SVG TranSPORT 2018: OTT Pros Examine Ways To Deliver Better QoS and Latency

Achieving low latency comes with a multitude of challenges

For many OTT and streaming services, the goal is to provide an immersive and reliable experience for all consumers. The constant battle of finding the lowest possible level of latency has been at the forefront of the digital landscape. At 2018 SVG TranSPORT, Eric Bolten, VP, business development, Zixi; Geir Magnusson Jr., CTO, fuboTV; Evan Statton, senior solutions architect, AWS Elemental; Andre Vawdrey, senior director, Playmaker Media, NBC Sports Digital Technology; and Ben Ziskind, director, live video products, Fox Networks Group, provided possible solutions to enhance QoS for customers by lowering latency.

Channeling Quality of Service Across the Board
Unlike with latency, many experts in the digital space know what’s needed to establish better interactivity with the content they create and their audience. “When we think of quality of service, we think of quality of experience, or QoE,” said Ziskind. “Ultimately, it’s about the user getting video with a broadcast-like experience or better.”

On The OTT Landscape panel at SVG TranSPORT, (from left) Zixi’s Eric Bolten, fuboTV’s Geir Magnusson Jr, AWS Elemental’s Evan Statton, NBC Sports’ Andre Vawdrey, and Fox Networks Group’s Ben Ziskind discuss reducing latency.

According to Statton, three critical objectives need to be accomplished in promoting the best possible QoS: high-quality video, a reliable connection, and the lowest level of latency.

As live streaming becomes more complex to replicate a traditional linear broadcast, the issue of latency is heightened. For example, the use of statistics and multiple camera angles for mobile use can complicate and, ultimately, compromise the streaming quality. After producing content with as many as 21 camera angles, Vawdrey understands the importance of a stream being as close to real time as possible. “Syncing all of those camera angles that may come from various sources is one reason we would introduce latency,” he said. “The other complexity is metadata. All the different data overlays and syncing that to each other is difficult as well.”

With a large amount of moving parts, controlling the production network can be one of the hardest challenges in regard to improving QoS. “While live and linear broadcast was always difficult, digital and live workflows are very complex,” Bolten said. “There are a lot of partners in the chain. That has a huge impact on the ultimate end-user experience, and just managing that process at scale is a big thing.”

Production elements aren’t the only components that prevent the narrowing of the real-time gap. “The reality is that, once you get out of the original [creation source], you need to do some buffering to deal with the fact that networks are unreliable,” Magnusson said. “You can potentially get as close to zero as possible, but I think physics is still going to get in the way.”

Another complication is the current popularity of legalized sports betting. As this new layer continues to progress, many see direct-to-consumer and on-the-go streaming as a vital home base of sports betting. In addition, Magnusson pointed out, social media engagement is hampered when streams are delayed: “You have the magic Twitter machine telling you that Ronaldo scored a goal 30 seconds before scoring a goal [in the stream].”

Also involved is the need to increase monetization while decreasing lag. Many companies are testing dynamic ad insertion to capitalize on OTT platforms, but are remaining cognizant of its effect on the overall product. “With the idea of dynamic ad insertion, a big component for us is balancing that latency with the desire to maximize monetization,” Ziskind said. “When you’re trying to deliver unique ad payload to every single user, which may involve multiple different people filling ads into that pot, that adds a lot of complexity, which can reduce the stability of the stream as well as significantly increase latency.”

The Future of OTT
The OTT business is booming, and the future of digital is bright. According to Ziskind, 17% of all viewing consumption of the Group Stage match between Germany and South Korea during the 2018 FIFA World Cup was through digital platforms and not traditional broadcasts. He noted, “It’s a representation of what’s going on with consumers’ wanting to be able to consume sports content live, when, and wherever they want.”

As for making significant strides in lowering latency, companies are combining efforts for the betterment of the industry. “I think we’re finally at the point where we’re moving past not wanting to share with each other,” Vawdrey said. “We all realize that the world’s pretty small and we all work together. We all want the same thing, which is higher quality.”

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