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The future of OTT streaming

Gert Rieder, CEO, Falcon Media House, looks at how to overcome some of the challenges preventing content providers and producers embracing the latest innovations

The availability of 4K movies and TV programmes has exploded. Since Vudu offered the first OTT HD video, subscription-based services like Netflix have led the way in developing HD streaming. This innovation brought near cinema-quality viewing to the home and to people on the move. Yet, 4K is already on the verge of being superseded. By the time of the next summer Olympics in Japan, we could see live sports delivered in 8K for the first time. This viewing quality will be four times more detailed than 4K and 16 times more detailed than standard 1080p HD.

With the wider adoption of 4K emerging and 8K already on the horizon, there is an ever-increasing demand from consumers for better, higher quality visual content. When it comes to global spectacles like the Olympics or the World Cup, this extra resolution will further enhance the viewing experience for the audience. And, with virtual and augmented reality becoming increasingly popular there is an appetite from viewers for new, more engaging, personal content. This combined is making the user experience king once again. For the OTT industry, this means helping consumers access, navigate and consume video content in new ways, while all the time ensuring that the streaming experience is seamless.

The 8K mainstream barrier
One of the hurdles to overcome before 8K breaks into the mainstream is delivering the bandwidth required to watch a feed that multiplies the pixel count. Despite tight codec compression, there is still a requirement for 50Mb of bandwidth to stream an 8K video. This is ten times the capacity currently needed to seamlessly stream live HD video, and we’ve seen that even minor disruption to throughput can cause problems. A combination of network bottlenecks, low capacity and multiple devices connected to the network are normally responsible for creating congestion, intermittent outages and noticeable delays when live TV and sports games are streamed over the public internet.

While it could take years to provision enough bandwidth on existing networks, consumers are becoming less tolerant of buffering and expect a quality service and experience at all times. The emergence of digital natives that have grown-up with an inherent understanding of technology has created new demand for broadband suppliers, TV manufacturers and content producers to augment the sophistication of their products. Both TV manufactures and content producers are currently enjoying healthy growth rates. However, it does come at a price and consumers expect a seamless viewing experience from any device regardless of when, where or what they choose to watch at any given moment of time.

Demand for the best picture
Both Netflix and Amazon’s recent growth has in part been driven by original programming and in part by ubiquitous availability, which has fundamentally transformed the viewing experience forever. Recent research from Anatomy showed that nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of millennials are now watching TV via streaming and OTT platforms and over a third (35 per cent) are consuming content via smartphones and tablet apps. When asked which was their primary way to watch TV, half said they watch video content on a desktop or mobile device. Millennials want the flexibility of a more personal viewing experience afforded by these device types, as well as more autonomy over the choice and provider of content.

Today’s promiscuous viewers will not tolerate any buffering. Intermittent outages and delays are out of the question. Just a few seconds is all it takes for them to switch off and move over to a competitor’s service. The chances are that most consumers will remember a bad experience and not even attempt to re-watch a video if it doesn’t work the first time. Their time and attention is too precious. For many service providers and content owners, this mentality will drive a need to be able to deliver a quality streaming service and a superior experience that engages viewers in the moment. However, even with superfast household internet connections emerging, a combination of network bottlenecks, multiple devices and old hardware can interfere with the stream. In its current form, it could take years for network providers to provision enough bandwidth into people’s homes to solve the problem.

The intelligent answer
Delivering an uninterrupted viewing experience requires smarter use of existing networks. It requires a different approach to intelligently manage the network connection. One that enables service providers to make the most of the bandwidth available. By tracking media bit rates and changes in data flow between the server and a consumer’s device, broadcasters can understand the impact it is having on buffer times, ping and response times, packet loss and delays. Based on this information, it’s possible to adapt the routing of video traffic to avoid congestion and support the capabilities of a target device.

Ultimately, the availability of quality streaming services will increase. As new disruptive content providers and producers enter the market, it’s crucial that broadcasters can deliver consistent, high quality video to capture consumers attention. However, the only way to truly achieve this is by delivering a higher quality, more consistent end user experience by ensuring smooth data flow over a fluctuating network.

By Gert Rieder, CEO, Falcon Media House