The importance of quality control (QC) and monitoring in the digital media supply chain cannot be emphasized enough. The media industry has widely accepted that implementing QC and monitoring is imperative to the delivery of high-quality content to viewers, with root cause analysis and error correlation being seen as critical steps in the process. Despite the industry’s acceptance, however, a recent survey conducted by Interra Systems found that more than a quarter of respondents — consisting of media industry decision-makers — don’t implement root cause analysis in the real-time monitoring of their content. An additional 37% only perform “some level” of root cause analysis. This article examines the reasons for this lack of implementation, the challenges it poses for QC and monitoring solution providers, how these challenges can be met with multipoint monitoring, and the consequences streaming providers face when they don’t deliver high-quality content.
A Complex Process
Adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR) is a complex process, involving various groups in the workflow, that handle video in different ways — from ingest to video processing and delivery. Errors can be introduced at any stage, which makes having a clear process and methodology for root cause analysis in place — to collect these errors and performance statistics — even more necessary. However, this is easier said than done, as there are a number of challenges involved. For one, certain stages of the workflow are typically out of a service provider’s control. While they create the content and often handle video processing, delivery is usually performed by a third party, most likely a content delivery network (CDN) or multi-CDN. Once the packaged content is handed off, service providers no longer have access to data pertaining to the quality of delivery.
Another challenge is that groups involved in the streaming process may be situated in different geographic regions, which makes collaboration between them difficult. In addition, many companies simply don’t have the resources to implement root cause analysis. Furthermore, the costs associated with deploying a monitoring solution requires the hiring and training of a dedicated team with a specific set of skills. Collecting and analyzing data to identify the cause of an issue takes great effort, and even putting a methodology in place requires specialized knowledge. In many cases, companies would prefer to focus on fixing issues quickly as they occur, rather than making the investment in root cause analysis.
A Wake-Up Call
The survey results in regard to root cause analysis are a wake-up call for QC and monitoring tool providers, who need to do a better job of correlating errors in real time and providing more contextual information to help fix problems as quickly as possible. While there are many solutions available that monitor video on various levels, the focus tends to be on only providing high-level information — like whether or not video was delivered on time without any problems. Media companies require a deeper analysis of the errors involved and where they occurred in the workflow, in addition to data on closed captions, audio and video quality metrics, ad insertion, and more.
To step up their game, solutions providers need to offer better collaboration with complementary solutions in the ecosystem — including encoding, monitoring, and device-level quality of experience (QoE) — to provide a holistic view of the media chain. One approach is monitoring at different touchpoints across the chain, and having a system in place that allows different people and groups to collaborate if there is an issue. However, in addition to geographic difficulties, this approach is inefficient because it involves extensive data duplication to provide everyone with the same information. A better approach is multipoint monitoring from a single dashboard that shows data from various distribution points, origin servers, and CDN edge networks.
Tracking Video Through the Entire Chain
Multipoint monitoring is a powerful way for media companies to ensure the quality of their video content is maximized. This approach allows them to track the video as it moves through the entire chain — from ingest to endpoint — giving them access to status updates at various demarcation points. With this information, media companies can quickly identify errors and proactively address issues, instead of waiting until the affected video has already reached unhappy customers. And while it’s important to monitor at all critical touchpoints, multipoint monitoring also provides media companies with the flexibility to monitor what they want, where they want.
According to Interra Systems’ survey, 80% of respondents believed that multipoint monitoring would help ensure consistent and better video quality. This becomes particularly important for live events, where real-time quality monitoring is imperative. Unlike video on demand (VOD) — where you can plan to QC content in advance — everything happens on the fly in live events. Once video is captured by cameras, the distribution process begins. Therefore, media companies need to pay close attention to quality at the ingest point, and also during processing, transcoding, packaging, and edge networks.
Content Quality Affects the Bottom Line
The consequences of not implementing root cause analysis and multipoint monitoring can be severe for a media company’s bottom line. Consumer expectations for high-quality content are at an all-time high. Not only do they expect a variety of compelling content, but they also demand exceptional picture quality and an outstanding delivery experience. If video quality consistently falls short of their expectations, customers may consider switching to another provider.
Poor video quality can also negatively affect a service provider’s reputation. Numerous industry forums are dedicated to picture quality rankings for every OTT streamer, and word of a glitch spreads quickly. Consumers trust these forums, so a bad review, especially for premium content, can create a negative impression about a streaming service and influence a consumer’s decision to subscribe.
To succeed in the streaming space, delivering good video quality is essential for media companies. By implementing root cause analysis and multipoint monitoring, they can pay close attention to quality at all critical touchpoints and address issues quickly and proactively. In a highly competitive landscape, this allows them to maintain customer loyalty and satisfaction, preserve their brand reputation, and attract new customers — all of which improves their bottom line.
[Editor’s note: This is a contributed article from Interra Systems. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]
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