Video streaming quality gains negated by low tolerance to problems

March 31, 2014

In the new Conviva 2014 Experience Report, the company states that “The multiscreen future is now our television present.” However, the report shows we still have a ways to go before online streaming can match the consistency of broadcast television.

Conviva starts the report out with some good news. Since the release of the last report, early last year, there has been real progress in the video quality metrics the company tracks. The number of views experiencing buffering, seeing the “spinning wheel” while video loads, dropped from 39% in 2012 to 27% in 2013. The number of views impacted by low resolution also fell, from 63% to 43%.

This is great news for video viewers, as nothing ruins the online video experience more than having a forced break in the action while the video loads. Unfortunately, two other factors negate all of these gains.

The first is that video start failures actually increased between 2012 and 2013, from 4% to 4.8%. This is a about the worst time to make a viewer wait. With no emotional commitment to the video yet, a viewer is very likely to abandon watching altogether. Last year, Rovi released data that showed that 56% of video viewers would leave a site after an unsuccessful video play attempt. 26% would look for the video elsewhere, 6% would look for related videos from a different source and 25% would simply go and do something else.
The second problem shows that web video delivery is a victim of its own success. As we watch more web video, our intolerance for delays becomes less. In 2011, the average time lost due to a 1% increase in buffering was 3 minutes. In 2012, that more than doubled to 8 minutes, and in 2013 increased again by 40% to 11 minutes.

However, it is too simplistic to assume that all content types are effected equally by video playback problems. The Conviva data shows that, with some genres, we are more willing to tolerate poor quality than others. Movie playback is very dependent on the delivery of high quality. Viewing time is almost three times longer at high definition (HD) than standard definition (SD). However, with live news there is hardly any difference at all between HD and SD.

Live sports is also a special case. The difference in engagement times between HD and SD is surprisingly small; 42 minutes versus 33 minutes. Yet the tolerance for buffering is the lowest of all the content types discussed in the report. Viewers won’t even watch a minute if buffering occurs, whereas they will wait 5 minutes or more for the other content types.

There is lots more data in the report including a discussion of how family viewing is dying in many households, and how we have clear preferences for different devices depending on the time of day.

Why it matters

There has been measurable progress in improving video streaming performance over the last year.

However, these improvements are more than negated by slower video start times and a reduction in our tolerance for buffering.

Video content types are affected differently by streaming quality. Movie engagement times are most affected, live news is hardly affected at all.