When it comes to content delivery, creating a video OTT infrastructure that provides effective direct-to-consumer capabilities is often easier said than done. Many service providers dive right into developing apps and user interfaces before they look at the technical aspects. It’s great to have a huge back catalogue of video content, but if it doesn’t load, continuously buffers or doesn’t resume from where you left off – what’s the point? If you aren’t getting the groundwork right, you risk losing subscribers.
How to tame the Content Delivery Monster
User experience is everything – but are you falling into the trap of thinking that the Content Delivery Network (CDN) is the engine room for user experience? The drivers of user experience are part of a more complex process. It’s a monster but it can be tamed!
Here are four steps that must be optimised to deliver video, at scale, directly to the consumer.
#1: Platform architecture
To build the right architecture, providers need to be proactive. There’s no point piecing together bits and bobs from other services and then sticking them together in the hope it works. This approach will only end up with a suboptimal architecture and an inefficient user experience. These inefficiencies are magnified even more when providers try to scale delivery to mass audiences across multiple countries. You need a good plan, best led by a technical architect which outlines how all the components inter-relate and provides a foundation for the processes needed to (quite literally) deliver the vision. The best plans are proactive, adaptive and iterative.
#2: Media preparation
This is central to the user experience as the slightest misalignment will inevitably lead to poor quality streams and suboptimal user experience. In a complex world with no single encoding standard, preparing content for delivery requires a granular understanding of a range of variables; devices, screen sizes, bitrates, frame rates, sequencing and configuration. It’s highly technical and often goes beyond the skillsets of a technical architect.
#3: Apps and Control Planes
Applications are often designed by great software developers who are, sadly, unfamiliar with the quirks of video delivery and the idiosyncrasies in how users browse and view content. Simple things like the order in which components load in an app can massively impact the speed of delivery. The development of intelligent rules around aspects like pre-buffering or pre-caching content can help create a smoother experience.
Control Planes dictate the quality of the user experience. The Control Plane sits in the background, discretely validating user entitlements, authorisation, location and licensing rights to make the app work quickly and effectively. A poorly configured Control Plane can play havoc with content delivery – delaying or interrupting the user experience. For example, if 100,000 people hit the same server at the same time – and, each time, the system must go through a convoluted series of steps before serving content – the experience will lag and the viewer will become frustrated. That spinning wheel on the player at the time of playback isn’t only as a result of CDN interaction. Once again, configuring the platform to avoid delay requires specific know-how and expertise.
#4: Media delivery and playback
This represents the delivery of the product to the consumer – but it’s still so easy to get wrong. It’s frequently assumed that the CDN is the only actor in the delivery phase and that delays in playback are entirely the CDN’s fault. However, as outlined above, there are numerous steps in between that can cause delay and ruin the experience. It’s important to remember that a CDN can only start playing video once it’s had a request to do so. If that request takes too long, it’s commonly down to misaligned processes or suboptimal sequencing earlier in the delivery chain.
The CDN is the endgame of video delivery and a crucial determinant of user experience. However, whilst its configuration undoubtedly needs optimising, it shouldn’t be the first area of focus! If you need help taming your Content Delivery Monster, get in touch with the experts: firstname.lastname@example.org