The average online video viewer expects too much out of the online video viewing experience, says Conviva's 2014 Video Experience Report. Even with new technologies, higher quality, and performance, those expectations still are not being met. The viewers may very well have good reason for their lack of faith in the online video industry though if the numbers are any indication.
Two in Five Video Views "Grossly Inferior Video Quality"
However, that being said, viewers have become more tolerant because they are still watching the video online, even though more than two in five video views were "grossly inferior video quality." Views that experienced buffering dropped from 39.3% in 2012 to 26.9% in 2013, and low resolution was only seen in 43.3% of views versus 63% in 2013.
Wow, almost half of all video views still had low resolution in 2013. You would think that we would have worked around that already. Start failure actually increased slightly last year showing that perhaps we are not all as technically savvy as we would like the viewers to believe.
While those numbers are mostly positive, this one is not. Since 2011, average time lost due to a 1% increase in buffering nearly quadrupled. In 2011, on average viewers were giving up about 3 minutes of viewing time, while in 2013 it was 11 minutes. Eleven minutes per viewer of lost video viewing adds up extremely fast when you consider there are at least 189M Americans watching video online each month.
These numbers applied to the wide spectrum of online video content almost equally. It does not matter if the content is long- or short-form, if it was live or on-demand. So three "universal truths" are being cited by Conviva.
- The higher the video quality, the longer people watch.
- Video impacted by buffering pays a high price in engagement time.
- It's always better to drop video quality than cause a video to stall.
In a nutshell, keep the stream going by dropping video quality if need be or you risk losing the viewer.
Quality Impact on Long-form Video
Common sense would dictate that online video viewers want the best quality possible at all times and will generally wait around longer and watch longer when it is available. That is backed up by the Conviva report that showed low buffering engagement times crushed high buffering times. Not a big surprise. There is some variation in the numbers though. For movies, low buffering of standard definition video meant viewers dropped off a lot, however low buffering for high def was tolerated far more.
If you have a streaming movie service, video delivery and quality are imperative to long-term viewing. On average viewers watched almost one hour of low buffering HD (lbHD), but just 20 minutes of low buffering SD (lbSD) and roughly 5 minutes of high buffering.
With television episodes you gain a bit of leeway. lbHD averaged about 26 minutes, pretty much the length of a half hour show. lbSD got about halfway through with just over 10 minutes and high buffering was right around that 5-7 minute mark again.
Live news viewers didn't really care whether there was low buffering for HD or SD, they watched about 30 minutes either way. High buffering dropped that to around 7 minutes. As for live sports, high buffering meant near instant viewer loss while the other categories netted 30-40 minutes or so.
TV Everywhere Viewers Have Two Needs
TV Everywhere was broken out into its own category by Conviva and it's a good thing they did because its numbers are extremely interesting. With high buffering viewers would watch roughly five minutes. Meanwhile, low buffering HD was around 40 minutes and low buffering SD was just around 12 minutes.
In order to retain viewers, TV Everywhere needs two things - low buffering and high definition.
Short-form Impacted by Buffering as Well
Short-form does not escape the looming spectre of buffering either and its viewing times are also directly impacted by the amount of buffering. News short form saw the least impact while sports saw the largest and entertainment fell in the middle. For sports, the difference between SD and HD was almost 100% and high buffering meant less than a minute of viewing on average.
So while the genre of content defined the impact buffering had on viewing times, the length of content did not and high buffering was very detrimental to viewer engagement across the board.
Video Delivery vs. Infrastructure
The real problem is that so few video views are an "optimal experience," according to Conviva. Cutting down video buffering at the expense of quality doesn't solve the problem and great quality with a lot of buffering is even worse meaning that online video viewers are coming away with less than stellar thoughts about their viewing experiences. Some of the problem should be laid on the backs of the MSOs and ISPs who have not done large scale infrastructure upgrades while selling all of, or more than their available bandwidth and network can handle. Going back to that Comcast/Netflix deal, take a look at the March 10th ISP speed posting.
Comcast went up two spots in the rankings, the highest change for the month of February... and the deal was done on February 23rd. I imagine that for March, Comcast will probably jump several more spots showing just how much they were probably degrading Netflix streams to their viewers. That ranking report should be out in around a week and could be very enlightening.
The report is based on global data from 45 billion video streams, seen across more than 1.6 billion individual devices and on more than 400 premium media video players, analyzed throughout 2013. The Viewer Experience Report can be downloaded from the Conviva site here.