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The Arrival of OTT Live Video

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Video-on-demand streaming systems have drastically changed how video content is monetized, delivered, and consumed. Over-the-top (OTT) distribution platforms have completely evolved customer expectations for content, driving greater demand for an ever-higher quality of experience—and this demand for quality is now impacting a long-held mainstay of broadcast TV: live events.

According to Forbes, 2017 saw tremendous consumer growth in streaming TV services, and 2018 is set to be even bigger. This year, eMarketer estimates that 181.5 million U.S. consumers will use connected TVs at least once every month—equating to more than 55% of the U.S. population—and by 2021, that number will expand to 194.4 million, which is almost 58% of the population. 

Today, every major television outlet is in the midst of launching or advancing their direct-to-consumer VOD streaming services. Consumers now have more control and choice than ever, and the industry is becoming fiercely competitive in its quest for high-quality content to keep viewers. According to Parks Associates, there are over 200OTT services in the U.S. market, and that number is increasing rapidly.

Setting the Stage for Live OTT Streaming

Video-on-demand (VOD) systems have erased content delivery barriers and have paved the way for almost limitless service options. It is now possible to distribute a wide range of content for different devices, such as SD and HD in various resolutions. As broadcasters and program providers work to upgrade and improve their systems, the next frontier for OTT and direct-to-customer streaming will be in delivering high-quality live content. 

With rapid innovation and the acceleration of new features and services coming to market, the advancement and acceptance of cloud-based live streaming will shift from leading-edge adoption to mass consumption in record time—and quality of experience will be the differentiating factor for consumers and providers alike.

While early adopters of live streaming accepted convenience over quality, capturing market share now requires meeting the quality expectation of the average cable TV consumer for live content. Ranging from interface performance and convenience, to pricing, to video and audio quality, the total quality of experience is foremost in mind with consumers. Customers are looking for a provider that can deliver both the convenience and quality they demand. Quality compromise is no longer an option.

Tools for Assuring a High QoE

Early streaming providers introduced live services quickly to establish market share and test customer acceptance. Owing to that development approach, even now some providers only have basic data that “something is going out.” Except for setting up a local Roku box, these providers don’t have any visibility of content quality until something major happens. It's like waiting until your car breaks down before addressing issues; there are no tools in place to proactively monitor the content or quickly perform diagnostics and troubleshooting. Within an environment that's become all about the quality of experience, this is not a good go-to-market strategy.

Live cloud streaming networks and workflows are very complex. Operators are bringing new services to market at rapid speed and are innovating with new features and updates even faster. This combination of complexity and rapid evolution on a still-maturing platform is a combination that naturally leads to streaming issues.Recently, for example, a large provider had a major issue during a live prime-time game, and it took more than an hour to find and fix the issue. Many customers dropped off and went somewhere else.

In the VOD and live streaming market, a provider's brand is defined in terms of the quality of the content delivered. The key to success here is proper monitoring. Providers must leverage a system that detects, alerts and reports on critical customer-impacting issues.The goal is to give departments tasked with quality a single tool for monitoring assets and network performance, regardless of whether the distribution and delivery network is linear or multi-profile streaming.

One solution is to utilize software-based architecture, which allows for high levels of flexibility in where and how information can be accessed. It also makes it possible to customize what is reported and when it is delivered.

Customization can be invaluable for providers. In any buildout for monitoring, the key is finding a way to receive aggregate data and analytics that will also provide a comprehensive network overview. Identifying a common and consistent set of measurements to simplify diagnosis and reduce the time to remedy complex issues is critical to supplying users with a high level of quality content. 

Simply put, engineering personnel must be supplied with a range of in-depth measurements and analysis to ease fault diagnosis on reported issues. This allows managers and technicians to quickly react before the end customer notices a problem, allowing businesses to avoid costly impacts of viewer dissatisfaction.

Low Barrier to Entry, High Cost of Failure

Millions of consumers have a VOD service like Netflix now, and the quality is very similar to what we would consider broadcast quality. Catalyzed by that exposure, the expectations of quality for live event streaming have changed.

In the early days of live streaming, customers who were away from a broadcast were just happy to be able to watch and track a game or live event remotely on their smartphone, laptop, or other device. The consumer accepted the fact that a cloud-based, internet-broadcast remote event would have issues. But now the expectation is for much greater reliability and a level of quality equivalent to broadcast television.

For providers to deliver on this promise, it's critical to have proactive tools that can detect issues before the customer sees it. Today, quality is both a differentiator and a detriment. It’s no longer a commodity. It's easy for customers to take advantage of free trials to test various providers to see which they like best. It's also easy for customer to switch between providers looking for a better experience.

Of course, streaming providers can tell that they’re sending information out. The switches and network can verify that millions of packets went out, but they can't see the content. Even if you know that data is moving, that doesn't mean it looks good. Providers are realizing that they need to instrument for proactive stream quality and reliability. There's an incredible level of competition—and it's only going to increase.

Developers and providers are moving as quickly as possible, adding content, services, features, and capabilities. But they need to take time to analyze and monitor their streams, to quickly troubleshoot issues when they arise, and to stay a step ahead of their competitors with a great quality of experience.

If something goes wrong, the provider's brand will suffer. Compared to the cost of the content and the talent, the advertising, and marketing—compared to the cost of not knowing there's an issue until tens of thousands of customers drop off or switch away from to a competitive service — instrumenting for proper live streaming analysis and detecting customer-impacting issues will allow providers to win the next big opportunity in OTT cloud streaming: the high-quality live broadcast event.

For more on quality assurance for live video, see this presentation from Streaming Media East.

[This is a vendor-submitted article from Tektronix. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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