Note: This post is supporting component #1 of Experience and Economics: Brightcove’s Manifesto for Media in 2017. Download the full manifesto as a PDF here.
The data is clear. Better viewing experiences result in increased video consumption as measured by viewing time and repeat visits, which is why improving the experience is the first mandate of Brightcove’s Manifesto for Media in 2017. While it is already an order of magnitude better than the days of postage stamp, SD video from just a decade ago, it still falls short of the instant-on and uninterrupted viewing experience that traditional TV has delivered audiences throughout its history. On the web, it has long been clear that the foundational building block of a good experience is performance. Faster load times = higher conversion. Google has talked about the audacious goal of being able to load all pages in 100 milliseconds or less--matching the same performance of a human turning a page in a physical book. In the last 12-18 months, we have seen a doubling down on driving performance, especially by publishers with initiatives like Facebook Instant Articles and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages. From publishers seeking greater control of their destiny, we have seen significant investments (and results) in performance; this includes data made available by the Financial Times, The Washington Post and The Telegraph.
The same applies, maybe even more so, to online video. The time to load a player, the time from hitting play to first frame, and the number of rebuffering events, can have a massive impact on viewing time and return viewership [see also this, and this]. There are four different vectors of innovation we have identified and are investing in to drive material improvements in video performance that can have a transformative impact for our customers in 2017:
Player load time and time-to-first-frame. The new pure HTML5 Player from Brightcove has been architected with performance as the most significant design goal in mind, and we have attained industry-leading metrics for load time and time-to-first-frame. This is achieved through multiple aspects of the Player — from using a tiny core and loading only what is needed, to how we optimize, compile and host the Player, to low level optimizations of how we play segmented video using Media Source Extensions (MSE).
We recently commissioned a third party agency to conduct head-to-head performance testing on load time and time-to-first-frame. The Brightcove Player today leads in this dimension across all competitive Players we have tested (four are shown below), and we are continuing to invest in improving this still further in 2017.
We think these elements are at the foundation of what makes an outstanding video player.
Seamless integration of Advertising. The Player and content playback are big factors in the quality of the viewing experience, but when you introduce advertising too often, the viewing experiences goes from fantastic to broken. The fastest loading player in the world can’t deliver a good user experience if the preroll takes >5 seconds to load, and the ad throws an error when it finally arrives. We believe server-side ad insertion (SSAI) is a fundamentally better way to manage how viewers experience advertising and with SSAI, and we can deliver ads that enable a fast start, a seamless, TV-like experience with mid-rolls, and support for critical analytics. In 2017, new innovations from Brightcove will radically reduce the cost and complexity of switching from CSAI to SSAI and make this higher quality experience mainstream.
At the same time, this is not just a technology problem. Ad operations needs to take the user experience impact into account when setting up monetization rules. Delaying playback by multiple seconds in order to obtain a higher CPM will ultimately decrease revenue by driving consumers away. We will be investing in defining best practices in this area, working with the industry to reduce slow response times and providing data that customers can use to measure the impact (see Quality of Experience below).
Understanding Quality of Experience. QoE Metrics enable us to understand, make transparent, and continually improve the quality of viewers’ actual video experiences. New in 2017, all of our players (Web and Native) will be instrumented with sophisticated QoE analytics beaconing and the ability to query and report to objectively understand start times, rebuffering, errors, bit rate and rendition switches. Even more importantly, we will use this information behind the scenes to add intelligence to our player and video delivery systems. We multivariant test each build of our players in the wild to ensure we are not impacting key experience metrics before they are formally released. Now, imagine applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to this data. We have enormous volumes of streams across the globe to use in this analysis, which we believe will enable new “automagical” optimization of video delivery quality and cost beyond traditional adaptive bitrate (ABR).
Lastly, we are working on enabling much higher quality and immersive new experiences. You have likely heard about 4K and UHD video, and may even have a monitor or television through which you can watch this content. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m getting at. Seeing 4K video will make you remember the first time you saw HD video.
There is a lot to be excited about with 4K content, but we are also bullish on enriching the viewing experience with tools that can “move the needle” today and aren’t dependent on an adoption curve. For example, video at 60 frames per second and content processed via the Advanced Video Codec (AVC) or even finely tuned H.264 can really up the ante for many viewers today. We believe that the promise of adaptive bitrate experiences is still not fully realized for many, and packaging and delivering an optimal video experience for every viewer, specific to his or her platform and device, is still something that can be done today with far less complexity or dependency than ever before. High dynamic range (HDR) with its wider range of colors and greater dynamic range adds another layer of richness to the 4K experience. Finally, we aim to make delivering 360 Degree Video, which places the viewer in the middle of a video experience they can interact with and see all around them, as easy to manage and deliver as traditional video.
I invite you to read more here about how radically improving the video viewing experience fits in with the rest of Brightcove’s Manifesto for Media and our plans to support our media customers in 2017.