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Stream On? Networking Issues for Content Owners and Cord Cutters

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Roughly 20 years ago, when the multi-week March Madness men’s college basketball tournament was streamed for the first time (by CBS), best effort streaming was hailed as impressive at a time when the internet was in its early years.

Since then, the focus has been on Quality-of-Experience (QoE) and delivering ads for sponsorships. The same holds true for a growing list of OTT services providers pitching those leaving cable TV.

Streaming: By the numbers

Those homes using streaming services separate from traditional pay “cable” TV offerings need to know about the Internet connections to view video in different resolutions/formats, including 4K.

For Netflix, the speed you need to handle 1080p high-definition (HD) streams is roughly 5 Mbit/sec. To handle 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) stream, which is a higher resolution format with four times more pixels, you’ll need a 25 Mbit/sec connection.

Many movie makers have shot their films in the higher 4K format so that consumers with 4K UHD TV sets can enjoy the more crisp and immersive viewing experience. If you did a side-by-side HD and 4K viewing comparison, the naked eye would detect the difference starting with 50-55-inch units.

Data usage

When watching TV or movies on Netflix, consumers use roughly 1 Gigabyte of data per hour per device for Standard Definition content and almost 3 Gigabytes of data per hour per stream of HD. content.

For 4K viewing, Netflix allows users to set their data usage at 7 Gigabytes per device, per stream, per hour. Netflix offers an Auto setting that the company says adjusts automatically to deliver the high possible quality, based on the consumer’s current internet connection speed.

Net neutrality nixed

The plan for net neutrality was, as the words suggest, for an even playing field for the handling of traffic over the open internet. But with the rules dumped last year, content owners and consumers alike have wondered if ISPs would give top priority to their own traffic, and a lower priority for traffic of those with competing services. Why? Because network kingpins such as Comcast also own content. (Comcast owns Time Warner and NBCU.)

The chief concern is that, for example, video traffic from a service from say Amazon, a competitor, be relegated to a lower priority, likely degrading service performance?

And with the increasingly crowded over-the-top (OTT) service space flush with contenders putting a full-court press on cable TV customers, would an ISP outright block traffic from a rival?

So, what happens in the absence of net neutrality? It has been written that ISPs must themselves disclose any instances of blocking, throttling or pay for prioritization. Such an occurrence would be examined to determine if it was anti-competitive by the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC.

ISPs had originally explained – roughly a decade ago – that packet inspection was part of their ongoing network management efforts. Stay tuned.

Now what?

Whether they own network infrastructure or not, content owners and licensees (which includes OTT service providers) need to focus tightly on measuring, achieving and improving the consumer’s QoE.

There’s little margin for error in this undertaking given that the fast-lengthening list of streaming services. Also, unlike traditional cable TV, most all streamers offer free trials and don’t require term commitments.

So, if consumers don’t like what they see (or can’t see), it’s easy to change the channel.

Stay tuned – and enjoy you’re the madness of March college hoops.