Nearly 50 percent of Americans have an entertainment subscription service like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu, accessed via a connected television or devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, or Apple TV, according to recent research from Nielsen. Furthermore, a quarter of those in the coveted 18-to-34 demographic have either cut their cable or satellite services or never signed up for a pay-TV package, according to ComScore.

It’s Not Just Millennials Cutting the Cord – Content Providers Are Too

For decades cable and satellite services provided the exclusive gateway to mass audiences for premium and niche content channels.  Today, with the ease and availability to go consumer-direct via the Internet and over-the-top streaming (OTT), new networks are joining video platforms and licensing content to transactional, and subscription video-on-demand services, at an unprecedented rate.  The future of streamed TV whenever and wherever the viewer desires, is becoming a reality.  Or is already the reality for an ever-growing percentage of US households.

Yet to reach the consumer where they are means today’s content publisher must support a wide array of devices and players to enable video viewing ‘anytime and anywhere’ across computers, televisions, and mobile devices.  But device capabilities can vary significantly, and any modification means the content publisher must build different applications to support each device, and to ensure the best possible user experience.

Solving these issues will require collaboration among many players, who each have a vested interest in building the digital (streaming) OTT industry, in a quest to meet and exceed the “broadcast quality” standard that viewers have come to expect.

As streaming or OTT moves from a novelty to dominate distribution method, viewers are demanding better quality.  Leading streaming experience measurement company, Conviva, consistently reports in their user experience consumer survey results, that re-buffering events and video quality are the most cited frustrations for consumers watching online video.  With the adoption of new technologies such as 4K, virtual reality and OTT delivery of broadcast events, the demands on bandwidth will notably increase. Which explains why M-GO, a leading video on demand premium movie service partnered with Samsung and recently acquired by Fandango, reported that when they reduced bitrates using perceptual content adaptive technology, they experienced improvements in their streaming user experience and consumer satisfaction.

The key role that video quality plays in impacting user engagement and UX – and consequently service provider revenues, has incited recent efforts to improve video quality. This includes progress on adaptive bitrate selection, better transport-layer algorithms, and CDN optimization. Think about it – a single IP video packet contains approximately 1,400 bytes of information, and each IP packet contains multiple MPEG encapsulated video packets. The loss of even one IP packet can lead to video impairments lasting a half second or more.

The Need for Standardization Before Reaching the End User

While efforts are valuable and demonstrate potential improvements, one of the key missing pieces is an understanding of the structure that handcuffs video quality. That starts at the client-side before reaching the client. Standardization of online video quality, particularly the quality of experience (QoE), is more important than ever. But traditional methods of measuring quality do not translate well to OTT video.

Pay TV operators such as cable companies, have a specific advantage when it comes to the quality they can deliver, and that is, they control every aspect of the delivery process including the network and playback device, known as the STB or set-top-box. In contrast, the OTT delivery structure is fragmented, dangling by multiple vendors – from delivery, storage, transcoding – all who are responsible for parts of the overall system. Viewers care little about the complex network or routes involved to get their content to a device.  They simply expect the same high-quality viewer experience that they are accustomed to with traditional pay TV or broadcast systems.

This fragmentation, coupled with numerous formats that must be supported across devices, the need for standardization and the related challenges are apparent. While we rely on monitoring and analysis, there is enough variation in the measurement methodologies and definitions across the industry to impede our ability to not only maintain – but improve video quality. More than one video engineer would likely admit privately, that they spend their day just making sure the video is working, and only after this task is accomplished, do they consider what can be done to improve the quality of the video that they are delivering.

Strides are being made to develop and evangelize best practices for high-quality delivery of video over the Internet, thanks in part to the Streaming Video Alliance (SVA). The recommendations, requirements, and guidelines being assembled by the SVA are helping to define new industry architectures and contribute to building best practices across the streaming video ecosystem to accelerate adoption worldwide.

Standards Pave the Way for Valuable Metrics

Without agreed-upon industry standards for both quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE), there can be no objective benchmark or performance measurement in the video delivery ecosystem.

The SVA’s guidelines define a common language that describes the effectiveness of network delivery and outlines key network delivery metrics: ideal video startup time, acceptable re-buffering ratio, average video encoding bitrates, and video start failure metrics.

The alliance’s main focus is on the bits you’ll never see – like optimization and delivery techniques.  As a technology enabler that addresses these bits, improving all the above, we are excited to join with content providers, CDNs and service providers to tackle the most pressing issues of streaming video delivery.

Content Is Going Everywhere

To feed the beast, the industry must band together to provide constant easy access to high-quality video content.  The name of the game is getting content to your consumer with the best quality and highest user experience possible, and the only way to do that is to increase file efficiency by optimizing file sizes and conserving bandwidth, to cut through the Internet clutter.

Today, consumers have widespread access to streaming video services with content choices coming online in ever greater quantities and at vastly improved quality. What is critically lacking is a broad-spectrum understanding of the nature of video quality problems as they occur.  Also, the cost of bandwidth in the age of data caps continues to be an open question. To help navigate through the clutter and help answer critical questions, visit our resource center for useful information.