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2 September 2019

Smartphones produce fewer video errors than set-tops, says report

Pay-TV players will often cite the consistent reliability of cable and satellite video services as the one area where IP-delivered video will forever be in traditional pay-TV’s shadow. New data argues otherwise, however, showing that smartphones produce fewer video playback errors than set-top boxes – devices which are purpose-built for the task.

Handset makers and mobile streaming vendors shouldn’t celebrate just yet though, as a couple of factors played into the hands of flattering smartphone results published by Spanish video analytics outfit Nice People at Work (NPAW) this week. NPAW has published a report detailing findings collected by its Youbora platform during the first half of 2019. The H1 2019 Global Streaming & Broadcasting Report shows that set-tops created the most errors per play, with a score of 0.181, compared to smartphones which came out top with only 0.068 errors per play.

However, the data may be skewed in favor of smartphones on the basis of the volume of live content going through set-tops, compared to mostly VoD content on smartphones. NPAW data shows that live content produces on average 0.136 errors per play, while VoD content incurs just 0.054 errors per play, meaning viewers are more than twice as likely to see errors such as buffering during live content.

And NPAW confuses the scenario somewhat with a separate measurement of “interruptions” which it defines as different to “errors”, where live content scored better than VoD. The company defines these interruptions by the number of buffer events that occur, irrespective of the length of buffer time, while the earlier “errors” are more serious playback issues such as crashes which indicate faults within the video delivery system itself.

Findings show that VoD content saw 0.52 buffer interruptions per play session, while live content saw an average of 0.32 interruptions per play. Conclusively then, live content is more susceptible to serious errors, while buffer interruptions are a common caveat for VoD content, which helps explain why set-tops ranked so poorly.

In terms of frequency of these less serious interruptions by device, tablets performed strongest with 0.4 interruptions per play, while consoles scored highest with 1.9 interruptions per play, as shown in the second graph here. The data shows that typically more expensive devices like PCs and consoles are being out-performed in video streaming QoE by tablets and smartphones. Interestingly though, set-tops and TVs – the dedicated video devices – are looking distinctly average. NPAW notes that the great contrast in play quality demonstrates that the infrastructure for live broadcasting is improving in real time environments, although smartphones and tablets are usually replaced with newer models more frequently than hardware like set-tops.

Despite smartphones showing low levels of errors and interruptions per play, they have one of the lowest video completion rates at just 26%. If three-quarters of content is never completed in the first place, then naturally there will be fewer errors and interruptions – so another factor in the supposedly strong performance of smartphones.

Tucked away toward the end of the paper is an almost contradictory statement from NPAW: “Many streaming services are offering cross-platform synchronization to allow users to move from their PC or TV to their mobile. However, it seems as though the infrastructure to offer a mirrored quality of experience isn’t there. On the other hand, despite the unpopularity of consoles (2%), their average effective playtime (23.6 minutes) and average completion rate (55.6%) was the highest of any device. TV also performs very well when it comes to keeping eyes glued to screens with an average effective playtime of 21.3 minutes and completion rate of 42.5%.”