IT Agility: The Key for Great User Experiences in OTT Transition

The rise of over-the-top (OTT) content has made an already tricky job even more complex for broadcasters. It’s challenging enough to deliver perfect live video to traditional platforms 24/7 – now try doing it over broadband connections, to millions of consumers all over the globe.

That’s the task broadcasters face in a digital media landscape that’s increasingly dominated by the seemingly insatiable hunger for real-time streaming video. In the U.S., OTT providers are enjoying much faster revenue growth (32 percent annually) compared to cable, satellite, and telco TV providers (3 percent), according to The Convergence Group. European consumers are slower to adopt paid OTT services compared to U.S. viewers, but the market is quickly gaining traction. See Figure 1.

OTT video usage in Western Europe is continuing to expand, with 55% of U.K. broadband households and 51% in France watching TV programming and movies online. This compares to 70% in the U.S., according to Parks Associates.

OTT video usage in Western Europe is continuing to expand, with 55% of U.K. broadband households and 51% in France watching TV programming and movies online. This compares to 70% in the U.S., according to Parks Associates.

Market momentum fuels the rise of more OTT players that have an eye on business growth. Cloud-born digital media providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime have already staked their claim. Traditional broadcasters are launching their own OTT platforms, like HBO Now or Sky Q. Sports leagues are also jumping into the fray – Major League Baseball’s hugely successful streaming platform now serves as the technological backend for many other sports and non-sports streaming services.

At the centre of the OTT story is user experience. Of all services delivered over the internet (music, social media, even online banking), video is the hardest one to deliver at the high standard of quality that customers expect from traditional broadcast. And since customer satisfaction is the ultimate arbiter of success or failure, a poor video experience could make or break any broadcaster’s new streaming offering. 

QoE should be measured over the entire infrastructure. Source: Analysys Mason, 2016.

QoE should be measured over the entire infrastructure. Source: Analysys Mason, 2016.

The focus for OTT service providers, then, should be to maximise the user experience. IT agility will be the core of these efforts – you need the right IT resources (especially connectivity) in the right geographic locations with the flexibility to scale capabilities in order to deliver high-quality streaming content anywhere in the world. Access to the cloud within a colocation data centre provides the agility broadcasters need to improve OTT service experiences in three specific ways: video delivery, video contribution and fan engagement.

Streaming Video Delivery

If you want to see the impact streaming quality can have on customer satisfaction, log onto Twitter the next time any major streaming TV provider suffers a glitch during a major sports event. A quick skim through the thousands of angry tweets directed at “Provider X” should provide a pretty good sense for how seriously viewers take their sports streaming.

Live sport is often the most demanding type of content. Viewers will not tolerate quality issues such as; delay, lagging, skipping or jittering video images.

Live sport is often the most demanding type of content. Viewers will not tolerate quality issues such as; delay, lagging, skipping or jittering video images.

Sports provide some of the very few live video experiences that are shared between thousands – even millions – of viewers at the same time, nearly all of whom have no tolerance for lagging, skipping, or jittery video. That may seem like a high bar, but it’s a great example of why service delivery is such a key factor for OTT success.

The best way to ensure quality is to deliver video from as close to the end user as possible.  Good IT planning involves collocating equipment in facilities that offer a wide variety of connectivity options such as ISPs and content-delivery networks (CDN) close to large populations.  

Broadcasters must find data centres not just in target geographic regions, but also in strategically prime locations within those regions. For example, colocation facilities in the centre of urban environments allow broadcasters to stream high-quality video across densely populated metropolitan regions. Taking it another step further, certain urban locations offer access to a larger audience than others, increasing the sheer number of viewers reached by a local ISP. That’s how broadcasters gain the agility to scale quality video to more users.

Video Contribution

Before you can deliver video to the viewer, you need to actually have the video in hand. Video contribution is another important aspect of the live OTT experience where IT agility can make a major difference.

Back to the sports example. A strategically located network of data centres can make it faster and easier for broadcasters to receive raw video from the field of competition – say, the feed for a live NFL game – and distribute that video via OTT service platforms. Importantly, reliable and consistent access to the direct video feed allows broadcasters to add on the important context users expect around any game: live statistics, minute-by-minute league updates, instant replay, social media integration, and more.

In other words, a reliable and agile IT environment allows broadcasters to focus on building the most complete and fulfilling OTT viewer experience they can.

Creating Engaging User Experiences

If you can deliver live streaming video, you can deliver almost any type of OTT service. The most innovative service providers are thinking about emerging opportunities to enhance the viewer experience.

Consider, for example, virtual reality. To lean on the sports example once more, many English football clubs are massively popular in Asia, and clubs put a lot of social media effort into nurturing these faraway fanbases. Heading to the stadium is naturally much more difficult for these fans, but a virtual reality experience could allow them to watch games at home and feel like they’re right in the stadium.

This is where an agile IT network allows service providers to take advantage of global market opportunities. By delivering emerging OTT applications like virtual reality from colocation data centres in strategically advantageous international locations, providers can reach more customers with high-quality experiences. Great engagement leads to happier customers, which creates the potential for more revenue opportunities.

Ultimately, the massive move to OTT content opens the door to huge growth potential, if providers have the IT agility to solve experience challenges.

Richard Craig-McFeely is Strategy & Marketing Director, Digital Media at Interxion, a colocation data centre provider.

Richard Craig-McFeely is Strategy & Marketing Director, Digital Media at Interxion, a colocation data centre provider.

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