Video used to be easy. The signal was sent out over the air or through a cable and it was received and displayed by the television in the viewer’s home. The only data that needed to be collected was the number of people who had watched a program—and because TV was linear, it came down to who was in front of the set when the program aired. Now, with time-shifting devices, on-demand video and other viewing options, the audience has become fragmented—but is no less demanding when it comes to getting the content.
The quality of video once it reached the home was unpredictably spotty in the old linear broadcast television era. While weather and distance could affect the strength of the signal and degrade images, there was little need to actually determine the “quality” of what viewers were seeing. It was assumed that video quality was more or less the same for everyone.
Today, video can be viewed on many devices, from large screen TVs in the home to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. Viewers expect it all to look perfect all the time.
IneoQuest’s video analytics platforms provide operational and behavioral data across the entire delivery network.
In today’s competitive video delivery landscape, measuring and determining the quality of video has grown increasingly important. There are a number of software solutions that meet this need, analyzing what people are watching, when they’re watching and, most importantly, how the video actually looks on all those devices.
“In the past ‘good enough’ was certainly acceptable,” says Keith Zubchevich, chief strategy officer at Conviva. “Today we have the tools to provide much more detailed analytics. As the Internet audiences grow, the real-time collection of data becomes all the more important. There is this assumption that as TV moves to over-the-top (OTT) or online, the quality is going to be the same. When you send video to a TV, there is no guessing as to how to watch it, but new devices are changing how the content can be seen. We need to know that and get it right. Otherwise we’re wasting money.”
As anyone who has suffered through a sub-par stream can attest, however, quality is not all the same. Conviva is one of several companies that provides a real-time monitoring and analytics solution. Conviva’s Intelligent Control Platform provides comprehensive real-time quality and audience metrics. Zubchevich notes that his company is currently working with EchoStar Technologies, the primary partner for Dish Network.
As consumers continue to flock to the numerous paid TV channels and OTT services available today, it is increasingly clear that “good enough” simply isn’t good enough.
“Quality is worth paying for, as consumers have showed by investing in premium channels and OTT subscription services,” says Kirk George, director of marketing at IneoQuest Technologies. “Paying top dollar for video-enabled devices that provide HD to data plans that support their viewing habits is a sign that consumers are willing to pay for quality service.”
Brightcove Perform offers a robust set of management APIs and performance optimization services that enable rich, immersive video experiences.
IneoQuest’s video analytics platforms provide operational and behavioral data across the entire delivery network, and these analytics provide video service providers (VSPs) with an understanding of the consumer’s viewing experience. The tools enable optimization of the delivery infrastructure and the opportunity to increase returns.
“Video service providers have to ensure consumers have the best viewing experience or, as statistics and research show, the customer will leave and find another VSP that delivers a better video experience,” George says. “Content is no longer the only consideration in offering video services. VSPs have more competition now than they have in the past and quality is one of the key differentiators.”
Meeting the Increasing Video Demand
Video analysis plays an increasing role in satisfying the growing demand by viewers for entertainment across multiple platforms and in a variety of locations both in the home and on the go.
“Consumers expect—demand—a video experience that is comparable to the premium content consumption experience that we are familiar with from the past decades: broadcast television,” says Albert Lai, chief technology officer of media at Brightcove. “As a result, the video experience should have similar characteristics as a linear, ‘lean-back’ broadcast. Consumers have little patience for buffering, interruptions between content and advertising, and low-quality video. When publishers fail to deliver a premium video experience to users, engagement suffers and eyeballs go to alternative providers and devices.”
Brightcove Perform offers a robust set of management APIs and performance optimization services that enable rich, immersive video experiences. It supports HTTP Live Streaming video playback across devices, along with analytics integrations, content protection, and both server-side and client-side ad insertion.
Lai notes that while it has been less than five years since Apple introduced the iPad, the tablet computer has dramatically changed how users consume content, and how publishers create, distribute and, most importantly, monetize it. “The shift to HTML5, mobile devices and connected devices in the living room accelerates and underscores the challenges of fragmentation.”
In addition to challenges of fragmentation, there are also the issues of signal degradation, even in this digital age.
“Each time video is encoded, with each generation there is some degradation. Our technology looks at the quality of the source and quality of the video,” says Gilles Devictor, technical marketing manager at Harmonic. “This could be for Comcast, EchoStar, DirecTV. Our tools provide a look at the quality of the source they receive, and it can look at the degradation that has occurred.”
Harmonic’s Iris technology performs real-time monitoring, which can identify issues with video quality and help determine a solution.
