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Crowded homes and empty stadiums: the impact on streaming during the pandemic

(Image credit: Image Credit: Massive)

With cancelled sports games and award shows, the world has moved entertainment away from public venues and into the home, with end users consuming more content than ever before for extended periods of time. With the media now navigating an unchartered territory, the industry is seeing a subtle shift in the priorities for players in the streaming world. Reliability has always been a cornerstone of ensuring that the consumer fairy-tale of high-quality video offerings and an abundance of choice leads to a happy ever after ending, but in these challenging times it has emerged as the leading performance measurement, with some services reducing default bitrates to help broadband and mobile network providers manage increased loads.

This is not to say that quality does not matter – it certainly does.  The challenge is that a shift to focus on reliability as a leading indicator means that more effort has to be put on ensuring the user experience does not suffer as a result.

For OTT providers to keep up with these changing demands, they need to be able to understand the consumer, the current climate and take a proactive approach with their CDN partners to deliver the consistent experiences that audiences are demanding with the right formats and bitrates, at the right time.  

Change in streaming priorities

It is no secret that over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have taken the local entertainment market by storm – almost everyone uses such a service, or even several. Yet, it's not just their content that has kept customers coming back for more. 

Consumers today are no longer hindered by the limitation of television broadcast showtimes or content availability. Instead, they have become accustomed to accessing deep content libraries and seamless viewing experiences, at the simple touch of a button or tap of a screen. When this is not achieved, they are fast to move to providers that are able to provide this. It has made streaming a much tougher game, with viewers now having a myriad of options to pay to view on-demand content on-the-go through OTT apps. The platforms may not all have the same content or access models, but a platform with poor reliability will not keep their audience engaged if users cannot access their offering consistently.

But with a surge in demand for on-demand streaming content due to more people staying at home, how can OTT providers relieve the pressure on their content networks and the wider internet infrastructure whilst capturing consumer attention? According to Limelight Networks’ research, over half of UK viewers cite video rebuffering as the most frustrating aspect of watching video online, with 60 per cent abandoning a video if it re-buffers as many as two times. The importance of reliability of streams has led to platforms such as Netflix and YouTube lowering their bitrate, thereby reducing the default quality setting to ensure customers can still access content.   

It’s clear that streaming services will need to offer an all-round quality experience from story to delivery. From preserving outstanding video quality to service reliability and low latency, it all comes down to robust delivery strategies. Within the OTT space, preventing any latency or friction that would disrupt the user experience is the key to success. One area in which these challenges are particularly defined is in the world of live sports streaming. 

Can sports come back to live?

The internet has revolutionised the way we interact with the world of sport. From playoffs and championships in professional sports, to regular season games, audiences love to be a part of the action – wherever they are. 

Digital disruption continues to make waves across the sports industry and has transformed the way live sports is consumed. The cancellation of live events, such as UEFA's Euro 2020 football tournament and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2020, is putting pressure on the sports industry, and a major source of advertising revenue in what was a quadrennial year. This has necessitated a shift towards solutions that enhance fan engagement as a result.

While live streaming of sports has come to a sudden standstill, the challenge is now going to be providing for audiences once sports can resume. With a multitude of OTT streaming avenues, sports fans will be presented with multiple options to engage with the teams and personalities they support, while rights holders are keen to ensure that audiences engage with their investment and production of the events. The interest in reliable sports streaming has always been prevalent, as shown in Limelight’s State of Online Video 2019 report, where 54 per cent of viewers in the UK indicated that they would be more likely to watch live sports online if the stream was not delayed from the broadcast feed. Quality, reliability and latency are going to be in the spotlight like never before when live sports resume, needed to truly captive audiences at home. OTT platforms will need to carefully consider the options available to them to manage these multiple dimensions of quality and experience and choose delivery partners capable of providing the required flexibility.

Customers want live streams to arrive without delays and paying fans will once again expect the grandstand experience. OTT platforms providing less than this will send them straight back to their tried and trusted linear pay TV broadcasters.

Striking the right balance

With many of us staying at home, the UK has already become a nation of streamers. Rather than the streaming wars becoming a long drawn out battle for eyeballs, consumers will be looking for the media industry to keep them both entertained and occupied and not frustrated with the platforms they are trying to use. Striking the right balance between reliable services and the range of available content is key. The streaming survivors of tomorrow will be the services which today offer superior user experience and reliability in this time of turmoil, so that viewers continue to engage as the new normal emerges.

Steve Miller-Jones, VP edge solutions and solution architecture, Limelight Networks