Opinion

Gauging the quality of OTT platforms

TV Ramachandran | Updated on April 30, 2021

This is vital as India is likely to have about 500 million subscribers by 2023. A Mozark-CMR-V&D study may have some answers

In the past year-and-a-half, “Let’s do a movie” has been replaced with, “What’s good on Netflix?” Regardless of which platform is preferred, Indians’ love for online video content is undeniable. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns, Over-The-Top (OTT) user consumption boomed. With over 40 players, India is the world’s fastest-growing OTT market, expected to hit over $3 billion in the next five years.

But as platforms compete for users, how can subscribers and regulators ensure that they get the video and quality promised by the platforms? Until recently, the only metric to compare was the speed at which a video plays or downloads over a network. However, a newly-released landmark report rating top OTT players based on multiple functional experiences and emotional quotient parameters (Mozark-CMR-V&D Report 2021) may change that. The report offers much-needed insight into how OTT platforms can be compared.

By 2023, India is expected to have over 500 million subscribers to OTT platforms. This means that consumers cannot rely on word-of-mouth marketing about specific shows to see if a platform will meet their expectations. Additionally, many OTT platforms are large channel partners for advertisers, marketers, content creators, and more. For consumers, businesses, and eventually a regulator for this industry to evaluate OTT players, specific units of measure are required. The Voice & Data-Mozark-CMR study and accompanying survey are the first to attempt to standardise the measurement of OTT offerings, which is a giant step in the right direction.

Evaluation of responsiveness

Using a Machine Learning platform, the report examines seven video streaming apps — AirtelXStream, Amazon Prime, Disney+Hotstar, Netflix, YouTube, SonyLiv, and Voot. The apps were evaluated on their responsiveness which factored the app start loading time, home page loading time and more. The same apps were rated on the streaming experience offered based on play start time, re-buffering rate, and the number of times they buffered per minute.

Another interesting and significant source of insight from the report is a new metric called the AQI or Application Quality Index that combines both responsiveness and streaming experience together. The study results also acknowledges that brand loyalty, consumer advocacy, and more have an emotional quotient attached which can and should be measured.

Additionally, at the front end, users probably experience only the time for a video to load or download. However, many other parameters go into delivering top-quality OTT video streaming. Take, for instance, the OTT player’s choice of CDN. CDN stands for ‘content delivery network,’ which is a distribution of connected servers across the globe that help content get to the end-user faster and more efficiently.

The type of CDN chosen by an OTT platform can make a big difference in latency speeds since they are responsible for delivering more than 60 per cent of OTT traffic. The report found that global OTT players ranked higher in app responsiveness due to their CDN optimisation. Now that we have this data, local players can optimise their back-end operations and meet customer expectations. Getting the CDN right can mean that users across the country can get the same experience — regardless of location.

Another point to compare is the type of media player engaged. Streaming a video requires a high initial peak network throughput. After that, it needs to be consistent at a lower throughput. This means the data necessary to load a new movie, show, or video is much higher in the beginning. After it loads, it needs to consistently refresh content a few minutes ahead of what plays on screen. To do this, OTT players depend on broadband networks. However, network quality varies by location and from time to time. The OTT players that invested in the infrastructure required to maintain a consistent quality emerged as those with an enhanced user experience.

An essential aspect governing OTT streaming performance is the integrity and design of their app architecture. Apps that invest in streamlining third-party app integrations and systems on the back-end fared much better in latency speeds than apps that integrated third-party solutions on the front-end. Smaller OTT players may be at a disadvantage because it takes upfront investment into the right third-party app integrations. But only through measuring and contrasting latency speeds can smaller players even begin to focus on optimising third-party integrations. They can prioritise finding the right advertising player or customer analytics platform to help improve their latency speeds.

Home-grown OTT players may have entered the game at a later stage but are quickly catching up in the types of content they offer. This means their demand across the country, and even the globe, increases. OTT players need to enhance user experience to continue capturing and growing market share in a highly competitive market. Otherwise, they may find their subscribers moving to other platforms without closing the feedback loop. For now, as indicated in the report, top global players dominate — as expected. But with the right metrics, Indian OTT players can allot their investments in the areas that need them most to win the hearts of the increasingly savvy 500+ million Indian consumers.

The writer is Hon. Fellow of IET (London) and President of Broadband India Forum. Views are personal. Research inputs by Chandana Bala

Published on April 30, 2021

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