At the NAB Show in Las Vegas this year, one thing was clear: broadcasters have accepted that over-the-top (OTT) delivery is now a critical part of their distribution strategy. We can expect an onslaught of new OTT services, starting with live linear delivery. Unfortunately, one critical component of the broadcast world will be lacking when headed for online: the ability to quickly identify where something is going wrong.
Over the decades, the traditional broadcast world has developed a set of tools that allow it to quickly identify where something goes wrong in the broadcast delivery chain. This complex process is monitored in broadcast operations centers, which allow TV channels to be monitored at every step in the process of delivery. If something goes wrong, an operator can quickly identify at which stage the problem is occurring.
Broadcasters will be disappointed to discover that this level of detail is not available when streaming online. There are many places in the video chain of delivery where failures can occur, but only rudimentary monitoring is available to help figure out where a problem may be. Devices generally provide details, such as memory and processor utilization, but these only tell one small part of the story when trying to determine where the issue is. And in some cases the data can be misleading.
For example, if you are streaming a soccer game, and you hear complaints about picture quality, a good place to look for trouble would be the video encoder. You might discover that the device processor is at maximum capacity, and most of its memory is in use. Is this a problem? Maybe, or maybe not. An encoder may be running flat out, and yet the video output could still appear perfect.
This lack of visibility into the streaming video chain of delivery often leads to a lot of finger pointing when things go wrong. Figuring out a basic problem, such as whether picture degradation is occurring in the broadcaster’s network or somewhere in the content delivery network, can take a lot of time. And when you are delivering the Super Bowl or World Cup final this is time you simply don’t have.
Online video viewers have little patience for problems in the online video delivery world. Studies indicate millennials are particularly intolerant of playback interruptions. If a problem persists in a video streaming session for 4-9 minutes, only 17 percent of millennials will wait to see if the picture returns to normal.
The first step in solving this lack of monitoring is to gain visibility into the video stream itself. This is the only way to know which devices or network connections are causing problems. Rather than reporting their state, devices in the chain of delivery need to report data from the video stream that is missing or corrupt. This data also needs to be provided in real-time, rather than demanded by an operator when needed. In doing so, a problem can be spotted as soon as, or even before, it starts.
Armed with this information, you will have confidence that you will be much better placed to know what the problem is and where it is occurring if disaster strikes during your next big live streaming event.
Colin Dixon, Founder and Chief Analyst, nScreenMedia