The Challenge of Delivering OTT Video Quality Today, and into the Future

How do we ensure sustainable quality of service and quality of experience across the entire network?

Kurt Michel, Senior Director of Marketing, IneoQuest

Quality measurement is essential for any supply chain to be successful.  Video is no different.  A breakdown in the system causes unhappy customers, damages brand, and can ultimately be the downfall of the entire business.

Today, we are seeing increasing quality expectations; UHD/4K, and High Dynamic Range (HDR), just to name a few.  And, as other new products and capabilities enter the market, every one of them will need performance and interoperability standards to properly integrate them and create value for the total system.

Industry data shows that viewers are migrating to OTT and multiscreen video in ever-increasing numbers. According to Adobe’s Q2 2014 Digital Index, in 2014 there was a 388% increase in the amount of online TV and video being consumed across devices. These numbers continue to rise. By 2019 it’s expected that there will be three devices for every single person on the planet. That’s a lot of devices carrying a whole lot of video.

The original dedicated linear video delivery networks, by virtue of the fact that they were purpose-built and managed by a single entity, had built-in quality standards.  And yet, even within these networks, functional silos, or stovepipes, can result in quality issues. For instance, while one part of the organization may focus on head end/origin content preparation, another might focus on network transport or on the user device.  While each has an essential and interrelated part to play in the total system, they often do not communicate effectively, if at all, with the others when quality challenges occur.

Contrast that with today’s fragmented, unmanaged OTT delivery structure deployed across potentially thousands of different and loosely-connected networks, with many different vendors providing portions of the system, such as storage, authentication, transcoding, delivery…. And to make matters worse, instead of a single signal format for a TV, we now have many different formats for all of the different devices viewers are using. It’s easy to see how content quality has become an enormous challenge.

Meanwhile, on the viewer side, users who were trained to expect almost immediate gratification by rapid television channel changes and near-instantaneous web page loads now have the same performance and quality expectations for video.  They expect a high-quality viewer experience regardless of what device they are using, where they are located, or, frankly, the route the content took to get to their device.

Let’s take customer Joe for example. He begins watching Sunday football on his home television. Less than half way into the game, he moves from his living room to his patio, turning off his set top box and using a tablet to continue watching the game. He has moved from a linear network to a Wi-Fi network and a software-based player app.  He then goes for a walk around his neighborhood, while continuing to monitor the game on his smartphone over his mobile network. Joe expects the same video quality no matter how or where he is watching. When he goes from a great experience and crystal clear vision on his tablet to interrupted buffering playback over his mobile network, he will, of course, look for someone to blame.  Since every player in this fractured system risks damage to their brand and their revenue, what is clear is that an end-to-end solution that measures quality at critical junctures and mitigates that risk is essential for the system to function.

The question then becomes: How do we ensure quality across the entire path, from content origin to viewer’s screen?  Where and how do we measure? What if the players don’t even have access to the physical network?

The answer is a quality assurance system that monitors technology from a combination of appliance-based devices, virtualized cloud monitoring points, and quality monitoring-enabled media players, providing end-to-end visibility into the content preparation, network performance and endpoint performance, anywhere.  IneoQuest has introduced a platform through which network and service managers can easily access dashboards which collect, analyze, and report on this aggregated data to allow monitoring of video in terms of both Quality of Experience (QoE) and Quality of Service (QoS) at any point in the network.

IneoQuest’s digital video analysis tools monitor and report on service quality and potential impairments across the core video delivery ecosystem, from origin to edge, proactively and in real-time, wherever content is modified.  Post-edge, our audience measurement platform gathers viewer behavior data down to the session level, putting appropriate context around the millions of packets that make up a cohesive video stream.

The content owner of Joe’s football game, as well as all of the service providers along the way, can now understand how the video looks on all of Joe’s devices, and quickly and accurately determine the cause and location of any service or experience issue, reducing time to resolution, mitigating damage to their brand and decreasing churn.

It’s important to note here that the ability to correlate viewer behavior with operational data is crucial to creating the optimal viewing experience. Monitoring and reporting on viewer behavior, including channel or program switching, or even tuning out altogether, allows everyone with access to the quality assurance system to analyze and identify what caused the behavior. Factors such as programming, image quality, caching or CDN issues, and network and device performance can all be examined and if necessary, improved, with the knowledge that comes from examining viewer behavior.

Yet without an agreed-upon standard across the industry that assigns value to both the quality of service and quality of experience aspects of the video delivery ecosystem, there can be no objective measurement against which to measure performance.  Just as money is the currency, or agreed-upon measurement of value in our economy, the OTT space must also have a currency that is a commonly-understood measure of quality and performance.

In this model, it is also important to acknowledge that this currency of quality must assign value to both quality of experience and quality of service.  The first, similar to Nielsen, would assign a value to viewer behavior that is measured against an established benchmark.  The second would measure and assign a similar type of value or quality benchmark to the integrity of the content stream. Used together, this multi-faceted currency of quality has the potential to become the common language of the network, binding the OTT ecosystem, truly measuring the relationship between network performance and viewer behavior, and releasing the true potential of the “any device, anywhere” video that consumers are demanding.

About IneoQuest

IneoQuest, headquartered just south of Boston, the East Coast’s technology innovation hub, was founded in 2001 and currently serves more than 700 customers globally, including more than 90% of the world’s leading media companies.