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Less Hype, More Market Research

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Our industry tends to run on three things: caffeine, code, and hype. Two of these are necessary, and one of them should, slink out of the building and disappear into the sunset.

To the outside world, we are considered a "sexy" industry. How sexy? I've had at least two Customs and Border Protection agents, upon hearing my occupation, ask for advice on how to set up their routers to get better quality Netflix video streams.

Even when the economy is in a funk, streaming is viewed as a resilient industry that defies economic malaise, kicking into high gear to bring entertainment to the masses across the globe. To handle the success of streaming, with audience sizes continuing to grow exponentially larger each year for both video on demand (VOD) and live streaming, we are also expected to work magic with infrastructure, broadcast video technologies, and even a bit of gaffers tape.

For all that streaming goodness, though, built on a foundation of lots of late-night coding powered by copious amounts of caffeine, we still have a tendency to be victims of our own success. That's where the hype comes in. In my 18 years in streaming, it's been apparent that some very critical decisions have been made via, at best, a gut feeling, without much market data to back up the decision.

Consider the hype around MPEG-4 Part 2. That ostensible replacement for MPEG-2 was touted at every show from NAB to IBC, with everyone from Microsoft to broadcast gear manufacturers attempting to sell replacement gear for MPEG-2 that only provided 10%–15% additional encoding efficiency. The effort fell flat for both technical and business reasons.

First, in an attempt to sell this new technology, the industry ignored the fact that most broadcasters had only just switched to MPEG-2 transport stream equipment, meaning the manufacturers faced off against classic broadcast gear amortization schedules. The lesson learned here was that marketing to the bean counters is not a bad idea.

Second, besides not being significantly better in terms of encoding efficiency, MPEG-4 Part 2 also didn't play well with MPEG-2 transport stream gear, meaning that the entire technology infrastructure might have needed replacing.

It wasn't until MPEG-4 Part 10 (aka AVC, H.264) came along a few years later, offering double the encoding efficiency and encapsulation in existing MPEG-2 transport stream gear, that the broadcast industry was enticed to move forward.

That hype-based decision making was semiacceptable when we were sending small video streams across dial-up and early broadband. Today, however, we're a grown-up industry that has reached critical mass, leaving us with no excuse when it comes to using proper research and analysis tools.

As more and more viewers come to rely on our product as their primary entertainment or news source, there's a need to correlate data around over-the-top (OTT), video formats, and even outlier technologies such as VR and HDR video acquired and displayed at high frame rates.

On page 14, you'll find an infographic covering these topics, as well as a quick introduction to a service that I've been delighted to help with over the past year: Unisphere Research's survey offering, which not only crafts custom questions to ask industry experts but also provides insightful analysis into key trends derived from survey responses. (Unisphere Research and Streaming Media are owned by the same parent company, Information Today, Inc.)

The combination of Streaming Media's audience and Unisphere Research's survey tools has emerged as Streaming Media Research. We're getting consistent feedback on our research reports, from sponsors that find the results helpful in targeting their marketing resources as well as from participants through their in-survey comments and subsequent feedback after the reports are published.

If you haven't read one of our recent reports about OTT or a variety of other topics, you can register and download one here. Feel free to send emails about anything in the report. After reading one of the reports, also feel free to suggest a survey topic that might be of interest to sponsors and readers.

[This article appears in the September 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Streams of Thought: It's Time to Stop the Hype."]

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