S04E09: Game of Streams (Three steps to success)
Our Media Solution Specialist, Magnus Svensson, is sharing his reflections from the online streaming industry in this post. This is part of a monthly series so make sure to follow us here if you don’t want to miss an episode.
According to Samsung Ads’ report “Behind the Screens” UK people are spending more time watching TV on streaming services than traditional “linear” broadcast programming. This is just one of many surveys and reports pointing in the same direction, streaming will be the dominant technology to deliver video. With that statement, it doesn’t mean that what we now call linear television, curated channels, will head the same direction. It only means that streaming over the public internet will be the means of delivery.
With the exception of Netflix and a few others, the streaming services on the market still have work to do to shoulder the responsibility. I will in this post outline three steps to success. And in this case, the order of priority is of importance, but you can work with them in parallel.
When streaming technology becomes the main, and only, means to deliver video entertainment to the households it must do just that in a reliable way. You need to be able to trust that you can watch your favorite show when you want it. Reliability is a good measure to reduce churn and increase retention. Considering that the cost of acquiring new customers is much higher than keeping existing, this is a well-spent effort.
Deliver streams to all devices that are out there with quality is hard. As a service provider, you have some hard work, and some hard decisions to make.
The first action should be to ensure scalability and redundancy in all parts of your service and not only for the distribution. You need to ensure that you can ingest content in a secure and reliable way and prepare the content for efficient and secure distribution. Equally important that subscriber management, billing, authentication, and entitlements scale with usage.
Device reach is probably one of the hardest things to handle. There are more than 1,600 different models of TVs, set-top boxes, streaming sticks, mobile devices, and cable boxes around the world that can stream Netflix today. And most of these device manufacturers release software updates regularly.
Unless you have the capability of Netflix to handle the crush of device firmware updates, you need to make choices. Should you handle app and front-end development inhouse? Should you support all devices in the market? All models and age? It might be better to reduce the number of supported devices, and instead, ensure that you deliver with quality on the devices you support.
Living in Sweden you get used to having a fast and reliable internet connection. But that not always the case even within all parts of Sweden, or in other parts of the world. When it comes to encoding efficiency and bitrate savings, most discussion circles around saving CDN and storage costs. But in my view, the most important reason is to reach more viewers with better quality. Lowering the bitrate with maintained quality could mean that your potential customer base increased a lot. And churn is reduced.
Netflix has again proved to be the master of efficient encoding. With shot-based encoding, dynamic optimization, and improved encoder settings they manage to optimize the bitrate ladders they managed to produce a 4K animation video at 1.8 Mbps. With the new improvements implemented they need 50% less bitrate to achieve the same quality with the optimized ladder.
This proves that it is possible to a lot of improvements by some more efficient encoding, even if you don’t go as far as Netflix. By improving you could reach more users with your service with better quality.
Another area for improvement is metadata, one of the fundamental pieces of any video service. Without consistent metadata with good quality, it’s impossible to deliver an acceptable user experience. Metadata is the base for a user-friendly UI/app, search, and recommendations. It is also an important factor to automate features such as virtual channels and playlists as well as live to video on demand.
So, put equal effort to ingest and enhance metadata as you do with your videos.
Once you start to get stability under control and you have an efficient ingest flow for both video and metadata, we could start to look at the total experience. Until now, most streaming services have focused on creating a TV experience but with distribution over the internet. Now it’s time to take the next step. The technology around streaming provides so many more options. It’s all about the total experience and retains the viewers in your service.
For sports streaming services, you need to understand the fans. Connected to the live games a sports fan expects to find results, highlights, recaps, statistics, and reports from the game. The experience could also include documentaries, written articles, news, possibilities to buy merchandise, and much more connected to league and teams.
Virtual cheering by a click in the app, chats connected to the game, and virtual rooms where friends can “watch together” are just some examples that could not only bring a more complete experience, it could also generate income in the form of micropayments.
Chats and “watch together” possibilities are also applicable to other streaming services. You could also add possibilities to upload your own content to the service such as movies and pictures that could be shared with friends.
An enormous amount of money is spent on content and for sports distribution rights. It must be relatively easy to walk the whole way and create a complete experience. The possibilities are endless.
To watch out for the coming months…
Demuxed 2020 is coming up end of October. Three days of interesting presentations around video streaming technology. The review committee and the final selection committee are working hard and the agenda will be announced soon.
Magnus Svensson is a Media Solution Specialist and partner at Eyevinn Technology. Eyevinn Technology is the leading independent consulting company specializing in video technology and media distribution.