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Can you deliver video quality at scale?

Do you remember the good old days? Content ruled, and video service providers made a nice living from delivering premium linear and live content to TVs.

The service was reliable, distribution costs were relatively low and security was simple. All the ingredients were there to attract a growing subscriber base and generate revenue along the way through dominant subscription and advertising business models.

Then along came over-the-top (OTT) video providers. And that changed everything. Slowly but surely, video consumption has been shifting from traditional broadcast delivery to the TV set towards IP delivery to mobile devices.

In fact, multiple industry surveys have shown that millennials – a primary demographic for video growth – now view 70 per cent of their video content online. What’s more, the Cisco Visual Networking Index predicts that by 2021, 80 per cent of IP traffic will be video.

 

Bring on the cavalry?

Faced with an increasing threat to their business, service providers have in recent years added more HD – even 4K – channels to their line-up. Surely that would stem the tide of popularity for OTT? But alas, no.

Even introducing slimmer bundles hasn’t done much to persuade consumers to love their video service providers any more.

 

What was the secret sauce in OTT?

There are several reasons why more and more consumers have been turning away from traditional broadcast in favour of OTT. For starters, OTT providers offer more personalised services.

They can also launch new services more quickly and entice consumers with new, low-priced business models. Another ace up the OTT sleeve has been ubiquity. OTT providers can offer content across all consumer devices.

On the surface, it would seem that a US$400 billion global pay-TV market is slowly being eaten away by the world of OTT.

However, that may not be the whole story. According to a recent survey from Limelight Networks, almost half of respondents stop watching an online video stream after the second time it buffers. Or to use baseball parlance: two strikes and you’re out.

Although OTT providers can indeed deliver video content to every device, they can’t do it at scale without forcing the user to experience interruptions to their stream. We might be living in generation ‘i’ – iPad, iPhone, iPlayer – but ‘i’ also stands for impatient.

So although being able to watch content on any device is a big deal for consumers, watching without interruption seems to be equally important to them. In fact, for consumers accustomed to uninterrupted video quality on their traditional TV, the expectation has been set very high. And that can slowly turn a pleasurable experience into a tortuous one.

Video ubiquity might help to win over consumers. However, only video quality will keep them.

 

The best of both worlds – and more

So what are we left with?

We have broadcast technology offering high video quality to TVs. However, it hasn’t extended to every device.

OTT technology, on the other hand, can reach multiple devices. But while OTT services have made valiant attempts to resolve the issue of video stream interruptions, they cannot do so at scale.

So it seems that if you want to deliver video quality at scale and extend it to all devices, you need to be able to exceed the capabilities of both broadcast and OTT video delivery technology.

The ramifications of exceeding both could actually have broader implications.

Today, streaming cost per viewer is relatively low in broadcast, whereas in OTT it is relatively high.

The cost of preventing churn and keeping subscribers loyal is relatively high in both, though arguably lower for OTT.

If service providers were in a position to harness the better elements of broadcast and OTT today and add a little more smart technology, they could create a new paradigm for video delivery.

To be sure, this isn’t just about merging technologies. It’s also about using new technology across the whole delivery chain, from headend to client.

 

Why does it require the whole delivery chain? 

The key to influencing video quality requires the ability to make intelligent decisions – optimisations – across the entire chain. It begins with encoders at the headend, where quality decisions can be more granular, and then on the network, where video delivery can be optimised for different streaming services, such as live and on-demand. Finally, it’s important to consider the client. This is where intelligent decisions about requests for content streams can lower costs and improve video quality.

Existing approaches often look at a subset of technologies to make point optimisations. Intelligent optimisation allows you to use primary insight about the content, network conditions and client requests.

 

Turning ideas into action

One company that adopted this philosophy is Cisco. Realising that you cannot just grow bandwidth down the same pipeline, Cisco decided to focus on optimising bandwidth utilisation in order to deliver video more efficiently. They looked to gain greater insight into the content being streamed and the local network conditions.

“What sets us apart is that we use techniques to analyse the quality of video content at three different levels: the encoding level, the network level and the client level,” says Rajeev Raman, Vice President at Cisco.

“This visibility allows service providers to use bandwidth more efficiently while delivering the best video quality. Whether service providers are delivering in fixed or wireless mobile networks, we apply the same principles of understanding the kind of content that is being requested from the endpoints and knowing where those devices are in the network to perform optimisations that enable video quality at scale.”

It all sounds good in theory. But what does it mean in a practical sense?

“In a fixed bandwidth environment, you could have a network with a lot of devices requesting content,” Raman says. “We can help service providers optimise how content is packaged and prepared for delivery because we know the kind of content being encoded. And because we know that some content requires higher bit rates than others, we can optimise how it is encoded for streaming over IP networks. With a large cluster of devices in a given area, we can also add or align more fixed or mobile networking capacity to those areas of the network that need it.” 

So at the client end, Dad could be watching the football game while Mum watches the news. Mum’s stream might need fewer bits, but still looks awesome. The saved bandwidth is then applied to making the sports stream on the big screen look and sound pristine.

 

Everyone’s happy

That’s what delivering video quality at scale is all about. By getting better information from the encoding that says what content is available, service providers are empowered to make more quality-aware decisions. As a result, the client then makes a more intelligent decision to request that content.

Bringing stellar video quality to multiple devices is the catalyst for several other benefits. Happier customers are loyal customers. And that means less money spent reducing churn. Additionally, customers will pay more for your service because it is now clearly differentiated on a metric that matters to them. You will have reached that holy grail of high-quality video on multiple devices.

Cisco, with its Infinite Video Platform, can help you achieve it.

Streaming your live premium content over IP doesn’t need to be a trade-off between scale and quality. With our new Smart Streaming technology, you can process your video content in the most efficient way possible, over any fixed or mobile network.


Topic: Infinite Video Platform | OTT Video Providers

 

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Mobile devices have changed video consumption. But how can service providers deliver high video quality at scale
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