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When Good Streams Go Bad: Maintaining and Sustaining Video Quality

While quality can be relative and subjective, video service providers agree that establishing key performance indicators is critical.

The notion of video quality means different things to different people, covering a subjective spectrum so broad that “good” to one person could actually be deemed “bad” by another. In an effort to formally identify what key factors affect video quality, Akamai commissioned a survey of more than 350 managers at direct-to-consumer (DTC) video service providers. If you had any reservations about how seriously these professionals take quality, respondents overwhelmingly indicated they consider it the most important factor affecting their service.

But what exactly makes for good or bad streaming video quality? Part of the survey asked that respondents list the top three factors they feel most affect video quality. We ranked the responses below to create a top five list of the most prominent offenders.

1 Rebuffering. Frequent and/or long video interruptions is the most reliable way to lose an audience, according to the strong majority (84 percent) of respondents. This can be the percentage of overall video streams affected by a rebuffering instance, or how many times on average a video play was interrupted.

2 Audio sync. Coming in second, at 69 percent, audio either noticeably ahead or behind video causes major annoyances. In fact, studies have shown that audio problems can be more intrusive to viewers than video problems.

3 Pixelation/blurring. Rounding out the consensus top three issues affecting quality (60 percent) is video pixelation or blurring during playback, which is commonly associated with delivering improper bit rates.

4 Load time. Interestingly, a significant drop-off takes place after the top three factors affecting video quality. Load, or startup time, was listed in the top three by only 32 percent of survey respondents.

Noreen Hafez Ayan

5 Latency. Often highlighted within the context of live sports is the lag time between content airing on TV/cable (or reactions on social media) compared to streaming. Not necessarily correlating with the level of viewer complaints seen in the media, latency made the top three by only 26 percent of those who took the survey. This is primarily due to the fact that latency concerns are largely limited to live streaming, not on-demand viewing.

What happens when viewers encounter a low-quality experience? For starters, engagement drops. A study using Akamai data helped demonstrate that viewers begin abandoning a video if it takes more than two seconds to start playing. For every additional second, 6 percent more of the audience leaves. By 10 seconds, nearly half of the viewers have left.

Not only do viewers leave, they might not return. The same study showed viewers who experienced failures were less likely to revisit the site compared to those who did not encounter a problem with the video. This can adversely affect viewership as well as potentially damage the brand.

While quality can be relative and subjective, video service providers agree that establishing key performance indicators is critical—not just to the business, but for the consumers and advertisers who are helping to pay the bills.

Noreen Hafez Ayan is director of global product marketing at Akamai.