Video Quality Monitoring in the Age of Time-Shifted Viewing
In all types of streaming services, providers have expanded on the traditional mode of archiving movies and TV programs for on-demand access by offering options like start-over, catch-up and cloud DVR. These strategies introduce many potential points of impairment to video quality that must be accounted for in the monitoring and troubleshooting processes service providers employ to maintain the best viewing experience.
Given the role time-shifted viewing is likely to continue playing in users’ video consumption, service providers need to take these quality monitoring challenges into account. While it’s true that far more OTT viewing time is spent consuming linear content than was once the case, on-demand viewing remains a critical component in streaming services.
Research from Omdia suggests that 2021 was the last year that the amount of time spent viewing linear content on TVs in the U.S. and the U.K. would surpass the amount of time spent viewing time-shifted content. Although household DVRs and subscriptions to OTT VOD services account for the lion’s share of time-shifted viewing, new network-based options available through cloud DVR and catch-up/start-over services are rapidly gaining share as they become more widespread.
Indeed, consumers’ desire to use cloud DVR in conjunction with viewing live-streamed services is now baked into many streaming services. In another report, Omdia said about 75% of total TV viewership in the U.S., U.K. and other large countries goes to linear content consumed either on schedule or from DVR storage, which, in the case of OTT streaming services like fuboTV, YouTube TV, Philo, Hulu, and Sling TV, is always cloud-based. Most major MVPDs in North America are offering cloud DVR services as well, even as many of their subscribers continue to use devices in the home.
Time Shifting Introduces New Points of Vulnerability to Video Quality
Whatever types of network-supported time-shifted viewing options service providers offer they must make sure viewing experiences comport with the subscriber’s expectation. That’s the case whether content is stored for 24 hours, a few days, or several months.
Consumers have little tolerance for sub-par quality when they are watching streaming content, especially when it comes to video consumed on the most dominant viewing device, the connected TV. Many studies show that it only takes a few hiccups in the viewing experience to drive them to another streaming service.
In catch-up and start-over operations, service providers must ensure content quality is always preserved with ingestion into storage as they cycle through the constantly shifting lineup of linear programming. And they must be able to confirm quality is preserved with each output from storage, whether it’s from a turnkey cloud storage service or a CDN caching service.
The need to support the multiple bitrate profiles used with adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming adds another complication. In some cases, the service provider chooses to avoid transcoding playout from storage by storing all profiles transcoded for linear distribution. In other cases, service providers choose to minimize storage costs by storing mezzanine copies of the linear streams and transcoding them into the required profiles as they’re fed to origin servers. Either way, video quality monitoring and analysis must be applied to the origin outputs for each user.
These same principles apply to the pre-ingest and playout stages in longer-term storage used by cloud DVR services, but with an additional complication in private-use scenarios. Here, the video quality monitoring system must be responsive to content flows into storage as they are triggered by individual users executing their cloud DVR options.
Moreover, the use of DAI on streams from storage adds another aspect to the time-shifted video monitoring requirements. The points of potential failure in the complex DAI processes employed within streamed services complicate service providers’ efforts to confirm compliance with ad commitments.
Advances in Time-Shifted Video Monitoring
Technology has advanced in response to the new quality management challenges raised as more consumers choose to view time-shifted content. by the recent time shifted viewing strategies. Modern video quality monitoring and analytics solutions are now available that enable providers to ensure viewers’ quality of experience and fully capitalize on time-shifted viewing.
Providers can deploy these solutions on-premises or in the cloud depending on the needs of their workflow. They can correlate test results into a concise report from any number of monitoring points required to meet content scale or visibility needs throughout the distribution network.
The objective of these solutions is to validate that each asset is ready to be streamed by a user in the most efficient way possible given the priority of the content. This validation requires analysis across multiple dimensions of streaming platform from contribution link, encoding, packaging, origin servers, CDNs, and final delivery to the subscribers.
Leveraging these solutions, service providers can support preemptive action against problems that might occur with playout from storage through an automated testing and reporting system that can be used to validate content readiness before customers start streaming.
Next-gen quality monitoring solutions can give operators the confidence they need to be as aggressive as they choose in delivering the convenience of time-shifted viewing to their customers. Whatever approaches they take, they know they can proceed with adherence to the highest quality standards.
Joel Daly is Vice President of Product Management at Telestream. He has worked in the data, voice and video communications industry for two decades. Prior to Telestream he held leadership product management and marketing roles at BTI Systems, BigBand Networks, 3Com, Sycamore Networks and Lucent Technologies.
You can learn more about advanced video quality monitoring of VOD and time-shifted viewing here.
[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Telestream. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]