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The critical importance of next generation service assurance for video: Introducing the new video service assurance
by Calvin Harrison, Chief Operating Officer, IneoQuest Technologies, Inc

28th May 2012

Biography

 

Calvin Harrison, Chief Operating Officer.

As IneoQuest’s Chief Operating Officer since 2010, Mr Harrison is responsible for leading IneoQuest’s daily operations, as well as overseeing the strategic development and execution of the company’s corporate and product initiatives. Mr Harrison previously served as Vice President of Marketing from 2008 to 2010, where he oversaw the strategic positioning of IneoQuest and its growth into the global leader in Video Service Assurance solutions. Mr Harrison brings over 22 years of experience in the technology industry and a wealth of leadership and business expertise to the IneoQuest management team.

Mr Harrison’s professional experience prior to IneoQuest, ranges from the negotiation of mergers and acquisitions to advanced Research & Development engineering at companies such as Motorola, Freescale Semiconductor, Surgient, and Zilog Semiconductor. This experience includes signing multi-million dollar OEM and strategic partnership agreements, international business development and management, product marketing, program management, professional services, and holder of four design patents.

Calvin Harrison holds a Bachelor’ degree in Electrical Engineering (cum laude) and Master of Business Administration (magna cum laude) from the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Abstract

 

Video consumption is becoming an integral part of daily communications. Where content is competitively offered by different sites, service providers need to compete on video quality as well as good content, in order to attract advertisers and sponsors. This means that service providers must understand consumers’ behavior and correlate it to the quality of the experience. To do that, next generation service assurance is required, which provides reports, analytics and aggregated business intelligence. Additionally, such a system may provide means of obtaining immediate users’ feedback. The next step would be to enable monetization of video – by consumption rather than bundled with the subscription.

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Today’s service providers learn about bad customer experience in a very blunt way: customers pick up a phone and call. Service provider call centers attempt to resolve the situation through troubleshooting and possibly sending an engineer to the customer. These calls are tracked with other analytics that are then reported on by service providers to understand overall service performance. This model of service assurance does not exist in the internet and mobile video world.

Consumption habits of video services are rapidly changing, spurred by an abundance of video offerings and video providers that are accessed on many devices. When the viewer experiences bad video quality on an app or on the web, he or she most likely will not make a phone call. Even if the viewer wanted to make a call, usually the viewer doesn’t even know who to call. Instead, the viewer will surf on to another provider altogether. The service provider will never know which subscriber they lost and why they lost that business. This new reality makes customer experience more important than ever. Understanding user behavior relative to quality is the only way to truly understand customer retention and churn. Next Generation Video Service Assurance, based in these comprehensive analytics, is essential to reducing churn and providing monetized video services to consumers and the enterprise.

New models for video delivery and consumption

The emerging trends of the delivery and consumption of internet video are starkly different from those of traditional digital video. The most significant difference in the delivery of the video is the lack of control that service and content providers exercise over the delivery chain. First, many providers will contract third party Content Distribution Network (CDN) operators to push their content to the web. Second, when video is accessed over a third party data connection – the video provider will almost certainly have no control over the integrity of their services. Finally, the devices accessing and playing video are owned by the consumer, each with unique hardware and performance capabilities, and are geographically independent, meaning they can access this video content (or at least try to) from anywhere.

On the subscriber side, not only are the traditional relationships between provider and subscriber changing, but also the actual consumption habits of consumers are changing. Online video subscriber habits are very different from those of broadcast TV subscribers. The length of time spend viewing individual video assets online is reduced. On average, they last about five minutes.[1] Taken in combination with the ever increasing number of video providers online (ranging from Netflix, to Hulu, Xfinity, and Youtube) these numbers point to a new trend in which consumers are increasing their consumption of video by accessing many different videos from many different providers. It is more important than ever to provide an excellent customer experience to keep subscribers coming back for more video.

