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Online streaming: How technology and human senses need better harmony

With an average internet speed of 6.5Mbps, is India prepared for a better viewing experience?

Online streaming-cover-Pixabay

Image: Pixabay


Highlights

  • India is currently at 6.5Mbps average internet speed.

  • While data has become affordable, the content delivery ecosystem is not robust.

  • ISPs need to scale up to match demand. Adoption of faster technologies can help achieve this.

A friend once mused, “Why would you purchase a big-screen television costing thousands if you can watch the same content on a smaller, cheaper television?” He went on to reason vehemently that there’s no need for a television set anymore, considering we consume so much of content on smartphones.

The data to stream

Currently standing at 6.5Mbps average internet speed, India is placed at 89th position on the global chart. Although you can stream online content with a connection that delivers such speeds, it’s isn’t quite a satisfying experience. All you need to do is try and watch a YouTube video while you’re in transit. If you connectivity isn’t stable, it’ll simply downgrade you for continuous playback.

It’s this kind of undependable data connections that force a lot of us Indian consumers towards the good old idiot box. Since a traditional television screen doesn’t offer a lot of control over content, viewer satisfaction is still hampered.

An alternative argument is that a Smart TV bridges that gap between viewing experience and network stability by offering control over content. According to industry experts, the increase in disposable incomes of middle-class Indians has provided the boost in demand for Smart TVs. Unlike traditional televisions, Smart TVs bring online content onto a larger television screen. Pricing ranges from anywhere between Rs 30,000 to upwards of Rs 3 lakhs for a high-end 4K set.

The recipe for superior viewing experience

For content delivery via mobile networks, India has some of the cheapest data plans in the world. However, distribution of network bandwidth across the length and breadth of the country continues to remain a challenge. Across the world, the most common way to access the internet is over a mobile network. But in India, a large chunk of 2G and 3G subscribers are still hooked on to slower networks. An Ericsson report estimates 2G to account for 211 million subscribers while 3G will account for 740 million subscribers in 2022. Interestingly, India plans to hop on the 5G bandwagon by then.

Falling Smart TV prices is making them affordable for urban users. However, in Tier II and Tier III cities, there are several factors that prevent an adoption of this product category. According to Sandeep Reddy, ‎Country Sales Manager, ‎Akamai Technologies, India is yet to catch up on the Smart TV trend as compared to the US. “There are a variety of factors to blame. The audience in India, especially in certain sectors is less tech-savvy, the preference is more for content consumption through mobile as it is more convenient.What also makes mobile consumption easier is the ability to search for content,” he tells BGR India.

Informed consumers

Considering the features such as voice search, or distinguishing between standard and high definition content, or using web services that are offered by Smart TVs, there’s is a certain level of literacy required off the consumer. In addition, the lack of awareness from users and retailers, irregular electric power supply, and cost to the utility are some of the factors according to other industry experts which are contributing to the divide in audience and consumption pattern.

Conventional TV content is richer

If we look at content alone, traditional TV has more to offer than you can possibly consume. Wrapped in intelligent pay per channel models, DTH operators are serving most of what an average, non-OTT enthusiastic viewer would consume. In contrast, new-age binge watchers have relatively less choice in terms of content. To leverage online streaming, we need content. The world is moving beyond just 4K. At the recently concluded CES 2018, we witnessed LG demonstrating 8K hardware which is capable of supporting 7680×4320 pixels, more than what a human eye can perhaps distinguish. But the question is, do we have enough content which supports this mammoth resolution?

In regions where these ingredients are available in the right quantities, there arises a list of challenges which the current ISPs are dealing with. As Reddy explains, the current internet design is based on the broadway protocol where certain nodes choke up easily based on the demand for content. So, for instance, there’s a cricket match happening and simultaneously a major news breaks, so in order to deliver the quality content, current ISPs have to struggle to provide within the available bandwidth.

The pressure on the ecosystem is also due to the new-found internet affordability. With the cheaper internet, the consumption of online content has increased, and with that, there are delivery issues. “Viewers expect a television-like experience, without any interruption,” says Reddy. But with the current Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), the quality is compromised.

The way forward for better online consumption

To address some of these challenges, ISPs and CDNs need to scale up. With the use of a smart algorithm, the content delivery can be accelerated and congestion points can be eased up. The adoption of faster network technologies is expected to increase the connection speed and in turn, help increase the content consumption online by delivering a near-broadcast quality of content. The roll-out of 5G is also expected to help improve connectivity with low buffering.

India crawled from 2G to 3G. But bringing the much-needed disruption to the industry was the entry of Reliance Jio with its 4G services. Not only did it compel incumbent operators to push for quality delivery, but in turn, it also helped the country adopt 4G technology and chase the ‘Digital India’ dream more aggressively than ever before. Today, the country is poised to adopt the 5G technology by 2020 and widely embrace IoT ecosystems.

Having said that, there still is a long way before this becomes mainstream, before 5G penetrates the most rural of India, and before the age-old love for television is overthrown.

“Televisions are still here to stay,” stresses Reddy. It is predicted that online services will replace traditional television by 2020-2022, however, India is still way behind. According to Reddy, by the current network and content standards, a 50 percent shift of audience towards the online medium can be expected, and that too, in a decade’s time.

Akamai’s recent study about how humans react to video quality highlights the many challenges that content developers face today due to the inability of content providers to deliver a seamless experience.

It has been found that with higher quality streams, there is a spike in emotional engagement with the content. Whereas, if the streaming is marred by factors such as poor connectivity, low resolution, or lack of content itself, then the engagement drops, leading to emotional responses which range from surprise to sadness.

(Akamai/ Bit rate and Business Model)

To sum up, we might have some of the lowest data rates in the world, along with hardware which is affordable, but the network ecosystem to support these two is not robust. The race to deliver more value-for-money services can only be addressed if ISPs are able to scale up. There still is remains some way to go before 4K or 8K content can be mass adopted, and until we get the right quantities of the ingredients in place, the disbalance between viewing experience and content delivery will remain.

  • Published Date: February 2, 2018 12:55 PM IST