On-demand OTT services such as Netflix have undoubtedly changed the viewing habits of people across the globe. Whereas viewers previously had to be sat by their televisions at a certain time to watch their favourite shows, we have now switched to an ‘anytime, anywhere, any device’ (ATAWAD) approach that has taken the industry by storm.
In fact, these on-demand services are now overshadowing the traditional broadcasters. Recent research from Qualtrics found that on-demand OTT content has actually overtaken live TV, with Netflix in particular becoming the most popular viewing method of choice among respondents.
With the more traditional broadcasters now jumping on the OTT bandwagon with their own offerings, competition is fiercer than ever. While many choose to stand out from the crowd through their content catalogue offering, they simply cannot ignore the importance of quality of service. Even if you are able to offer viewers exclusive TV shows or movies that can’t be found anywhere else, they won’t be enjoyable if the OTT provider can’t guarantee a high level of quality of service. Consumers nowadays expect 4K, HDR and HFR content, and so being able to deliver this without issues or complications is the only way to reach a customer base of millions.
But delivering high-quality, high-resolution content to an expanding customer base while operating within the same bandwidth capacity is tricky business, and one factor is often sacrificed to benefit the other.
So why not just invest in network capacity, then? Simply put, many of these OTT providers can’t afford to. With users paying a rough average of $10 per month for a subscription to a single service, the businesses themselves only have a limited investment to work with, and increasing bandwidth capacity can often cost millions of dollars. This can throw the sustainability of the business into doubt.
But video compression can save the day. By dramatically reducing the bandwidth required for any given piece of content to be delivered to users, compression increases the potential of the existing bandwidth capacity. From here, providers can use the extra bandwidth to either increase the quality of the video or serve more viewers simultaneously — and sometimes operators are able to do both. This is a win-win for businesses, who can continue to grow their OTT offering while achieving peace of mind that their model is sustainable. After all, smaller costs and faster growth equals fast profit.
Some of the latest codecs such as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) and AV1 (AOMEdia Video 1) can provide up to 50% bandwidth gain when compared to H.264 for a given video quality. While HEVC is a well-known compression standard that has been on the marketplace for several years now, AV1 is a work-in-progress that has been developed by the Alliance for Open Media as an open, royalty-free codec applicable for broadcast and OTT workflows. It’s scheduled to be released in early 2018.
The latest research in this field is focusing on the potential for cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to shrink the size of the content even more, further improving the efficiency of bandwidth capacity. This revolutionary feature optimizes video encoding profiles by analysing video stream complexity in real-time and recommending the encoding parameters to apply to get a constant quality rate across content. It’s a major switch from a ‘Constant Bit Rate’ approach to a ‘Constant Quality Rate’ one. The compression gains from such technology can be huge — between 30% to 60% — it’s codec and resolution agnostic, and it’s done without any CPU penalty, meaning you don’t have to modify your IT architecture to integrate this feature. Based on machine learning, the more you encode content, the more your database grows, and therefore the more you can optimize the next encoding.
The popularity of OTT content, combined with increased consumer expectations for high-quality content at all times, means that video compression technology will be more vital than ever before when it comes to the success of all OTT and on-demand content providers. They must master the art of balancing content priorities with maintaining a high quality of service, and next-generation compression solutions lie at the heart of this equation.