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At Mobile World Congress, More Devices Mean More Fragmentation

3/07/2014 11:11 AM Eastern

At the recent Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain, a slew of new smart devices ranging from phone to “phablets” to tablets were introduced. Huge announcements from Samsung, Huawei and Firefox are going to redefine the mobile field as they come to market. While these devices undoubtedly tout spectacular, new functionalities, they are contributing to the escalating issue of mobile fragmentation.

According to Open Signal, as of last year alone, there were nearly 12,000 unique Android mobile devices on the market with different dimensions and operating systems that are making high-quality video playback challenging for content providers like HBO, ABC, ESPN and more. Why does this matter with progress in 4K, phablets and heightened cellular security providing innovative technologies for consumers?

Mobile Video is exploding

Consumers have more device and capability options than ever before, but that means the mobile landscape is more fragmented than ever as well. For content owners and their new mobile audiences, technology is improving at the same time as the ecosystem is becoming more diversified. According to the latest Cisco mobile report, mobile video is expected to increase 14-fold between 2013 and 2018 causing a range of well documented challenges including bandwidth, content rights and security, ad insertion and device fragmentation. Content providers are behind the curve and need to solve for the delivery of high-quality mobile video.

Content providers and customers suffer

Too often content providers are unable to stream their media across all devices because every device natively supports different protocols for streaming video. That means providers must program and format their content for every single device, a costly and time intensive process. Despite the best efforts of content providers, their inability to support every device—and by no fault of their own—will cause them to miss out on a large section of customers and a portion of their revenue stream. This issue not only affects content delivery in the realms of entertainment, but in mobile video advertising, which is still in its infancy, and facing similar challenges. 

Deepak Das is Senior Director of Marketing at VisualOn.

For consumers, the effects of mobile fragmentation come in a variety of forms. Users experience problems ranging from buffering, pixelated video, poor audio and visual synchronization, low-resolution video or lack of the mobile services they want. Content providers have made massive strides to accommodate the countless devices in the market, and have been successful in conquering issues stemming from mobile fragmentation—but at a cost.

What has been done?

Typically, device makers first look to hardware-based solutions when it comes to video decoders. Manufacturers of tablets, game stations, smartphones, set-top boxes and other connected devices generally employ hardware-based decoders that can playback one specific video file format. Manufactures are also utilizing GPUs for hardware-based acceleration.

Device manufacturers want to ensure that content providers can deliver with confidence so their content will play well on any mobile device without the need to alter or tailor files. However while they control the playback that can be achieved on their own devices, cross-platform capability isn’t on their radar.

Native player solutions have drawbacks. First, developers and content providers are bound by individual device performance and are limited in the video quality and formats they can offer. Tackling the feature parity across this fragmented market consumes large amounts of time and most importantly, money.

Content providers are faced with the reality of hiring in-house engineers to develop these cross-platform solutions to ensure consistency of the performance and process for every individual new model.  Other issues such as differences in support for Closed Captioning or subtitling also create challenges in relying on native player solutions. There is a tremendous challenge to ensure content security for premium HD programming across platforms, especially with devices that offer outputs but where the players have no output control. In addition, uniformity of user data collection across platforms is key to enabling a good analytics capture and quality of user experience.

Software-based solutions decode fragmentation

What is the silver bullet for this fragmented market? Software-based methods are being viewed as the universal solution for enabling high-quality multimedia on any device that a consumer chooses. Modern multimedia software enables high-quality video and audio experiences on a myriad of devices, scaling across multiple platforms. With the right software layer, content providers have the power to control the user experience from start-to-end. Not to mention, software is a cost-effective approach with less internal support needed to implement these solutions.

Going to market faster with easy upgrades are just a couple of benefits a software approach allots content providers and hardware manufactures. Software also provides the ability to insert ads, augment security and manage digital rights.

Software is not without its downside. Software’s reliance on hardware specifications and/or performance can cause issues, but multimedia player technology can remove most device, operating system and protocol dependencies.

Watching video on mobile devices will only continue to grow as consumers continue to cut the cord. Content providers and device manufacturers that create optimal, device-neutral solutions will rise above the industry to deliver the experience consumers want and achieve prime revenue figures.

Author’s Bio: Deepak Das is Senior Director of Marketing at VisualOn, a 10- year-old mobile software company whose technologies help overcome the challenges of fragmentation for Streaming Media/OTT brands like Netflix, ESPN as well as device manufacturers."


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