New implications for customer experience

The implication of the consumer-side empowerment and consumption trends are perhaps the most important challenge to providers. The new reality of video is that providers have an incredibly short amount of time to keep their customer’s attention. In addition, there are many alternatives (and many more to come) to any video service a consumer can get online. Every provider will want to make sure that the video experience they offer is the best possible. If not, advertising revenues diminish and, the most important implication of all, consumers go to a competitor’s website for video services. In a recent study, 60 per cent of online video consumers who have a negative online video experience are less likely to return to that site in the future. Furthermore, 43 per cent say they will seek content from a competitor’s website. Finally, 27 per cent say they are less likely to visit the site ever again.[2]

Needless to say, delivering the best possible customer experience is the key driver of a successful online video service. Customer experience boils down into two components: Content and Quality. Having the content that consumers want is the reason why these video services exist. If a provider doesn’t have the content that consumers want, they can expect to fall by the wayside in no time: consumers will not access or purchase their services, advertisers will not pay and competitor’s offering the desired content can be sure to see more traffic.

Next generation service assurance

Service assurance in this brave new world of dispersed and decentralized video services requires the correlation of viewer behavior and quality. Ultimately, the provider needs to know why users are doing what they do: why are they leaving the site? Why are they spending more or less time watching the services? Why do they drop off whenever a commercial by company X is playing out?

To answer these questions, quality must be the starting point. If the consumer experienced poor quality video and left the site then the provider needs to prioritize fixing that quality issue. If, however, overall video quality is good across all video assets and consumers are not finishing their videos and leaving the site, it is likely that the content offerings are not compelling enough to encourage consumers to stay. Both of these cases are serious issues that are the main threats to the online video business model. They are also the essential problems that next generation service assurance identifies for providers. But, if customers are not calling to complain about bad experiences, how can providers gain the analytics necessary for service assurance?

Next generation analytics

Providers need a set of key analytics about customer experience to gain the insight necessary for revenue assurance. The only reasonable way to harvest this information is directly from the connected devices playing video. Laptops, smart phones, tablets, and connected TV’s are much more technologically capable than the standard STB (Set Top Box). They have the hard drive space and processing power to run video applications through which providers have the ability to monitor viewer behavior and customer experience in real-time.

In order to gain all the necessary analytics, providers must first conduct the standard passive monitoring of network performance and video quality. This includes gathering metrics, performance data and statistics about bandwidth, video asset, time spent viewing the asset, CDN information, device and server location and video Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE). These analytics are the critical building blocks of service assurance, providing deep insight into user behavior relative to customer experience. Additionally, providing reporting and business intelligence capabilities to aggregate this information and generate meaningful and informative reports are the basis of executive level management of these operations.

The second piece of information needed cannot be gathered by probes and QoS metrics. Subscribers are not going to call into a call center, as they have in the past, to complain about freeze frames, the inability to access a VOD (Video on Demand) asset, or repair a faulty STB. However, two-way communication between service providers and customers provides essential insight into the customer experience. Providers must offer a mechanism through which customers can send short messages and feedback about the video experience. This type of feedback, which is active and participatory, creates a social relationship between company and customer that provides the second half of next generation service assurance.

The days of a fat dumb pipe are over

As HTTP video becomes more integrated into consumer and enterprise markets, providers will be pressed to find inventive ways to monetize these video services. The main task of the next generation of video service assurance will be to make the monetization of these services possible.

Today, many consumers receive their online video services with relatively little extra cost. They either have access to this content for free through websites and service provider video applications, or they pay a monthly fee to a content provider or aggregator. Soon enough, bandwidth levels will not be able to keep pace with the skyrocketing video traffic on the internet. We are already seeing the implications of such as system today, hence the Net Neutrality laws. Heavy internet video users take up a disproportionately large amount of network bandwidth, which negatively impacts other viewers’ experience. For the enterprise, the market for video services (like video conferencing) is huge, with an estimated value of US$5 billion by 2015.[3]

Service providers will not be able to monetize their video services unless user behavior and quality are adequately understood. Ultimately, this means that the days of a fat dumb pipe are over. A smart pipe that is managed by correlating user behavior and quality will be enabled by next generation service assurance and the cornerstone of all business models leveraging the online video experience.


[1] October 2011 U.S. Online Video Rankings, comScore

[2] The Importance of Delivering a Great Online Video Experience, Akamai and Jupiter Research, p. 2

[3] Enterprise Telepresence and Video Conferencing Report, Infonetics

 

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