Earlier this year, controversy around the state of mobile video re-erupted when AT&T and Verizon were accused of throttling video quality, only to have Netflix step up and take responsibility, saying it was acting to benefit customers with low data caps.
It's just the latest manifestation of the challenge faced by media and entertainment companies as they grapple with the profound shift in people's consumption of movies, TV shows, sports and news.
Today, there are about 2 billion smartphones in daily use. And this year, according to ZenithOptimedia, mobile's share of time spent watching video content will grow more than five times faster than video consumption on non-mobile devices.
I believe the only way that media companies can successfully meet this change in consumer behavior is to rethink how they deliver content. They must begin to move from "best effort" to "best experience" delivery, and one of the best ways to do that is through predictive content delivery.
So what is predictive content delivery? At its foundation, it is personalization, using the consumer's prior viewing behavior to show them similar content they're likely to want to watch. But that's only the first step in the process if you want to deliver a compelling mobile experience.
Why? Because even the most perfect personalization won't matter if the content is re-buffering so much that it can't be watched. But if you pre-position the content you predict they'll want to see, you can not only avoid typical quality problems, you can actually delight your customer. When was the last time mobile and delight were used in the same sentence? Here's how to do it.
Using valleys to scale mountains
Cellular networks are built for peak traffic. But with yesterday's peak rate becoming today's average rate, it's hard to keep up. Best practice today is to use adaptive bitrate streaming to adjust quality in the face of variable bandwidth availability. But the consumer experiences this as a quality see-saw, especially when connecting via cellular, and especially during peak hours.
Fortunately, these capacity windows also have valleys where usage is low. If you know when they occur and have peering relationships with carriers to harness these downtime windows, you can use it to pre-position content, even HD quality, to the device, behind the scenes.
Daddy, I want it now
Pre-positioning personalized content has two fringe benefits, both of which are so important as to hardly be fringe. First, it means that the consumer can experience instant startup, and that will increasingly be considered table stakes. We recently surveyed 3,500 consumers about their expectations for page performance. Some 49% said less than two seconds was right and 30% said less than one second. But a whopping 18% expected instant page loads. If you want to successfully engage today's consumer, you need to give them something instantly when they press play.
Another great thing about instant startup is that in parts of a country with poor 4G coverage, or emerging markets where 4G is just starting to take off, the ability for a content provider to offer LTE-level experiences on 2G and 3G connections is, well, money.
The second benefit is offline viewing. Consumers have been asking for this for a long time, and there are some really interesting offers now in the market from Amazon Prime, EPIX and others. But these systems typically require the user to initiate the download, which requires planning as well as a fat pipe, a lot of time or both. Predictively pre-positioning content can take care of those problems. Your customer has watched episodes one through four this week? Pre-position number five while she's sleeping. That's offline viewing magic.
Controlling the last inch by giving up control
Everything we've just talked about fails if you can't cache on the device itself. In a mobile-first world, edge caching isn't going to be good enough. Until the world is blanketed with cheap 5G and 6G service, you need access to the device. But as anyone with teenage kids can tell you, touching someone's mobile requires negotiation and diplomacy.
Your SDK has to give that consumer a lot of control over how that device will be used. In our experience, device caching succeeds only when the consumer has the ability to powerfully but simply manage the settings, from when pre-positioning is done, to how battery life is managed, to how much storage can be used.
The modern smartphone is nine years old. Let that sink in for a moment. For those of us who work in the media and entertainment industry, a device that is not even a "tweenager" has radically upended just about everything we do in our professional lives, to say nothing of how we and our families spend our personal time.
Put this all together and I predict a mobile video experience that is less frustrating, resulting in happier customers, greater engagement, less churn and more revenue.
— Shane Keats, Director, Industry Marketing for Media & Entertainment, Akamai