For OTT Builds, UX Is The Key

Complexities are shifting when it comes to building a streaming service, and user experience (UX) and latency — especially when it involves live content — are moving to the front of media technologists’ priorities.

LAS VEGAS — It’s easier than it once was for a media company to start up a streaming service, but a host of new technology challenges have arisen to face entrants to the space.

OTT has shifted all of the control to consumers, who have high expectations for a quality user experience (UX) across a proliferating array of devices. Media technologists can now add meeting those expectations to the litany of other considerations they face in streaming.

Among those other issues are a nagging problem with latency that’s becoming more bedeviling as live content increasingly shifts to streaming; basic questions of build versus buy; a volatile landscape of tech vendors and suppliers; and flawed ad technology.

A panel of technologists unpacked those issues at the Streaming Summit at the NAB Show on Monday, where it was clear that OTT tech’s priority one has become user experience.

“When you have all the power in the hands of the consumer, what can you do to engage that viewer and own their viewing time?” asked said Anil Jain, managing director, telecommunications, media and entertainment at Google Cloud.

The industry is just scratching that question’s surface, he said, but its answer will be rooted in UX design. That includes creating a consistent experience across the plethora of streaming devices and services and improving content discoverability.


“So many things are hard” in keeping up with OTT platforms, said Ashutosh Nayak, VP of engineering for CBS News Digital. He noted that Roku alone has seven different devices and that platforms are constantly iterating. Staying ahead of those multiple end user experiences is one of his biggest challenges.

The discoverability problem stems from viewers identifying less with network providers than the specific content they want to consume. Better search, recommendation and surfacing will need to come into play there. “The solution to the problem… has to do with how rich is the metadata and how do you extract that,” Jain said. “In order to drive that optimal UX, it’s going to require investment in every layer of the stack,” he added.

Media companies also need to tackle a latency problem that’s moving to the forefront as consumers start looking for more live content on OTT. Sports will be the driver there, Jain added, as gaming and sports betting put pressure on services to close the current latency gap with broadcast.

But stepping back from these more recent-surfacing priorities, there are still fundamental tech issues any media company must grapple with as they enter and evolve in the OTT space.

One of the first is whether to build or buy the systems essential to streaming, including transcoding, encoding, CDNs and players.

Igor Macaubas, head of online video platform, product and engineering for Brazil’s Grupo Globo, was in the build camp beginning eight years ago when vendors in the space were comparatively scarce. He said he’d largely do it again the same way.

“It makes it easier for us to switch things up because we have control over the whole platform,” he said.

Nayak said CBS decided to both build and buy. With 60% of traffic coming from Apple TV and Roku, the company opted to build for those platforms, while it looked to outside vendors to help it build out elsewhere.

“Understand what your core competencies are” to help make the decision, Jain said. He added the companies need to weigh their need for control against being at the mercy of different providers.

As to choosing those providers, Macaubas conceded, “It’s very hard to separate what’s good or bad. Often times you need to do a proof of concept.”

Nayak agreed, but noted that can be a time-consuming process in a fast-moving space.

A further complication on the buy side is that the vendor landscape is facing its own challenges. “If you look at the profitability of the majority of the vendors it’s challenging,” said Bart Spriester, VP-GM of Comcast Technology Solutions, citing the grim vendor forecast from Sunday’s Devoncroft Summit as largely on the mark.

“We have too many vendors,” Macaubas said, adding that consolidation is inevitable.

The technologists are hoping that improvements in ad tech are also inevitable, especially if millions of ad dollars will be shifting from broadcast to OTT.

Improvements on that front entail the fine-tuning of multiple interrelated system and pose no small set of challenges, Jain said.

“We still have a long way to go with the ad tech,” Macaubas agreed.

For more NAB Show coverage, click here.

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