery platform. The surge was particularly strong last year as the world saw most of the workforce spending more time at home, consuming more content than ever before, due to the COVID pandemic. This upward trend is expected to continue even after this pandemic situation improves. Recent estimates show that in 2020, the average time that viewers spent watching subscription OTT video-on-demand content in the U.S. alone rose by 23% compared to 2019.
When a higher volume of content is streamed, there’s a greater chance for errors, which can ultimately impact quality of service and quality of experience - two critical criteria for media companies to assess viewing experience. Having an advanced QC and monitoring solution is essential but there’s more to it than that. For success in the streaming space, particular attention should be given to the following.
1. Employ Strategic Monitoring
Monitoring allows operators to get error alerts, see where the problem lies within the streaming chain, and provides the necessary tools to troubleshoot the problem. The process of creating, packaging, and distributing adaptive bit rate video is quite involved. Each video requires encoding in multiple profiles at different resolutions to cater to different user devices. There are multiple hand-off points and therefore, many things can go wrong. It’s time consuming, if not impossible, to identify and troubleshoot after the fact. In case of streaming live events, unlike VOD, you don't have the luxury of time for manifest validation or to perform deep audio-video quality inspections. Streaming providers can consider an approach where comprehensive monitoring is performed at the Origin server for all videos, while at the CDN and edge network level, monitoring is focused more on asset availability, user session performance, HTTP error codes etc. With continuous monitoring and assessment of quality reports at critical points in the delivery chain, video providers will be able to provide better QOS and QoE to end users.
2. Consider Cloud-based Monitoring System
If you’re not already running your QC and monitoring on the cloud, there are strong reasons to consider it. A large number of media companies are moving toward hosting their services in the cloud. Maintaining an on-prem hardware and software infrastructure requires capex investment and continued IT resources. The scalability, flexibility, and elasticity of cloud-based architectures are ideally suited for monitoring. For VOD, as the content volume grows, additional monitoring instances can be created at scale, and for live event monitoring, instances can be created to last only for the duration of the event, reducing costs since you only pay for what you use. There are cases where, for security reasons or due to static hardware and bandwidth requirements, cloud might not be the best choice. However, in most cases, the benefits outweigh the limitations.
3. Picture Quality is Critical
For streaming companies, high picture quality is one of the most powerful differentiators. You can ensure that content is delivered with broadcast quality by choosing an automated QC tool early in the video processing stage so that problems are caught as soon as possible and sub-par quality video is not propagated down the chain. Some of the metrics that are important to monitor include macroblocking, compression artifacts, black frames, freeze frames, and audio quality. Examining the quality aspects of audio and video content at appropriate stages in the workflow will help assure better quality of service and experience.
4. Ad Monetization
OTT streaming provides great potential for monetization from ads. Whether it is SVOD, AVOD, or TVOD, revenue predictions for these markets are expected to go up significantly in the next five years. The ad-insertion process, especially the Dynamic Ad Insertion process, is quite complex. In a stream, there are ad markers that tell you where to insert an ad in a stream, how long the duration should be and so on. Checking for the availability of ad markers across all streams will ensure that you don't miss even a single ad insertion opportunity. Beyond this, you need to do a sync check for ads to make sure they start at the same point across all variants. Failure to monitor and track ad performance, especially for premium content, can result in a significant loss of revenue.
Current OTT streaming trends require an aggressive strategy to stay ahead. Media companies must adopt ways to stream video economically, with high quality, and with the flexibility to manage video infrastructures from anywhere. If you’re a service provider, you need to ensure a flawless video experience on every screen. A well-designed suite of OTT video monitoring tools can go a long way towards assuring quality that viewers have come to expect, reducing subscriber churn, and promoting operational efficiency.