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23 July 2020

SSIMWave says only reducing CDN costs not sustainable post-lockdown

Almost a year on since its last official press release, anyone not directly involved with perceptual quality specialist SSIMWave may be forgiven for thinking the company had fallen off a cliff. Faultline has since been reassured that everything is dandy at SSIMWave as the company rides the OTT video tailwinds brought about by the 2020 pandemic storm.

A reevaluation of SSIMWave’s fortunes was therefore long overdue and a recent webinar seemed like a good place to start, although this was a lesson in why you should always double check a webinar description before diving in – as SSIMWave was more interested in talking about survey results than any customer wins or technical developments made during its prolonged sabbatical.

Some important points and trends were discussed, however, as Carlos Hernandez, CRO at SSIMWave, highlighted how the reasons for balancing delivery costs and video quality have changed dramatically in recent weeks – suggesting that OTT video providers are now in a position to set the market terms instead of just being reactionary.

“Before Covid-19, we were getting a lot of requests for how to monitor HDR sports. When the whole situation started, the driver then became bitrate reduction for congestion reasons. Now we’re moving ahead of that and looking at mostly cost and competition reasons,” said Hernandez, adding that he believes this is a long-term market need and not just a quarantine-linked flash-in-the-pan.

Hernandez spoke of the increasing importance of anticipating video quality and basing workflow decisions on the resultant quality, from where companies can complement this with data from the video player or set top or connected TV – to be plugged into the existing QoE model to know exactly how the video was received. He described this as one of the “breakthrough technologies” SSIMWave has come up with recently, so evidently SSIMWave has been making R&D strides during arguably the most important year in the vendor’s history, but it would prefer not to tell anyone about them.

“One of the big reasons we are helping customers right now is they want to know the quality of source they’re getting, so we developed a no-reference algorithm which is quite revolutionary because that’s a hard thing to do. We can help understand the quality of what you’re getting and quality across all processes and what is viewed at the customer end, and know exactly where quality was effected,” explained Hernandez.

By measuring pixels on frames, SSIMWave is able to monitor video quality via the workflow. More specifically, it looks at how those pixels and frames were delivered, and how network conditions may have effected delivery and where these conditions impacted experiences. “This is a balancing act between content and quality. Not surprisingly, people are having a hard time figuring it out. Long-term, just reducing CDN costs isn’t sustainable,” said Hernandez.

On that note, it’s time to look at some of the survey results. Results showed where priorities lie for OTT video providers, broadcasters, MVPDs and studios, with an overwhelming 46% selecting renegotiating costs as the primary method to reduce overall spend on video delivery. Optimize ABR ladders was the second most-picked with 25%, followed by reduce bitrate on 15%, and build own CDN slightly behind with 14% of respondent choice.

Only 23% of respondents said they were “not sure” when asked whether they consider QoE to be an advantage over competitors in the market, based on QoE being hard to measure against the competition. Hernandez was surprised, expecting this figure to be much higher.

SSIMWave has in fact published one piece of news this year, when it received certification to decode Dolby Vision content in May, claiming its SSIMPlus product was – at the time – the first Viewer Experience Monitoring technology of its type to gain this approval. SSIMPlus optimizes decisions for HDR content across a delivery chain, with the SSIMPlus Viewer Score preserving creative intent by comparing encoded content to its source.

Before that, in late 2019, SSIMWave unveiled a new Player Test feature for its VoD Monitor Inspector. The Player Test tool provides source-to-playout visibility into how individual video files appear to the viewer. Using its SSIMPlus score, which claims to be the only algorithm providing actionable insights into network conditions, the new feature will initially evaluate HLS content delivered to players developed on the video.js framework.

SSIMWave’s big claim is having the only software out there capable of breaking through the 90% correlation accuracy mark between compute objective and human subjective content. Its SSIMPlus technology churns out a scoring system as follows: Excellent (81-100), Good (61-80), Fair (41-60), Poor (21-40), and Bad (1-20) – whereby a score of 80+ is generally considered the equivalent of an HD TV broadcast.

A return to the public eye for SSIMWave hardly blew us away, and the vendor seriously needs to start voicing its apparent “revolutionary” technologies and “breakthrough” moments better if it wants to quell rumors that interest in structural similarity has tailed off.