The OTT Difference
Over the past several years, over-the-top (OTT) video has exploded in popularity: Notable companies such as Hulu and Netflix have led the way, but start-ups and traditional broadcast companies have also entered the fray. Video streaming has been widely cited as a threat to traditional television broadcasting, but the two forms of content delivery are not, by nature, incompatible.
The ways OTT differs from other streaming video help explain its burgeoning popularity, and why it is so competitive with other forms of video streaming.
One of the biggest ways OTT differs from other streaming video is what it offers to customers. OTT streaming now functions in much the same manner as traditional broadband, without some of the drawbacks. Defining features of OTT from a consumer standpoint include:
- On-demand streaming. This is, of course, the defining feature of OTT—the ability to give consumers constant, easy access to video content. In contrast, traditional television requires users to either watch at specified times or record episodes.
- Multi-platform support. Subscribers can view content from any device, including cell phones, PCs, and television sets. In addition, no special equipment beyond a PC is needed. Content is mobile rather than being tied to a specific device, and set-up is simple or even non-existent.
- Delayed access to new content. Netflix recently made headlines by creating its first entirely OTT-based television show, House of Cards; but for other shows, new episodes are still shown hours or even days after they air on TV.
- Fewer advertisements. Compared to television, OTT video streaming comes with few or even no advertisements.
- Faster than Video On Demand (VOD). VOD providers such as YouTube also use HTTP, but the process requires the user to progressively download the file, rather than streaming the content. This results in a long buffering time and lower-quality video.
Some factors that inhibit the popularity of OTT include the following: Streaming videos take up large amounts of cell phone data, and since stream quality depends on the quality of the IP connection, some people still have computers too slow to stream videos effectively. In addition, while some are able to stream videos from their TVs, others must watch videos on a PC, which is less compatible with social viewing—a possible deterrent for groups such as families.
Nevertheless, with ever-increasing access to high-speed internet and high-quality electronic devices, these issues are becoming less significant, while OTT's key advantages are becoming more pronounced.
OTT streaming also has considerable advantages over downloading, another main form of online video consumption. For instance, consumers get much more content from OTT than they get for the same price when downloading; OTT can be viewed on any device; no download time is required; and OTT doesn't take up valuable computer or device memory.
OTT streaming offers many differences from the delivery of video using traditional broadband methods. To be successful, companies need to be aware of the technological basis behind OTT and implement strategies to monitor and address failures. Key ways OTT differs from other streaming video include:
- Delivery method. Broadband streaming is IP-based, while OTT uses HTTP servers; videos are delivered as small files over TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).
- Vulnerability to server overload. Unlike broadband, OTT can become slow or even inaccessible during high-demand times. This is because high traffic crashes servers, which OTT relies on. OTT providers can respond to this problem by implementing adaptive streaming, and most already have.
- Less provider familiarity. Traditional content providers are accustomed to addressing problems with the delivery of broadband content, but OTT comes with its own set of potential issues that providers must be prepared to address.
In the past several years, innovative and effective ways to address these differences have been developed. Now, OTT rivals broadband in the timely delivery of quality content, with all the advantages to consumers listed above. Important methods for ensuring the quality of OTT streams include better training of operators and continuous monitoring of the streams' integrity.
OTT differs from other streaming video in many ways. Some of these differences present new challenges for content providers to overcome, but when successfully addressed, providers can create an excellent user experience.
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