OPINION AND ANALYSIS
Crowded homes and empty stadiums: The pandemic’s impact on streaming By Steve Miller-Jones, VP edge solutions and solution architecture at Limelight Networks
ith cancelled sports games and award shows, the world has moved entertainment away from public venues and into the home, as viewers consume more content for extended periods of time. With the media now navigating an unchartered territory, the industry is seeing a subtle shift in the priorities for players in the streaming world. Reliability has always been a cornerstone of ensuring that the consumer fairy-tale of high-quality video offerings and an abundance of choice leads to a happy ever after. However, in the current climate, it has become the leading performance measurement, resulting in services reducing default bitrates to help broadband and mobile network providers manage increased loads. For OTT providers to keep up with these changing demands, they need to be able to understand the consumer, the current climate and take a proactive approach with their CDN partners to deliver the consistent experiences that audiences are demanding with the right formats and bitrates, at the right time. It’s no secret that over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix have taken the local entertainment market by storm – almost everyone uses such a service. Yet, it’s not just their content that has kept customers coming back for more. Consumers today are no longer hindered by the limitation of television broadcast showtimes or content availability. Instead, they have become accustomed to accessing deep content libraries and seamless viewing experiences, at the simple touch of a button. Streaming is a much tougher game, with viewers now having a myriad of options to view on-demand content on-the-go through OTT apps. A platform with poor reliability will not keep their audience engaged if users cannot access their offering consistently. With the current surge for on-demand streaming content due to more people staying at home, how can OTT providers relieve pressure on their content networks and wider internet infrastructure whilst capturing consumer attention? Limelight Networks’ research shows over half of UK viewers cite video rebuffering as the most frustrating aspect of watching video online, with 60 per cent abandoning a video if it re-buffers twice. To combat this frustration, Netflix and YouTube have lowered their bitrate, thereby reducing the default quality setting to
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ensure customers can still access content. Evidently, streaming services need to offer an all-round quality experience from story to delivery. From preserving outstanding video quality to service reliability and low latency, it all comes down to robust delivery strategies. One area in which these challenges are particularly defined is in the world of live sports streaming. The internet has revolutionised the way we interact with the world of sport. From championships in professional sports, to regular season games, audiences love to be a part of the action – wherever they are. However, the cancellation of live events, such as UEFA’s Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2020, has put pressure on the sports industry, and the advertising revenue in what was a quadrennial year. This has necessitated a shift towards solutions that enhance fan engagement as a result. While live streaming of sports has come to a sudden standstill, the challenge is now going to be providing for audiences once sports can resume. With a multitude of OTT streaming avenues, sports fans will be presented with multiple options to engage with the teams and personalities they support, while rights holders are keen to ensure that audiences engage with their investment and production of the events. The interest in reliable sports streaming has always been prevalent, research from Limelight’s State of Online Video report shows 54 per cent of viewers in the UK would watch live sports online if the stream was not delayed from the broadcast feed. Quality, reliability and latency are going to be in the spotlight like never before when live sports resume. OTT platforms will need to carefully consider the options available to them to manage these multiple dimensions of quality and experience and choose delivery partners capable of providing the required flexibility. Rather than the streaming wars becoming a long drawn-out battle for eyeballs, consumers will be looking for the media industry to keep them both entertained and occupied and not frustrated with the platforms they are trying to use. Striking the right balance between reliable services and the range of available content, is key. The streaming survivors of tomorrow will be the services which offer superior user experience and reliability today, so that viewers continue to engage as the new normal emerges. n
Streaming big: A look at the current streaming landscape.