Consider this - the number of months needed to reach 1 million users in India since launch :
Facebook - 10 months
Twitter - 12 months
Instagram - 2.5 months
HotStar - .2 months (6 days !!!)
So what is HotStar? HotStar is one of the recent OTT video applications launched by Star India, launched to coincide with the start of the cricket world cup. Star is one of the largest media broadcasting houses in India and is part of the global NewsCorp network. In the 40 days since being launched, Hotstar reached 40 million downloads and is still going strong. The platform today streams a wide variety of entertainment content and is reported to support more than 7000 device types.
Before you write HotStar off as an atypical experience, consider that Facebook recently announced that it was now serving more than 4 billion videos a day to its users, up from 3 billion a day in January. Youtube serves hundreds of millions of hours of video everyday, with over half of that being viewed on mobile devices. It's little wonder that any report on OTT predicts similar growth. In fact Digital Trends currently reports that more than 333 million users globally will be consuming OTT video by 2019, up from approximately 92 million last year.
As the number of users (and viewing options for these users) increases, so too will expectations for the quality of the viewing experience. The early generation OTT viewer was willing to tolerate startup delays, rebuffering, pixelation and other annoying viewing problems. However, the coming generation of OTT viewers will expect broadcast quality viewing experiences from their OTT providers on the entire range of devices that are used to consume video these days, providing broadcasters an exciting new revenue stream.
The continued monetization of OTT video is enabling up a number of different business models including advertising supported, subscription video on demand (SVoD), pay as you go / pay per view and as a value added offering on top of existing broadcast services. However, whatever the model, there is no getting away from the one fundamental requirement for OTT - a fast, reliable and secure Internet.
Given OTT video involves delivering video over the Internet to a potentially globally distributed user base; there are some inherent challenges in the process. For example, broadcasters have little or no control over either the choice of device or the quality of the end users Internet connection. Further, demand can be very difficult to predict and peak very rapidly; potentially overwhelming the content provider's infrastructure. Finally, a high quality video stream could today consume up to 10 Mbps in bandwidth. Delivering to only 5 million users implies a bandwidth requirement of around 50 Tbps. As a point of comparison, the total global international Internet capacity in 2014 was 137 Tbps and the rate of growth in this capacity was slowing rapidly. When you put exploding demand together with supply constraints, it is not difficult to see that the OTT experience could fail to meet the expectations of both the content providers and consumers. So what can be done to help alleviate this issue?
If we think about Internet congestion as being similar to traffic in our transportation systems, it might provide some insight. There are three main approaches to mitigating road traffic:
- Build more roads, especially side roads to provide alternative paths;
- Encourage time shifting so that one can manage peak times better;
- Encourage car-pooling thereby reducing gridlock.
Solutions to Internet congestion can be analogous. First, to increase the capacity there is a need to invest in expanding network presence around the globe to deliver the content faster, more reliably and more securely. Second, you need to make better use of available capacity with the help of predictive analytics, which can help anticipate and reduce traffic congestion by better leveraging off peak times and customer preferences to preposition content and avoid congestion. Finally, to enable the delivery of a broadcast quality viewing experience to the ever-growing base of users watching video over the Internet, leverage advanced technologies to address the reliability and sustainability of video quality over the Internet.
Broadcasters and content providers need to start actively working with partners to deploy technologies to address the explosive demand for OTT video, or it will likely lead to a degradation of the OTT experience for their viewers, thereby potentially killing the goose that could lay the golden egg.
Srinivas Padmanabharao is a director of product marketing APJ for Akamai.