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Video quality stays front and center for OTT providers

02.14.2017

Technical glitches in online streaming for this year’s Super Bowl marks the third year in a row that over-the-top providers faced challenges in delivering the big game to cord cutters. As the Patriots rallied against the Falcons in the fourth quarter, viewers using the Fox Sports Go app had their connection go down for a brief, but critical interval.

Still, live streaming of big events has come a long way from the catastrophic—Sling TV’s 2015 March Madness debacle and Apple’s 2014 keynote that unveiled the iPhone 6. But it will take a continuing focus on quality to make it as reliable and as widely used as cable and broadcast TV.

Live streamed content remains a top priority for the companies that provide or plan to deliver video to consumers, according to a survey be trade publisher NewBay Media and Akamai, a leading content delivery network. But compared to on-demand video, it is infinitely harder to deliver a quality live stream for a big event like the Super Bowl that has millions of simultaneous viewers.

Over-the-top execs seem to know they have their work cut out for them. Video quality is the most important issue for new and existing providers of online video, according to the NewBay survey. On a one to 10 scale, video quality came in first with an 8.2 rating. Two technical issues closely related to the quality of live internet streams are also top of mind. Video workflow—the efficient (and flawless!) end-to-end transit of video—came in second with a 7.4 rating. Visual latency—how closely synced to real-time events are to the video and audio being streamed—was third at a 6.9 rating.

The industry has solid notions of what video quality means for a direct to consumer service, according to NewBay. The top gremlins that industry managers want to purge from their OTT services are:

  • Video buffering: cited by 84 percent of industry managers
  • Audio out of sync: 69 percent
  • Blurry video/pixelation: 60 percent
  • Slow starts/stops mid-play: 32 percent

“There is no faster way to lose your audience than with frequent and long video pauses,” stated the NewBay Study.

To bolster its case, NewBay cited the experience of HBO Nordic, an internet streamed pay-tv service that launched with much fanfare in Scandinavia in 2012. While HBO committed some marketing missteps, those who paid the upfront fees suffered poor streaming video quality, and a lack of apps to access the service.

The service, touted as a Netflix killer in its target market, languished with just a 2 percent penetration one year after it launched. Netflix, which launched at the same time and charged the same price, had no streaming issues, reaching a 20 percent penetration after one year. Only after three years of rebuilding and repair did HBO Nordic reach 14 percent penetration, while Netflix climbed to 35 percent.

About the survey: NewBay surveyed 351 senior managers at broadcast television stations, pay television providers, programmers, program distributors, over the top (OTT) services and top advertisers who deliver or plan to deliver internet video.

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