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Meeting viewer expectations with Over-The-Top, OTT
By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman
Published in In Broadcast, September 2014
Do viewers really expect the same standards of service when they watch an OTT stream as when they switch on the television? It’s become a mantra for manufacturers and pundits to say that OTT providers who fail to live up to consumer expectations will not succeed, and that these expectations are defined by everyone’s experience of linear television.
This isn’t the whole truth if you think about it for a moment. Nobody really equates the experience of watching on-demand content on a smartphone with watching a top-quality broadcast on a good HD screen. Adaptive streaming, variable reception conditions, and the inherent limitations of the viewing device mean it never can be.
In general, the viewing public accepts this, and regards the ability to watch anywhere as a convenience that comes with some compromises. But there are limits to that tolerance. We may not mind too much if the bitrate adapts to a lower quality for example, but we’ll only take so much buffering before becoming irritated. We’ll tolerate the picture freezing momentarily so long as the sound continues uninterrupted. And so on.
There’s always scope for a provider to do noticeably better than the competition, and this is really what’s behind the ideal of matching TV service quality. We’ll accept a few compromises until one provider or another demonstrates that we could be watching a less compromised service. Picture and sound quality are important, but so are the ancillary experiences of searching for and finding content to watch. Programme guides are a big part of the ‘TV experience’, and if the OTT providers fail to make it easy for viewers to navigate the content offering, this is definitely an area in which subscribers can become disenchanted.
But does the same imperative apply to all providers? Do all OTT services have to embody the highest possible quality, or run the risk of becoming unwatched? Not necessarily, because OTT services are provided by a range of different entities, with different expectations and success thresholds in the market. An established broadcaster with a solid base of subscribers, generating revenue from conventional TV services, does not have the same goals from its OTT offering as an aggressive OTT-only player making a pitch for customers switching from the old guard. For the new kid on the block, attracting subscribers with a noticeably better service is the only possible game. This means not just an attractive library of content, but a higher picture quality, a really good programme guide, and the possible delivery of pictures and sound.
But whatever standard an OTT provider aims for, timely, accurate information on QoS and QoE is essential, in order to avoid falling behind those constantly evolving consumer expectations.
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