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Mobile Video Viewing: Issues Impacting the Development of Media Players

As organizations search for a video player solution, there are three key trends to keep in mind that can help ensure fast, reliable and secure content delivery.

With mobile online video viewing increasing more than 400 percent in the past two years and accounting for more than 25 percent of video consumption, it’s become imperative that organizations effectively enable anytime, anywhere delivery of video content across all devices and platforms.

The evolution and proliferation of mobile devices is exacerbating the complexity of an already extremely fragmented marketplace. Every device, browser and operating system carries a different video capability and limitation, and the complexities don’t stop there. Competing streaming protocols—namely, Adobe HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS), Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), Microsoft Smooth Streaming and the emerging MPEG-DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP)—further segment the market, each working only with certain systems or browsers.

With these challenges, the video player becomes central to content delivery and the analysis of what the consumer experience looks like. For instance, it provides granular data for enhanced viewer analytics, executes intelligent decision-making needed for adaptive bit rate streaming, and makes the key decisions required for quality playback. To begin rendering a video, the player must determine the correct playback technology based on the codecs, containers and streaming protocols supported by the device and its software. Then the player must select an appropriate stream based on factors such as screen resolution, network speed and device capabilities.

A well implemented player can deftly navigate device, operating system and protocol incompatibilities, as well as bugs and unexpected behavior, to deliver high-quality video regardless of the situation.

As organizations search for a video player solution, there are three key trends to keep in mind that can help ensure fast, reliable and secure content delivery.

First, we will see the rise of HTML5 with media source extensions as the new universal in-browser playback standard. We have already seen a seismic shift from a near monopoly of Flash-based video to the opposite—the dominance of mobile devices with no Flash support. This has led first to the rise of native iOS and Android players, and now toward the adoption of HTML5—and eventually HTML5 with Media Source Extensions—as the new “universal” standard.

Secondly, there will be a shift to MPEG-DASH as the new industry standard in the coming years. Video protocols have also evolved tremendously over the last few years, shifting from competing proprietary streaming protocols to competing HTTP-based protocols. Now, just as HLS and HDS are becoming mainstream, the shift toward MPEG-DASH as a likely new industry-wide standard represents interoperability across platforms, protocols, operating systems and codecs. While widespread adoption is still likely more than a year away, the industry is clearly moving in this direction.

And lastly, DRM will become increasingly important and commonplace as publishers demand stronger content protection for delivering HD and 4K resolutions. Implementing DRM remains complicated as publishers must resolve device and player support among formats such as Microsoft Playready, Google Widevine and Adobe Access and others. Moving forward, the HTML5 Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) draft specification will help enable aforementioned HTML5 MSE browser-based players to leverage DRM, while MPEG-DASH Common Encryptions (CENC) will allow different DRM schemes to co-exist for DASH-formatted content.

As devices evolve, consumer expectations grow, too. This moving target of technologies and expectations will continue to make delivering video content challenging in the years ahead. The media player is a linchpin of the strategy and serves as the main touch point between content and the viewer. Leveraging a media player that can adapt to and stay ahead of these trends will allow organizations to focus on the content and user experience, rather than the technical challenges of delivering that content.

Frank Paolino is the senior service line director of the media development team at Akamai. In this role, he manages the delivery of media player services, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to delivering high-quality experiences that integrate interactive playback, HD delivery and insightful analytics.

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