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Four tips to improve video streaming quality

Quality is the top challenge for online video providers in delivering a successful service. At Akamai Edge last week, 4 seasoned executives provided their tips on how to get it done.

I had the pleasure of moderating the panel How Quality Impacts the Consumer Video Experience at the Akamai Edge conference in San Francisco last week. Four executives from companies with success services already in market joined me in the discussion. I asked the panelists “What tips or tricks can you offer to help people improve the quality of experience of their service?” Here’s what each had to say.

Consistency is better than better

Sling TV was the first skinny bundle TV provider in the US, and is certainly the most successful of all the services. Its focus on live linear streaming is particularly challenging from a quality perspective. Ben Weinberger, Chief Product Officer from Sling TV, shared with us two company imperatives that help keep the service delivering to consumer expectations day-in and day-out.

Sling TV“We say internally ‘What gets measured gets managed.’ Measure it, manage it, and it will improve. The second thing we say is ‘Consistency is better than better.’ Everyone is saying we just want to get better, we just want to get better. Focus on consistency. There’s a whole bunch of things that come out with that. Consistency is better than better.”

One great example of how consistency is better than just the pursuit of ‘better’ is with channel change time. Viewers are used to channel change taking the same length of time every time. They expect the same from an online service. Inconsistency here could be a deal-breaker for many.

Keep your software up-to-date

BSkyB in the UK was one of the early entrants into the online delivery of television services. The company’s Sky GO and NowTV are two of the most used OTT TV services in the country. Tony Stott, Head of Streaming Video Performance for Sky UK, had perhaps the one of the simplest, yet most overlooked, pieces of advice of all.

NowTV“Update your encoder software. Over the last 3 or 4 years h.264 encoders have gotten about 20% more efficient year-on-year. So, a really easy way to improve the quality of experience is to update the software. It’s something that always gets left behind, but you will see a difference.”

Mr. Stott’s advice has many benefits. If you can deliver the same video stream at a significantly lower bandwidth it will ease problems like rebuffering, and reduce video transit charges. Conversely, improved encoder efficiency can allow you move to higher resolution video without incurring extra streaming charges or worsening key quality parameters.

Use social media to take a proactive approach

iQIYI is one of the most successful on-demand streaming services in China. It has grown from 10M subscribers last November to 20M today. Mr. Lu Ming Fan, Senior Technical Director at iQIYI, revealed how the company is using social media to keep ahead of the quality curve.

iQIYI“We have built a comment monitoring system. It uses natural language processing and anomaly detection algorithms to analyze all our users comments to find complaints about performance. We report them to our 24×7 support team. They will analyze and solve the issues before they get worse.”

This approach has another benefit. Moving quickly on issues seen in social media can stop a problem from becoming a public relations disaster.

Always check your work!

Yahoo7 is Australia’s leading catch-up service for free-to-air TV, and provides a variety of news and entertainment video. Paul Russell, Director of Technology at Yahoo7, is a strong advocate for measuring performance, and crafting solutions that improve key parameters like buffering and start delays. However, his tempered by the old saw “first, do no harm.”

Yahoo7“We make lots of changes <to improve quality,> but we measure to make sure what we’ve done has made things better not worse. Then either roll back <the fix> or keep doing more depending on the outcome.”

Why it matters

Quality is critical to the success of any online video service.

Practical advice on how to achieve high quality, and even what defines it, is very hard to find.

Here are 4 practical tips from 4 industry insiders running successful OTT video services on 4 separate continents.

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