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Why streaming services need new ways to differentiate

With the streaming sector becoming ever more saturated, Ian Waters, senior director, Cisco ThousandEyes, takes a look at what SVoD and BVoD operators need to do in order to both survive and thrive

Streaming services from both digital natives and traditional broadcasters have now become part and parcel of many households’ entertainment. In fact, according to Ofcom, UK subscriptions to streaming video on demand (SVoD) services rose by half last year, to reach a new record number of 31 million UK consumers. 

Streaming’s growing popularity creates both an opportunity and a challenge for broadcasters and content owners. Firstly, the content market – and therefore the audience that consumes that content – is now more fragmented than ever. The competition is not just found in the market leaders but in other digital arenas like gaming and social media.

What’s more, new generations of consumers are unforgiving when it comes to bad streaming experiences. One bad experience, and they will take their viewership elsewhere and not return.

To sustain and grow their audience share and reach, streaming providers need to focus on the way that content is delivered to viewers and the quality of the end-to-end service. This quality is now a key differentiator. 

An internet-enabled evolution

UK consumers now have hundreds of local and global streaming services from both SVoD and broadcast video on demand (BVoD) operators to choose from  – that’s a lot of competition for viewers’ time and attention. Naturally, there are questions around how many services a market can handle. As a result, these providers must stay relevant and connected with audiences to be successful.

But first, it’s important to consider the evolution of the TV market. Rewind a decade ago and linear TV services dominated the broadcast world. The operators of these services ran the entire end-to-end delivery and network infrastructure. These broadcasters were under a lot of pressure to maintain high uptime. If ever the box went black, it would cost them thousands in lost advertising revenue. 

The internet re-wrote the broadcast playbook. Whilst the pressures of delivering an always-on service still remain, it has significantly lowered cost barriers to entry and has signalled a new area of new Internet-powered services and devices. Video content now needs to be delivered reliably where the audience is, across mobile and fixed-line networks.

As a result, this new era of content delivery requires partnerships with carrier service providers, content delivery networks (CDNs), digital monitoring and security service providers to manage the content delivery and viewing experience – not only now but in the future. Streaming providers must provision network capacity and bandwidth for all possible viewing scenarios.

However, this also means these organisations are dealing with increasingly complicated IT ecosystems, often stitching together a range of technology services and connectivity they do not own to reach their intended audience. And even though they have far less control over the end-to-end delivery mechanism, they are still ultimately held responsible by consumers for how it performs. So, how can they find new ways of making content delivery more reliable? 

Critical visibility and collaboration 

Firstly, holistic visibility of all the elements and providers that make up this end-to-end content delivery mechanism is crucial. This kind of visibility provides actionable insights into the performance and availability of these networks that are responsible for delivering a good user experience. Should any part of the chain – be it application, internet or cloud – suffer an outage, SVoD and BVoD organisations can quickly identify and remediate dreaded downtime. And it’s only a matter of when, unfortunately. You don’t need to look far back in time to find an example. In December, Amazon Web Services experienced a major outage that took down major streaming services like Disney Plus and Netflix.

Secondly, these organisations can’t go it alone. Despite the aforementioned lack of control, they do need to partner with a range of technology and carrier service providers to ensure they remain competitive and online for their users. The outages of 2021 served as a clear reminder that the internet can tumble. Streaming providers should consider diversifying their delivery services to provide brand reputation. If any of their providers experience a disruption in services, they can route around it or communicate the issue quickly to customers. 

Further to this, in a world where it’s no longer good enough just to launch a streaming service and the size of catalogue is not always a barometer for success, they need to understand their customers’ preferences and behaviours to develop a unique, seamless platform, while also monetising their content through intelligent data gathering.

Increasingly, it is those partnerships that will result in differentiated viewing experiences that keep viewing audiences engaged.

A brave new streaming world 

So, what’s next for streaming? Already, we’re seeing agreements with as-a-service application providers and carrier service providers to apply quality-of-service (QoS) prioritisation to their specific application traffic, improving the performance of those services for a nominal monthly fee. We are likely to see similar arrangements develop over time, with partnerships being established between internet providers or backbone networks to ensure that streaming traffic gets to consumers faster. In the future, the market may well be made up of tiered services, where consumers can pay for enhanced streaming services.

Ultimately, the SVoD and BVoD operators that can offer these value-add propositions, while maintaining visibility of the networks and providers that are working together to deliver a first-rate user experience will be the ones to survive and thrive.