Driven in no small part by the COVID-19 pandemic, over-the-top (OTT) streaming has exploded over the last few years. In the United States, about 53% of households currently have three or more subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services, and 27% have five or more. And the demand for premium content anytime, anywhere, and on any screen only continues to grow.
According to Insider Intelligence, OTT video services in the U.S. are expected to attract 4.2 million new viewers this year alone. By 2026, that number will be over 12 million, with 73% of the U.S. population relying on OTT streaming for their video consumption. According to Analyses Mason, total worldwide spending on OTT video services will almost double between 2019 and 2024, from $67 billion to $130 billion, with more than 310 million connected households having at least one OTT service.
This trend represents a significant opportunity for service providers. However, to take advantage, there are several challenges inherent to the OTT environment that service providers must tackle to ensure exceptional audio and video quality on every screen. This article will discuss common delivery challenges in the OTT environment and their effect on quality of experience (QoE) and quality of service (QoS). The article will also explore key features to look for when selecting a monitoring and QC solution, highlighting the advantages of cloud-based OTT monitoring.
OTT Vs. Linear Broadcast Distribution
To deliver video on every screen, content must be re-encoded, transcoded, and multiplexed. Unfortunately, errors that can adversely affect content integrity and the user experience can occur at any point of the workflow, from transcoding and packaging to the origin server and delivery. Common issues include poor video quality caused by over-compression during content preparation; play failures due to unsupported DRM protection schemes on a device; HTTP failure caused by client or server errors; and frequent stalling and switching during playback.
In addition, reaching viewers in different countries requires preparing content in a wide range of different languages, creating audio dubs, and making captions. The globalization of video offerings only adds to the massive volume of content service providers are already managing. What’s more, it increases the potential for errors that can impact QoE and QoS, which providers simply can’t afford in such a highly competitive market. With so many streaming options to choose from, subscriber loyalty isn’t a guarantee. According to research by Interpret, only 20% of streaming subscribers are content to stay with their current provider. The reason is simple: today’s viewers have very high expectations for their streaming experiences, no matter the screen they’re watching on. The margin for error is exceedingly thin, as research has found that any amount of buffering or issues with audio or video quality will cause consumers to seek out a different service.
Deploying An Automated Monitoring Solution
With so many factors that can impact video and audio quality in the OTT environment — and the risk of revenue loss associated with any dip in customer satisfaction — it’s imperative that service providers deploy a comprehensive solution that can seamlessly monitor all aspects of online video delivery for quality and compliance. When selecting a solution, there are several key factors to keep in mind.
Real-Time, In-Depth Monitoring
Real-time content monitoring is critical and will assure that errors are caught quickly, improve content integrity, and enhance network performance. Utilizing a real-time content monitoring solution, service providers can view various QoS/QoE metrics for any asset, including download time and bit rate, loudness, blockiness, and audio/video mean opinion score. The more diverse the checks, the better the insights gained into QoE and QoS trends.
Since errors can occur at multiple points in the OTT workflow, having a centralized view — with monitoring probes placed at the encoders, transcoders, origin servers, and CDNs — is imperative. Centralized monitoring helps providers to quickly detect and isolate issues, offering unprecedented visibility and control over the entire video preparation and delivery chain for VOD content. Centralized operations will provide alerts, video and audio quality tracking, and scoring for any content at any point. Solutions that provide the real-time status of all channels across the network offer an additional benefit of allowing providers to adopt a proactive approach to monitoring. Other key features to look for include geo-based monitoring views, historical reports, and in-depth diagnostics.
Monitoring ST 2110 Workflows
The industry’s eagerness to move to Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure has led SMPTE to define standards that allow true interoperability and efficiency, including SMPTE ST 2110. The ability to monitor ST 2110 workflows has already become vital for ensuring a high QoS and QoE. By utilizing ST 2110 monitoring probes, service providers can ensure high quality and performance for SDI-IP streams and take full advantage of the flexibility and benefits of the ST 2110 standard. Monitoring solutions that also support the ST 2022-6 standard ensure smooth encapsulation of SDI signals into IP streams.
Ad Insertion Monitoring
In the OTT environment, service providers can utilize dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technology to deliver personalized advertising to increase monetization and provide a more engaging video experience to consumers. However, as more and more providers utilize DAI, it has become increasingly important to ensure that ads are high quality and comply with all regulations. By deploying a monitoring solution that provides ad insertion monitoring reports with summarized and detailed cue information, providers can guarantee superior service quality and advertising. Specifically, features such as SCTE-35 cue messages and post-insertion verification for regulatory compliance are key. Solutions offering these features will monitor all ad marker information for HLS and MPD content, log markers and syntax details, and validate the marker information based on checks.
Oftentimes, workflows fall outside the control of streaming service providers. For instance, a client CDN request on the East Coast might have no issues but there might be an outage on the West Coast. Deploying probes at different locations, depending on how content is distributed, is important part of monitoring. Adding monitoring probes is relatively easy in the cloud for capacity expansion or in case of a probe failure.
Advantages Of Cloud-Based OTT Monitoring
A shift to cloud-based workflows is happening across the video industry. End-to-end, cloud-based monitoring solutions can be utilized at every stage of the media workflow — from content creation and acquisition to all forms of delivery — to check and monitor VOD adaptive bitrate streams. Deploying a cloud-based monitoring solution across the enterprise can fuel additional benefits. Enterprise-class solutions offer deep baseband checks, superior QoS and QoE validation, and multi-DRM support for protected content, while providing APIs for easy integration with other components in the chain, such as content management systems (CMS).
One significant advantage of cloud-ready monitoring solutions is their ability to facilitate remote operations for service providers, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdowns, when media companies didn’t have physical access to their facilities, they were able to use cloud-based monitoring to access status of media delivery. However, the ability to work remotely is just the beginning of the advantages offered by cloud solutions.
In addition to eliminating the need to invest heavily in infrastructure, providing support for next-generation video and audio formats, and taking advantage of newer, faster processors for optimum performance, cloud-based monitoring solutions address the need for scalability in the OTT workflow. With a cloud-based architecture, service providers can scale storage, media asset management, origin server, CDN capacity, and other workflow systems up and down based on demand, without impacting performance. This allows OTT providers to launch new services rapidly from anywhere in the world. Cloud-based solutions also address the critical need to perform QoS and QoE at any point in the delivery chain by deploying monitoring probes on demand, while a unified platform provides ease of use and improves operational efficiency by enabling single-point centralized control and monitoring for multiple OTT probes.
Finally, cloud-based workflows drive down costs compared with on-premises counterparts by leaving IT issues in the hands of the cloud service providers. This frees up media companies to focus on deploying better content and delivering better quality to increase customer satisfaction and revenues.
Anupama Anantharaman, VP – Product Management, Interra Systems.
In the video streaming world, the competition is fierce. There are a variety of different services to choose from, and expectations for the quality of deiivery and viewing experience have evolved. So, for service providers, delivering an exceptional QoE and QoS on every screen is crucial for maintaining subscriber satisfaction, driving customer engagement, and increasing profitability. However, it’s a difficult task, as they are swamped by the sheer volume of content they’re managing with limited visibility into their customers’ QoE.
To deliver a consistently good quality experience, media companies need to consider new age realities. Consider this: As other players in the streaming ecosystem adopt cloud, it might become a requirement to have cloud based monitoring in order to work with transcoders, DRM Systems, or CDNs. By eliminating the work required to maintain on-prem hardware infrastructure, cloud-based monitoring and QC systems can help service providers streamline content delivery and deliver video with better quality of service, and better quality of experience.