The numbers are clear: viewers are canceling cable and satellite subscriptions and tuning into their OTT (over-the-top) services on their big screens at home instead. According to a recent report by GfK, one-quarter of TV-watching households in the U.S. have neither cable nor satellite today. Also, 38 percent of a highly coveted market segment, the 18-34 year households, rely on an alternative TV reception or video source.
Why this massive shift?
OTT providers compete most notably by offering compelling, high-quality original content. In 2016, Netflix produced more hours of original programming than HBO. The 2017 entertainment awards season saw content from Netflix and OTT competitor Amazon take home their first Oscars as well as several Emmy awards. Viewers increasingly watch this high-quality, OTT-exclusive content, not just on laptops or tablets, but on their 4K living room TVs, and they want to stream their favorite cable shows that way, too.
This presents a challenge for broadcasters. Although OTT quality has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, the reality remains that broadcast quality still reigns supreme. Cable providers can deliver crystal-clear video content with DolbyⓇ Digital Plus audio, and they never have to worry about buffering or sudden losses of resolution due to an overloaded broadband connection. Luckily for broadcasters and their viewers, 2017 is the year where streaming video is finally starting to catch up. Here are three ways that Verizon Digital Media Services’ end-to-end platform is boosting quality for streaming video’s move to the living room:
1. Improving throughput
When it comes to building capacity for high-quality streaming video, it all comes down to one thing: bandwidth. In 2015, over 70 percent of U.S. internet traffic was streaming (video and audio) content. That’s a lot of data to send over a network that was better equipped to handle static webpages. As a result, users were more likely to put up with a poor experience, including buffering, blank screens or bad audio; it was almost normal . Bandwidth bottlenecks also hold OTT providers back from supporting technology like high-efficiency video coding (HEVC), which is necessary for high-quality 4K viewing experiences.
However, the last three years have seen drastic improvements. Content delivery networks have greatly built out their capacity to handle the spike in streaming video traffic: Verizon Digital Media Services has more than doubled our throughput on our Edgecast Content Delivery Network, recently approaching near 30 terabits/second. This type of improvement allows content owners to deliver higher bitrate profiles simply by pushing more bits out over the wire.
2. Enabling surround sound
Quality isn’t just about what the content looks like, but what it sounds like, too. Vendors must start to get certified to deliver Dolby Digital Plus sound through their streaming platforms. Certification involves meeting certain loudness and audio processing requirements to ensure that networks can deliver Dolby’s full surround sound experience. Once this process is complete, OTT viewers with properly equipped speaker systems can enjoy an immersive, “real-life” sensory experience, no matter if experiencing content via cable, DVDs or OTT streaming services.
3. Speeding up video encoding
Though major players like Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast haven’t jumped on the HEVC bandwagon yet, it’s only a matter of time before HEVC becomes the new video compression standard. However, most OTT providers aren’t prepared for this fast-approaching future. The reason is not just a lack of bandwidth, but a lack of processing power to support encoding for higher-quality encoding profiles. Today, for instance, Verizon Digital Media Services’ Slicer and Uplynk Video Streaming service’s cloud video encoding capabilities rely on CPU encoding. CPUs can quickly become overloaded, creating a bottleneck when encoding higher-quality bit rate profiles. To alleviate this issue, we’re launching a new version of Slicer that runs on a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). Originally designed to support 3D video game imagery, GPUs have many more cores than a typical CPU, vastly speeding up complex software processes. For streaming video content, this improvement will mean: 1) a noticeable decrease in time behind live and 2) even higher bit rate/frame rate profiles, from 720p/30fps to 1080p/60fps.
But improvements can’t just stop at ingest.
Vendors must make a massive push to extend GPU encoding capability into the cloud encoding side of the video processing platform. This may further decrease time behind live, but more importantly, it’ll increase support for HEVC encoding, which will allow for a larger growth in 4K streaming video to users. In other words: broadcast may still be the standard for quality, but in 2017, OTT isn’t far behind.
Want to see how you can deliver TV-like quality OTT experiences to every viewer on every screen? Contact us today.
Tom Quinn, Director of Product Management, Media Services