by Brenton Ough 26th March 2019

As the saying goes, content is King. However, when it comes to streaming, content is powerless without live stream monitoring: top-quality content will simply go to waste if it reaches the consumer in poor quality. Today, end-users are increasingly demanding, and they don’t generally think about the way content reaches them. Price is the real differentiator, with customer expectations soaring for seamless TV quality OTT live streaming, regardless of the platform they choose.

To deliver on these growing demands, broadcasters must monitor the entire streaming system 24/7 — from ingest through content preparation to delivery via CDN. It is important to create a fault-tolerant OTT streaming infrastructure in which problems can be identified before they arise for the end-user, or at least with a minimal resolution time.

How do leading broadcasters ensure the Quality of Service (QoS) their audience demands? They create a system that covers all the potential causes of downtime.

A Comprehensive OTT Infrastructure

Leading broadcaster Seven West Media, one of Australia’s biggest integrated media companies, covers large international sporting events and can reach up to 300,000 live viewers for a single event on their OTT streaming platform. So it’s vital they provide a robust system that mitigates any potential errors.

Seven West Media Website - A Live Streaming OTT Guide - Why Comprehensive Live Stream Monitoring Is Essential - Touchstream
Seven West Media relies on Touchstream to ensure high QoS for live streams reaching up to 300.000 viewers. Source: Seven West Media Website

To cover all bases, they use a comprehensive monitoring infrastructure. That includes MUX for client-side analytics and Touchstream for CDN insight and content availability monitoring, Amazon AWS for platform-as-a-service functionality, AWS Elemental for live encoding on premises, Akamai and Amazon CloudFront for delivery, Brightcove for VoD asset management and playback, Google DFP and Yospace for live ad-insertion. This wide array of solutions brings multiple benefits, all of which are crucial for providing the quality consumers expect from such a prominent broadcaster. Those benefits include:

Improved service quality

Quality of Service is the main factor broadcasters strive for. Generally speaking, a company like Seven West Media, that provides almost round-the-clock uptime, delivers a low probability of downtime, low error rates, high bandwidth and latency, resulting in a good Quality of Service. An all-encompassing infrastructure is necessary to make these things achievable.

To hit this standard, Seven West Media leverages a combination of solutions for their active and in-player monitoring. In-player monitoring, as provided by MUX, allows the broadcaster to get real-time feedback while their end-user is viewing their content. Active synthetic monitoring, such as that provided by Touchstream’s StreamCAM meanwhile essentially runs a constant playback test by simulating the viewing experience in a specific location online. A combination of both these approaches provides the most robust monitoring possible, that ensures the quality of service users demand.

Touchstream StreamCAM - A Live Streaming OTT Guide - Why Comprehensive Live Stream Monitoring Is Essential - Touchstream

As Damian McNamara, Head of Cloud Video, highlights, “Data is critical for us to optimise quality-of-service across the entire OTT workflow. We can capture and analyse an incredible level of detail, with clear dashboards that allow everyone in the team to efficiently troubleshoot issues. Touchstream’s StreamCAM solution provides us with key data we need about CDN performance, so that we get a complete end-to-end picture of our linear stream delivery.”

Incident volume reduction

Having a robust system enables broadcasters to minimise the types of incidents that lead to user churn to an almost inconsequential level. This is done largely by detecting problems before they even happen. The streaming pipeline is complex, so having an integrated system that traces errors from glass-to-glass and displays them in one simple single-view dashboard, meaning issues are far more preventable.

Touchstream’s active monitoring, for example, runs tests on every bitrate of every channel and format. All these are monitored from high-quality PoPs located in the cloud on diverse transit networks and are viewable through the StreamCAM dashboard. Problems that may arise in the delivery workflow are visualised, meaning they can be dealt with before they impact viewers.

Reduced cost of reactive support

There is a huge cost to being reactive, rather than proactive, when it comes to errors and issues in live streaming OTT. The first is simply user churn. As mentioned, demand for broadcast quality OTT streaming means competition is sky high. Imagine a live streaming event being watched by hundreds of thousands of users on one platform. Due to a preventable error, a decisive moment suddenly isn’t visible because their stream starts buffering, stalls or it fails to play.

Broken Stream Eng Cze - A Live Streaming OTT Guide - Why Comprehensive Live Stream Monitoring Is Essential - Touchstream
England fans fume o social media as ITV hub goes down during live stream of Czech Republic game. The story was even covered by a major newspaper.

Today, user feedback is instant and vocal on social media, and such an error would be a PR disaster. It could lead to user churn to alternative platforms, and social media backlash could even dissuade others from signing up or trying that broadcaster. What’s more, even if users don’t leave your platform, the cost of user phone complaints can accumulate and adversely affect profit margins. Forrester, for example, estimates a serious QoE issue during a major sporting event could cost $1.2 million in call centre expenditure if 100,000 users call in to complain. Clearly, these cumulative consequences can result in a serious downturn in revenue.

Faster resolution of outages

When outages do happen, a comprehensive infrastructure can also facilitate better problem management. In-player monitoring can detect when an issue is negatively affecting end-users, and exactly how many of them are being affected. When coupled with the high visibility of an integrated single-view dashboard covering the entire pipeline, from origin to delivery to content delivery network, this allows operators to determine the fastest possible solution.

Higher productivity for the business and IT

A seamless CDN with high visibility that displays the entire delivery workflow facilitates the rapid identification of issues, as soon as they appear. This means the broadcaster can reallocate the time and resources previously spent on reactively fixing incidents, to other business areas, such as engineering.

A competitive edge in the market

OTT live streaming is growing continually to become an ever-more competitive market, with more consumers turning to OTT as an alternative to TV. Conviva’s 2018 All-Screen Streaming Census report shows that the growth rate of the worldwide streaming audience more than doubled between 2017 and 2018.

As OTT becomes more developed and more ubiquitous in broadcasting, companies not using a wide toolset will fall behind in an increasingly competitive market. Providing an error-free service allows a broadcaster to distinguish themselves as a serious player. In fact, some broadcasters, despite being early adopters of OTT streaming, still only use a simple monitoring infrastructure. This means many companies are only monitoring basic data, that only gives them visibility on whether or not content is being delivered, without further insights.

However, today, most leading broadcasters know they need a comprehensive toolset to equip them with the monitoring capabilities necessary to provide the highest possible quality service. In the ever-more competitive live streaming OTT market, rapid responses to issue prevention are vital to meeting the needs of demanding users, and ensuring the Quality of Service customers expect.