Challenging the perceptions of live OTT streaming

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The BBC recently reported that its coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics was streamed 22.2 million times across BBC Sport and BBC iPlayer. To put that number in perspective, its 2014 Winter Olympics coverage in Sochi was streamed just 6.2 million times. Proof, if needed, that OTT sits firmly in the mainstream.

While 17-year-old Chloe Kim was already a superstar in the snowboarding world, her gold medal in the Women’s halfpipe at this years’ Winter Olympics propelled her to a whole new level of fame. The BBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics once again introduced viewers to athletes, and indeed events, that they’d never watched before. And with live and on-demand OTT streaming growing, viewers had even more opportunities to follow the action, driven by an increasingly high-profile social media campaign from the BBC.

Taking place just once every four years, the Winter Olympics treats viewers to two weeks of the very best in winter sports. But what about the viewing experiences, do todays live OTT sports streaming services reach the same heights as the athletes at the peak of their game?

Is streaming the new broadcasting?

In the UK alone, a total of 17.7 million unique browsers followed the BBC’s digital Winter Olympics coverage across computers (30 per cent), tablets (18 per cent), mobiles (47 per cent) and connected TVs (5 per cent) – with an average 2.9 million unique browsers watching every day.

It’s clear that OTT streaming is no longer ‘new’, Netflix alone has well over 100 million subscribers. Whether its Connected TV’s, Set-Top Boxes, Mobile Phones or Tablets, viewers are comfortable streaming OTT content and have come to expect a seamless user experience. The challenge for service providers however is that users are looking for the same, seamless experience with live content that they’re already receiving with on-demand. Research commissioned by Falcon Media House shows that sports fans are yet to be won over by live OTT streaming.

Time for change

When we consider the most recent 2017 report from UK communications regulator, Ofcom, we can see that the time for service providers to act is now. The report highlights the speed of change facing our industry and the race to satisfy fast-evolving consumer needs; “Our data shows how the increasing take-up of faster fixed and mobile data services is extending people’s choice over how, where and when they communicate with others, watch or listen to content services, seek information, shop, and participate in the digital world.”

More than half (54 per cent) of adults surveyed by Ofcom said they liked the freedom of being able to watch when and where they wanted on their tablet or smartphone. Most notably 81 per cent of 12-15 year olds and 83 per cent of 16-24 year olds expressed their preference for the greater autonomy offered by mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, younger age groups were also the most likely to use devices other than a TV to view content.

OTT streaming perceptions

The survey commission by Falcon Media House of over two thousand people who had watched sports in the previous 12 months highlighted a crucial challenge for the OTT live streaming industry. Just 14 per cent of viewers watching live sports claimed to be satisfied with the experience. The impact of a poor streaming experience was equally emphatic with 94 per cent of those surveyed saying that the streaming quality has an impact on how often they choose to stream sports online.

The spinning wheel

It’s perhaps no surprise that buffering was the thing that frustrated viewers most about streaming sports online. Buffering and poor connectivity combined accounted for 60 per cent of consumer frustration in the survey with 16-34 year olds being the most dissatisfied. A sign perhaps, that the Netflix and Hulu generation aren’t used to being asked to wait. Particularly when it comes to live. Nobody likes a spoiler.

Spoiler alert. The perils of viewing OTT sports with social media

When a viewer sits down to stream the latest two-hour Hollywood blockbuster or network box-set, a small amount of buffering is rarely noticed and has no impact on the viewing experience. For live events however, viewers have different needs. Whilst a slight delay while the service builds a ‘buffer’ makes sense technically to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted stream, it has the potential to ruin the live experience for viewers.

Social media has changed the way fans watch and enjoy sports coverage. Platforms such as Twitter bring together fans from anywhere in the world, enabling them to interact and share experiences. Many sports fans also follow individual and team accounts for the very latest news and updates. These ‘instant’ communication channels create a significant challenge for OTT service providers, a delay in the stream can lead to viewers reading an update on their Twitter feed before they watch it ‘live’. The ultimate spoiler.

The battle for better live experiences

Cisco’s ‘The Complete Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast’* predicts that globally, IP video traffic will account for 82 per cent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 per cent in 2016. During the same period the report predicts that live video will grow 15-fold, accounting for 13 per cent of video traffic by 2021.

The challenge for live OTT providers is clear, consumers want a live OTT experience to match the on-demand one that they’re already familiar with. The Falcon Media House research shows that they must act now to start turning opinion around. But as the network becomes more congested a new approach is required.

Meeting demand for live OTT streaming is perhaps the most significant challenge service providers currently face, however there are already opportunities to learn lessons from providers who are successfully delivering high quality services in regions around the world with even more challenging network conditions. The answer lies not in having more bandwidth, but in making smarter use of the network to avoid the congestion and gaining better throughput. By intelligently using dynamic virtual paths to minimise bandwidth consumption, it is possible deliver a smooth live streaming experience to match the on-demand one that today’s viewers are already taking for granted.

Gert Rieder, CEO, Falcon Media House
Image Credit: 350543 / Pixabay