By Matthew Driscoll, Director of Product Management, Telestream iQ
The business of delivering TV programming is shifting to an unprecedented level of reliance on internet streaming services that consumers can access as replacements to traditional pay-TV services. In this article, we will take a look at this evolution and common challenges OTT streaming service providers are facing when delivering premium video quality to their subscribers. We will briefly introduce a video quality management approach that enables service providers to overcome obstacles in their streaming workflow and keep pace with technology shifts and customer demands.
Evolution of OTT Streaming Services
By the estimates of Juniper Research, the volume of OTT video subscriptions globally will jump to nearly two billion by 2025, representing a 65% increase over the subscription total registered at the outset of 2021. About 277 million of those subscriptions will be registered in the U.S. in that timeframe, according to Parks Associates. Already, 82% of U.S. broadband households are subscribing to at least one OTT video service compared to a 58% pay TV subscription rate.
The figure below offers a snapshot of OTT service penetration rates prevailing in other countries going into 2020, along with the amount of time spent by residents consuming internet-streamed video each week. Even two and a half years ago, several countries had subscription averages topping one service per household with weekly viewing rates exceeding six hours.
Connected TVs (CTVs), including those streaming from the internet via media players as well as smart TVs, have become the dominant viewing platform for OTT video. According to the latest quarterly streaming report from video performance tracker Conviva, 77% of all streamed minutes globally were on a large display in Q1 2022, led by viewing on smart TVs, which was up 34% year over year.
In May 2022, the average amount of time U.S. consumers spent viewing streamed video on TV sets hit a new high equating to 31% of total viewing time compared to 36.5% for pay TV and 24.4% for over-the-air (OTA) broadcast, according to metrics compiled by Nielsen.
The role of TV in OTT video consumption has profound ramifications for the creation and monetization of content. After decades of failed industry efforts to bring interactive TV (ITV) to life, the ability to do so on connected TVs has increased content owners’ and service providers’ incentives to accelerate the transition to internet streaming.
Now they can inject VCR-like trick plays, viewing options across multi-camera feeds, personalized features, addressable advertising, and much else into the TV viewing experience. Such strategies are helping drive content producers’ and service providers’ spending on OTT video services to new heights, as reflected by Analyses Mason’s prediction that global spend will jump to $130 billion in 2024, compared to $67 billion in 2019.
Achieving TV-Caliber Performance over ABR Distribution Infrastructure
In our experience at Telestream, whether the service provider is large or small, each encounter similar challenges despite differences in service and customer scale. On the surface the top challenges can broadly be described as the following:
- Integration of vendor solutions
- Intermittent delivery network problems
- Stability of all components in the workflow
If those are the wavetops, the undercurrent is the increased solution complexity, requisite skills required by staff at all levels in the organization, and constantly changing technology.
Integration of Vendor Solutions
Most OTT services are built using a variety of off-the-shelf solutions, coupled with technology partners, with the help of system integrators, and a pinch of home-grown software in the mix. Each streaming platform leverages a sophisticated and complex workflow that faces several challenges such as addressing customer demands, deploying new services, and keeping pace with a constantly evolving vendor ecosystem. Before reaching their goal, organizations are typically surrounded by the tumult of technical challenges between vendors, industry standards, tight project deadlines, and finger-pointing when something is not going as expected.
Intermittent delivery network problems
OTT streaming is based on adaptive bitrate (ABR) technology, operating over TCP networks for lossless communication, typically using a content delivery network to make efficient use of resources and bandwidth. Considering that each customer can now access the service on any number of devices over any type of access network, operators have a much greater challenge than traditional pay TV service providers ever faced with their managed networks. There is more to monitor, greater geographic locations, and less control over the environment in which services are being consumed.
Miraculously, ABR produces a level of stream consistency that has qualified premium OTT content for delivery to any video-enabled device, including connected TV sets. But problems can and frequently do occur in the execution of the complex ABR processes across the distribution chain. There can be glitches in TCP, transcoding, and packaging processes as well as corruption in manifest files and how information is communicated between manifests and clients. The chances for such issues increase dramatically when the streaming involves live content, where the transcoding and packaging must be performed on the fly. It is also important to note that, with advances in transcoders, service providers increasingly rely on real-time transcoding of segments transmitted from files stored for on-demand access, which eliminates the costs of allocating storage capacity to each bitrate file.
The service delivery and time constraints put pressure on the end-to-end workflow and network performance, which impacts a good user experience. For most people, it’s not too difficult to remember a time when you went to watch streaming content and sat for what felt like an eternity for the show to start. It is even more likely you can recall issues during playback that degraded the quality to something just above the watchable threshold or the stream went into full buffering mode. Like it or not, this is ABR in its working form. It just does not mean that customers are going to be happy.
Stability of all components in the workflow
Whether we fully appreciate it or not, the OTT solutions and networks that deliver services to subscribers are more like a living ecosystem; An extension of the teams and organization that built and maintain the entire solution. And just like these organizations, things can be unpredictable as additional stresses are applied, not a desirable characteristic.
At the initial launch of services, the system has been fully tested in the lab, run through a field trial with friendly customers, and is now positioned for production deployment. Customer acquisition is going swimmingly, and service adoption is on track with only minor bumps in the road. Early success gets attention from the marketing department for new services and features, resulting in more customer traction and load. Eventually, you launch a marque live event that is big news for your service and a real driver of new subscriptions.
How will this story end? The above is a fairytale. In reality, each pivot with added services, new customers, additional client endpoints supported, there have been challenges. Events that tested the overall architecture and network’s resilience to deliver with increasing demands, and even more so, the organizations’ ability to react to real-time events and arrive at solutions.
Basic Challenges of OTT Video Quality Management
The transition to streamed premium video services as an alternative, as well as a supplement to traditional pay TV, has greatly expanded the scope of challenges service providers must address in their approach to monitoring and analysis. It is essential that OTT service providers ensure their streaming services are performing up to expectations. Moreover, they need to overcome challenges related to OTT video quality management which includes identifying content and delivery metrics in real-time and using the data to remedy problems wherever they occur in the video delivery chain.
Service providers need to be able to catch any issues impacting their OTT streaming service. It’s not just a matter of placing probes in the right places. It’s about having the analytic scope and technology partner with unsurpassed experience in video technology to identify and assess specific causes for glitches cropping up across the vast ABR footprint.
The Right Approach to Video Quality Management
Any approach to OTT video quality management requires the strategic positioning of advanced video analysis probes. When used in conjunction with an overarching intelligence layer, the required visibility into the OTT stream workflow can be illuminated. The goal is to turn metrics into actionable events to address issues that can occur at any point from contribution feed, through encoding, packaging, and content delivery networks (CDN) down to the subscriber devices.
Telestream iQ’s portfolio of video analysis probes has long dominated the OTT video service markets. With analytics and placements tailored to the complexities of ABR streaming over the open internet, the combination of Telestream iQ analysis probes along with its centralized video quality monitoring management system provides. the enhanced visibility and insight into live streaming and on-demand OTT services. To learn more, read our recently published white paper titled “Managing Video Quality In a Transforming OTT Streaming Marketplace.” We hope you will allow us to help you with your video monitoring needs.
Interested in learning more? Contact us to discuss our video quality monitoring and analytics services.