Considerations for Providers Shifting from QAM to IP Video Delivery Networks

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The broadcast industry’s transition between different video delivery methods for streaming TV has led to a massive shift in technology, quality control (QC), and day-to-day operations. During this transition, operations and QC teams at video service providers are facing new challenges for testing and monitoring, complicated by rapidly evolving technologies such as Dynamic Ad Insertion. This article will look at the common challenges and strategies for teams in the middle of this paradigm shift.

In North America, digital television has been widely distributed through Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) networks. QAM works on both dial-up modems and Wi-Fi, and it has been used by cable companies for over twenty years. After all that time, teams delivering their video service over QAM gained a deep understanding of how it worked. However, an essential transition has happened over the last few years with companies progressively stopping their QAM practices to rely entirely on IP digital video delivery.

Handling Third-Party Services on Set-Top Boxes

Service providers who own and manage set-top boxes face the major issue of dealing with third-party services. They need to have video apps such as Disney+, Netflix, and Peacock on their device in order to make it appealing as the main TV watching device in the household. It doesn’t matter that these apps are provided by third parties — viewers at home will hold the set-top box provider responsible for their performance being anything less than perfect. This places a unique burden on providers to ensure quality is consistent not only across their own service but also across services from other companies.

Third-party video apps can also negatively affect a provider’s main service. Witbe’s testing on real set-top boxes has observed several instances of a Netflix app causing errors when viewers switch back to linear TV programming. These types of errors can only be observed over the real devices and networks that customers as using because they are unique to the systems being tested.

New Considerations for Quality Control Testing

These types of video errors illustrate the need for QC testing, although that process has also been dramatically changed by the transition to IP delivery. With QAM video delivery, most providers controlled the platforms where their service was being streamed. Most IP set-top boxes are built on Android TV or Comcast’s RDK platform. These platforms receive framework updates frequently with limited control or warning for providers. After the platform has been updated, providers need to test the quality of their own service again to see if it has been affected.

The same is true for providers who offer their service over IP delivery on third-party devices. Video apps need to be tested on more devices than ever before, including consumer-grade ones like Apple TV and Fire TV. Video apps are also increasingly built into smart TVs, which deal with a large fragmentation of operating systems. More than fifteen different operating systems can be commonly found on smart TVs, all of which need to be tested individually. Continuous test automation is essential for providers in this situation, allowing them to test their video apps at scale when they run on dozens of different devices that can all receive a significant update at any time.

Dealing with Dynamic Ad Insertion and Discoverability

A specific factor that can go underdiscussed in this transition is content discoverability. In a crowded and competitive TV environment, discoverability has become more important than ever. Providers should implement deep indexing, which allows the customer’s universal or voice control search requests to be directed to the provider’s application. Without deep indexing, searches are often directed to a default platform handler, typically YouTube or the Google Play Store. Deep indexing is the best way to make sure that the provider’s content will be discoverable whenever a user is looking for it.

Another process that is vastly different over IP delivery is Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI). Ad-supported video has been booming lately, not just in linear TV but in streaming video that had once seemed set to replace ads with subscriptions. With IP streaming, ads are inserted into the video player and come from a large inventory of content, generally originating at different servers than the main content.

The DAI process can lead to a wide variety of video errors, including frozen screens, audio issues, blank slates, poor visual performance, difficulty returning to the main content, and full device crashes. Inserting ads correctly is essential to providers who rely on revenue from third-party advertisers. These video errors should be monitored on real devices, as they will observe system-side errors that may go undetected through other forms of video monitoring.

Collaborating Remotely and the Future of IP Video Delivery

Of course, the technology involved isn’t the only difference between the classic days of QAM and the modern era of IP delivery. Today, most operations and QC teams work remotely, sometimes even in different countries. Teams need reliable and secure technology that allows them to access their real devices from wherever they are. Remote access allows them to work collaboratively and still test in the market where their service operates, even if they are on the other side of the world as they work on it.

For TV providers, the transition from QAM to IP video delivery is a major one. operations and QC teams are dealing with different platforms, third-party applications, DAI, and remote collaboration. Through testing their services on real devices and using reliable remote device access technology, they can help smooth the shift and operate securely from anywhere in the world. In an IP delivery world, video testing and monitoring is essential.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Witbe. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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