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Like VoIP Before It, Video Quality Is the Final Measure of OTT Success

http://delivers.limelight.com/OTTVideoExec

Since the beginning of my career, first in software and then in telecom, quality has always been the final arbiter of consumer adoption. Consumers eventually rebel against buggy software no matter how useful it is, and back in the early days of Voice over IP, call quality was king. These days you can make an argument that "content is king" when it comes to watching television and movies online, but quality is still an important "tables stake" that most consumers now take for granted. Oh sure, there are pockets of time when rabid fans will do anything to get the latest episode of their favorite zombie show or sports event regardless of how grainy the picture is or sketchy the source it comes from. But at the end of the day, if you can't deliver quality video streaming, good luck holding onto your customer base.

To prove my point, I'd like you all to do a little informal experiment. 

Next time you have friends over, ask them to guess the source of the content they are watching on your HDTV. Only give them a few moments to decide, before there are any obvious clues such as broadcast/cable TV ads. And don’t base it on giveaways such as a live NFL playoff game or cable news show (though these days you might fool them with OTT availability through subscription apps). Ask them to guess based on video quality alone. Is it streaming from the Internet or is it live broadcast/cable/sat?

I bet they can’t tell the difference.

Isn’t this amazing? It seems only a few years ago early Netflix adopters had to endure constant buffering and re-buffering. Thankfully, that is no longer a pervasive problem. Yes, there are still occasional issues with streaming quality but the progress that has happened in such a short period of time is phenomenal. Most of us take it for granted, but those “in the know” understand the immense technical innovation and infrastructure development that was required to make this world possible.

I recently had a chance to explore this issue deeper by reading an informative white paper by Limelight Networks, a sponsor of the upcoming OTT Executive Summit (June 15 in New York City, www.OTTexec.com). Limelight wrote a comprehensive overview on the topic of OTT video quality and provides tips and best practices for delivering broadcast quality experience to a new generation of viewers who expect a fast, seamless experience from any connected device. The goal is to make the HD video experience instantaneous, “just like turning on the television,” regardless of whether the content is streamed to a TV, Xbox, smart phone, or browser.

http://delivers.limelight.com/OTTVideoExec

Two quick insights that most resonated with me:

  • It’s a good time to take a fresh look at your entire OTT workflow. If your operation is similar to any of my clients, your hardware and software infrastructure may have grown through a series of band-aid investments. Have you baked in inefficiencies that get in the way of delivering an immediate experience? Are there network weaknesses waiting for the most inopportune time to crash your live streaming operation?
  • High-end mezzanine files— today’s high-end is tomorrow’s low-end. You are better off producing your video in the highest format possible (i.e., 4K) and down-grading with transcoding to meet specific requirements (i.e., 1080p, 720p, SD, etc.).

And again, many of you may argue that OTT services are cleaning up at the awards shows as proof that "content is king" (and I won't deny the kudos that are due), but really-- would any of these awards have ever come if the quality of the video stream did not make you forget you weren't watching "normal" broadcast television? I think not. 

As always, I welcome your feedback on this white paper. Thanks!

-Brian Mahony

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