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Behind the Scenes: Measuring Mobile Video Quality

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Throughout the world, people are using their mobile devices to constantly access and stream mobile video. New larger-screen devices (like tablets) are allowing consumers to better enjoy the experience.

Although consumers are thrilled by the abundance of mobile video content available, other market stakeholders, such as mobile delivery companies, have concerns. These companies include content publishers, aggregators, advertisers, content delivery networks (CDNs), carriers, and mobile service providers. They can all rightfully claim that they are not receiving enough value in return for their contributions and roles in creating and/or disseminating mobile video traffic. This is because technological advances in mobile video are moving faster than the evolution of associated business models that would enable the companies to receive value commensurate with their investments.

Some companies are trying to address this issue. For example, some carriers have introduced caps on data usage and some wireless providers have implemented new value-added services. However, the industry has yet to identify ways to properly monetize the video content that is most widely viewed. The good news is that consumers have already shown a willingness to pay extra for premium content such as sporting events, pay-per-view concerts, or video-on-demand movies, especially when they can get them on multiple devices. However, as consumers are asked to pay more money for premium services, their expectations, particularly as to video quality, will rise.

What is perceptual video quality?

The first step toward improving video quality is being able to measure it. To determine video quality from a viewer standpoint, companies should measure the experience as it is actually seen by the viewer. However, many companies today use systems that approximate video quality based on network conditions, which are unreliable even under normal circumstances.

For a video environment, a measurement solution stands to benefit in terms of reliability by examining the video stream itself -- looking at the pixels of the video to determine impairments, and then determining if those impairments are likely to be perceived by the viewer. This leads to a true measure of perceptual quality. The solution should also identify a specific piece of video content and then track the content as it is transmitted through the network via a "content identification" technique, instead of simply evaluating the general quality of the whole video being transmitted.

How can video quality affect the bottom line?

Armed with the ability to measure and track video quality, service providers are able to manage the level of user experience that they deliver. This capability allows them to offer differentiated service levels where some regular customers may choose to accept a "best effort" video service, while other customers instead desire (and are willing to pay more for) the promise of a better overall experience.

Service providers are not the only beneficiaries of perceptual video quality measurement and tracking. Content publishers can confirm that video content is delivered successfully to the right device with high quality, allowing them to better leverage their content generate additional sources of revenue. Content aggregators can validate that end consumers have received their content at an acceptable level of quality, allowing them to retain current customers and up-sell new features. Advertisers and advertising networks can be confident that ads were delivered to the end consumers, allowing them to charge higher advertising rates and give them more effective growth of mobile advertising. CDNs can prove to their customers that video delivered using their services is arriving to the mobile consumer at an acceptable level of quality. Telecom carriers can differentiate their services based on quality, allowing them to agree to new service level agreements (SLAs) based on video quality, helping them avoid further commoditization and allowing them to provide value beyond that of being a "pipe" to deliver traffic.

As viewers continue to integrate mobile video into their on-the-go lives, they will expect more from the players within the mobile delivery ecosystem. A solution that measures the perceptual quality of mobile video is a win for everyone.  

StreamingMedia.com occasionaly accepts guest posts if they are vendor-neutral and of value to our reader. Uno Mehta is the vice president and general manager for the video business unit at Dialogic.

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