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Quality is key for OTT

Flawless and reliable video streams are essential to capitalize on OTT's growth opportunity.

Juanchy Mejia*

The consumption of OTT (video on demand content over the Internet) has been increasing continuously around the world, and Latin America is no exception. According to a report by ResearchAndMarkets, global subscriptions for both pay TV and SVOD (subscription video content) will reach 1.877 billion by 2023, SVOD subscriptions will more than double between 2017 and 2023, and traditional pay TV will only add 94 million subscribers. 

As for live OTT content, sport is a key growth driver in most regions of the world. According to PwC calculations, 91 percent of sports fans subscribe to pay TV to access live games, in fact, 82 percent of subscribers state that they would reduce their subscription if they did not need it to enjoy live sporting events.

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Consumers have a plethora of options when it comes to choosing a video service provider. If the content they are viewing is not devoid of errors, they can easily switch to another offer. Today's viewers expect the same quality of video streaming as with traditional streams, which creates the fundamental need to permanently monitor VOD (video on demand) and live OTT applications. Because of this good revenue stream for programmers, content owners, and service providers, the quality of OTT offerings must be flawless and flawless. This could be a critical factor in determining whether or not they are successful in the OTT market.

The difficulty of transmission
There are a number of challenges that programmers and service providers, in the Latin American region, and indeed in the global market, face in streaming high-quality, error-free OTT content. One of them has to do with complexity and volume. OTT is much more complex than linear transmission workflows. 

Unlike conventional streaming, which has standardized formats, the world of OTT is fragmented and changing all the time. To cater to the wide range of devices with different screen sizes, OTT content must be transcoded into multiple streaming formats and encoded with different DRM (digital rights management) protection schemes.

Due to the large number of variants they cater to, and other new variants that come into play all the time, programmers and service providers have to process a large amount of OTT content, which increases the possibility of errors.

Another challenge is bandwidth fluctuation. Content quality and bandwidth are constantly changing based on network congestion. During live events, for example, when the audience increases, scalability can be an issue. Creating ABR (Adaptive Bit rate) streams requires a lot of planning, more infrastructure, and generates higher transmission costs.

In addition, the OTT environment is always fluctuating. Changes in video production and transmission methods add to the chaos. There are elements of the OTT ecosystem (namely source servers, content delivery networks (CDNs), network edge servers) that do not exist in the linear streaming workflow. With so many variables involved in the content streaming process, it becomes more difficult to identify errors in quality.

There is also a lack of control of OTT content. Compared to traditional methods of video distribution, which operate under an exclusive and controlled network, OTT video is transmitted over the Internet, which is an unmanaged network. The lack of control over the transmission channel makes it more difficult for service providers to ensure the quality of the content once it has left their network.

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Finally, problems that arise live must be solved in real time, which can be challenging. During a live event, errors can occur with the transmission of audio or video at any point in the workflow, from the reception of the signal in the mobile unit van to transcoding, encryption, packaging and distribution. 

If video streaming is paralyzed or stopped during a live stream, viewers can forever miss an important moment in a live game. Therefore, in the world of live OTT, content owners and service providers must solve video and service problems in real time, or they risk losing viewers.

Why quality control and end-to-end monitoring are important
Service providers often don't know what's happening in each of the phases of a service's lifecycle, so they only realize when their apps aren't working, or why they're not working, when complaints start to come in. Consequently, they end up being reactive rather than proactive. This type of service guarantee cannot exist in an OTT environment. That's what makes comprehensive, high-performance quality control monitoring so important.

How is comprehensive quality control monitoring in OTT content?
Instead of monitoring just one stage of the OTT content workflow, as many solutions do, comprehensive OTT quality control and monitoring make it possible to solve quality issues early on by performing quality control checks and monitoring from capture to transcoding to packaging, the source server, content delivery network (CDN), and transmission.

Thanks to a comprehensive method that allows to provide a total guarantee of the service, operators can better understand what is happening with their OTT workflow. The quality control and monitoring solution can be parameterized so that they are online with different monitoring needs at different stages, with customizable alerts and reports and troubleshooting tools. Having a quality control and monitoring solution that can be deployed in the cloud and on-premises will provide greater flexibility.

What does this bring?
By having a reliable, scalable, and unified monitoring solution, service providers can make OTT workflows more efficient. One of the main benefits is that it is possible to centrally visualize the service guarantee.  An end-to-end monitoring system allows you to visualize the entire workflow, with probes at every step. A combination of probes and intelligent dashboards allow service providers to have a centralized view of their OTT service, allowing them to make adjustments on the fly.

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A comprehensive solution also ensures the individualization of the problem. In a normal content string for OTT streaming, each of the workflow steps can occur in a different location. For example, transcoding and CDN can be in two different places, making it difficult to accurately locate the source of the error. The monitoring system provides intelligent data that indicates where the problem is occurring and what corrective actions need to be taken.

A good monitoring solution verifies that there are no problems at every stage of the workflow, including encryption, and integrates with all available encryption technologies to ensure content is properly decoded.

While traditional monitoring systems are limited by hardware capacity, a software-based monitoring solution that can be deployed in the cloud will ensure that service providers can quickly make technology upgrades and meet the ever-changing requirements of the OTT environment and adapt quickly to support future technologies.

With the rise of OTT video, latin American programmers and service providers have a great opportunity to monetize content. It's hard to take advantage of this opportunity if you don't offer high quality of experience (QoE) to end users. At the same time, ensuring flawless video streaming that covers a wide range of devices is a challenge for service providers. 

The need for monitoring tools with a versatile architecture that allows them to adapt to this environment is now an essential part of the OTT content sector. By eliminating OTT content errors throughout the workflow, comprehensive quality control and monitoring help programmers and service providers in the region offer viewers on all screens a reliable and consistent quality service, while opening the door to greater profitability, allow to maintain and increase the number of subscribers and increase revenue to obtain a better return on investment.

*Juanchy Mejía is Interra Systems' sales director for the southeastern United States and Latin America.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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