Harmonic’s technology performs real-time monitoring, which can identify issues with video quality and help determine a solution.
“It is the same principle across devices,” Devictor says. “Some customers may watch on a mobile phone while others are watching on a 65-inch TV.”
More Than Monitoring
Today’s analysis software offers granular data streams for all devices and platforms.
Ooyala’s analytics engine provides real-time viewership statistics, which includes information about how long a streaming video took to load, its bit rate and its buffering rate. Audience analytics (gauging how long viewers watch and when they drop out) combined with quality analytics (tracking the quality and performance of the video streams carrying the programs) and other metrics can help a provider judge the overall quality experience.
“We have an end-to-end system that includes a transcoding pipeline that clients can use for different platforms,” says Sudhir Kaushik, Ooyala’s senior director of product management. “It also offers the ability to gather metrics for us to track in real time. For example, What are people watching? When is watching dropping off? Then we can determine whether this was due to any technical issues that may have come up.”
Ooyala’s platform measures numerous factors about the viewership as well. “Video quality is about more than just buffering,” Kaushik says. “The quality of the experience is determined to a large degree by whether video is streaming correctly, but there are other factors to consider. Is the content relevant to the viewer? The experience is as much about what you are watching as how it looks.”
Operational analytics can be used to identify where the video service is breaking down, allowing the operations team to pinpoint the starting location for the problem, says IneoQuest’s George. “Then behavioral analytics provide the viewership intelligence to know what is happening with the video from a consumption standpoint,” he adds. “The real power happens when the two are overlaid, and VSPs start to understand the reasons why subscribers are abandoning assets or advertisements. This then enables much more proactive churn management, so subscribers with issues can be targeted before they leave the service, and advertising content and delivery can be targeted on a finer-grained, more intelligence-led basis.”
Combining quality and behavioral analytics, a user can profile a network infrastructure’s ability to deliver video, George says. “Understanding an infrastructure’s capability to deliver video, whether over a Wi-Fi cloud, broadband network or mobile infrastructure, is paramount to the successful monetization of video,” he says.
4K, the Cloud and Beyond
Analysis of video streams and audience engagement will remain paramount as video resolution increases and delivery mechanisms proliferate.
“New technologies like HEVC/H.265 and MPEG-DASH have the potential to reduce the friction of delivering high-quality content in a secure manner to a plethora of devices and screens, but publishers have the burden of not only looking forward but also supporting legacy technology and the users and business models anchored to it,” says Brightcove’s Lai, who notes that new cloud services could help streamline the digital video workflow. “With HD—and emerging 4K—content, publishers have the challenge of delivering seamless video experiences to a global audience across multiple screens for both VOD and live.
Fluendo’s LongoMatch sports analysis technology allows users to perform real-time analysis on sports game video feeds and will be integrated into its ONEPLAY suite of software solutions.
“Software-based services deployed in the cloud offer the ability to increase scale, reliability and performance while retaining cost-effectiveness as compared to a traditional on-premise, hardware approach,” Lai adds. “Cloud services enable publishers to rapidly adopt new technologies and expand their capabilities on a global scale in a timely and cost-effective manner.”
While “the cloud” is among today’s ubiquitous buzzwords—along with “big data”—for all new emerging technologies, it alone won’t solve problems. In fact, the cloud in itself is not a solution.
“The cloud helps because video consumption eats up a lot of space,” says Muriel Moscardini, CEO of Fluendo. “It is the cloud plus the network and the infrastructure around it.”
Fluendo recently acquired LongoMatch, a cross-platform software tool that lets users perform real-time analysis on sports game video feeds; it will be integrated into Fluendo’s ONEPLAY suite of software solutions. LongoMatch lets users tag events and individual plays within games, review portions of a live game in slow motion, and create post-match analysis for a variety of video formats. The software also allows users to review tagged events in-game, and export clips while still analyzing the game live.
“Users are more demanding. They’re expecting shorter lead time and faster decoding,” says Moscardini. “4K follows this trend of higher quality, higher resolution video, but it is compressing much more. For this reason, the analysis of the quality continues to be an important piece.”
The Recalibration of TV
These software tools help clients ensure that the video stream and the accompanying picture are what the viewer expects, regardless of the viewing device.
“Consumers have become used to TV that just works,” says Ooyala’s Kaushik. “Very rarely does video not come through, but we’re seeing this recalibration of what TV means as it moves to other devices. It is also about the content that is being consumed. Consumer expectations are high and it takes a lot more to measure those metrics so that clients can adapt and respond when there are issues.”