Paul Williams

Evolving digital streaming landscape requires more from content providers

As the world of digital streaming evolves, more consumers are leveraging their broadband connections to enjoy media content on a variety of devices.

As the world of digital streaming evolves and gradually becomes more mainstream, more consumers are leveraging their broadband connections to enjoy music, videos, movies, and other forms of rich media content. A growing array of devices are used to consume this streaming media: desktop and laptop PCs, smartphones, tablets, console and handheld video game systems, as well as new streaming hardware such as Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku.
This places the onus on the purveyors of streaming media content to ensure near-perfect performance with minimal downtime or lag on a wide variety of devices. Additionally, as more users expect to be able to stream content while on the go, providers need to make sure that content is easily accessible anywhere there is a strong 4G or Wi-Fi connection. The bottom line is that the digital streaming audience is becoming more discerning day by day, and, if presented with poor performance or worse, downtime, they will get their content from another source.

Making the underlying streaming technology transparent to the end user
Part of the challenge for digital streaming media content providers is making any underlying technology transparent to the consumer. Whatever device they are using to enjoy the content, or wherever their location, everything should work in a seamless fashion with nary a hiccup. With new device types — wearables are making inroads to the marketplace — and new media formats on the horizon such as 4K video, providers need to remain on top of their technology game to be a relevant player in the media streaming space.
Mike Green, senior director for digital media solutions at Brightcove, likened the problem to a game of “Whac-A-Mole” during a panel discussion at the recently held Next TV Summit. As soon as one problem is fixed, he said, another one comes up. Beyond the technology issues, there are other problems such as digital rights management and piracy, or even improving the underlying metadata attached to media content to enhance its ability to be discovered during Internet searches. In short, providers need to make things easier for the consumer.
Michael Bishara, senior vice president and general manager of TV Everywhere, Synacor, commented on the need to improve overall usability for end users. “We’re making the consumer work really hard to get access to something that’s supposed to be fun,” Bishara said. Content purveyors must make investments in usability design and back-end technology to ensure customers enjoy a fun, easy-to-use streaming experience.

Adaptive bitrate an option to replace video buffering?
Video buffering is still the bane of many hoping to enjoy a seamless digital streaming experience. Users are frustrated when an important scene in a movie or a crucial point in a sports event is interrupted for seconds or more while media servers play catch-up. A new technology discussed at the Next TV Summit called adaptive bitrate may make buffering a thing of the past.
Adaptive bitrate allows streaming content to adjust automatically to the quality of the network that the consumer is currently on. For example, a user at home on their 50-megabit per second (Mbps) cable connection can enjoy HD-quality video streaming, and when they pick up the same program when on their smartphone’s 5 Mbps 4G connection, the content automatically downgrades to a lower quality. The user isn’t forced to change any settings or have to deal with lag or buffering when on a network with less bandwidth.
This is a case where advancements in technology, such as adaptive bitrate, improve both the usability and the quality of the digital streaming experience for the consumer. The old cliché “the customer is always right” still applies today, and rich media content providers must heed that rule or be at a competitive disadvantage. Partnering with a content delivery network (CDN) is a great way for providers to stay at the forefront of streaming technology.

CDNs make sense for digital streaming providers
Building a partnership with an industry-leading CDN makes sense for rich media providers hoping to successfully navigate the constantly evolving landscape of digital media streaming. Access to the Internet’s most important peering points ensures consumers are able to seamlessly stream content no matter their location. Bandwidth that scales on demand based on network traffic allows a customer base to grow in a viral fashion without any adverse impact on performance.
A robust real-time reporting engine allows data analytics to determine what content is successful and where it is most popular, which helps when creating new media. Most importantly, a 100 percent service-level agreement means that whenever anyone wants to stream media, the content is always available.
The best CDNs offer a significant technology advantage to their customers, allowing providers to focus on improving the design and usability of their product. Given the constantly changing digital streaming landscape, content providers need to pay close attention to all technology and usability factors. Offering an easy-to-use, fun experience to consumers — backed by state-of-the-art technology — is the best way to grow a digital media business.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons



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