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How to Tackle the Bitrate Debate

More is better, when it comes to video quality, right? More, more, more! Well...yes, and no. Higher quality bitrates can be more engaging...up to a certain point. There is a point at which the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and it doesn't make sense to offer a higher quality stream because it doesn't serve your audience to do so. At what point you ask? That's where analytics come in handy. Audience Analytics can tell you exactly when enough is enough, in terms of video bitrate quality for your content and your audience.

Sure, that may seem like an evasive answer, but that's because the answer really does depend on your content, quality and packaging (more about this in an upcoming post). What I can tell you is what the answer looked like for some recent live sporting events.
The IDC took a look at video analytics for six major 2010 sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup. Read the Full Report. From this analysis, higher playback bit rates were shown to increase the amount of time a user watched an event, but only up to a certain "optimal" threshold. What was the maximum bitrate that was shown to increase play duration for a viewer? Anywhere between 1 Mbps to 3.5 Mbps, depending on, you guessed it: the content itself, the audience, and the bitrates offered for the event (the bitrates offered were not consistent across all events).  For more details, click here.

What does this mean for you? Here's a Handy Rule of Thumb: An increase of 500 kbps in the bitrate delivered will increase the amount of time a user watches the content by 10% - up to the maximum threshold bitrate, that is.

But this is just what the IDC found for some sports fans in 2010. Why not use analytics to find the quality level that will impress and engage your audience?

Akamai Media Analytics can be used to track all the quality metrics that can impact your audience - including bit rates, re-buffering, availability and start up times. Learn more about Media Analytics or read the full IDC report about quality and viewer engagement.

Emily Glass is Senior Product Marketing Manager - Media, at Akamai.