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  • Writer's pictureRussell Vilardi

How to Improve the Live Sports Streaming Experience

Live sports streaming on a smartphone.

As more sports viewers move to live sports streaming services to get the content they want, it becomes critical for OTT service providers to deliver their customers an optimal viewing experience.

In 2022, 44% of U.S.-based viewers watched less traditional TV on account of live-streaming options. In a device and service-fragmented market, it has become increasingly difficult for program creators to snag and hold market share based on content alone.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to ensure the highest quality sports live-streaming experience for your OTT service subscribers.

Key Takeaways

  • Live streaming has become the preferred medium for sports viewing in the U.S.

  • Churn rates for OTT subscribers are high, and service providers must track quality of experience (QoE) metrics to resolve issues quickly.

  • For problematic QoE metrics, there are specific steps OTT service providers can take to improve viewers’ live sports streaming experience.

How to Measure Viewers’ Quality of Experience (QoE)

Even as OTT subscription rates soar year-over-year, OTT service providers continue to see expanding revenue opportunities. The average revenue per user for ad tiers is on pace to overtake subscription video on demand for the first time in 2023. Naturally, these opportunities are attracting new players to the market, and even many traditional pay-TV service providers are moving into OTT services.

OTT service provider error rates

However, success in the OTT market depends on delivering an exceptional quality of experience (QoE) to viewers. Churn rates for OTT services – a measure of users who cancel subscriptions – are at an all-time high of 45%. Viewers have more options than ever before and consequently have little patience for poor QoE. Apart from in-house testing, which can only partially account for the variety of viewer experiences downstream, the best way for OTT service providers to gauge their own QoE is to track key experience metrics end-to-end across their networks.

Why OTT Service Providers Need Metrics

OTT streaming content originates on a content provider’s server or content delivery network (CDN) and crosses the service provider’s network to viewer devices. Issues that affect QoE can arise at any point in this chain of events. Nevertheless, determining exactly which technical issues are interrupting the viewer experience can be challenging, as viewers often don’t report all QoE issues or even have the means to do so.

As quality experts like to say, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Metrics such as viewing hours or the rate of playback failures can help service providers identify when viewers are regularly experiencing QoE issues. This process is indirect but still effective when applied to the right metrics.

OTT QoE Metrics to Track and Improve for Better Live Sports Streaming

Here are four essential OTT metrics associated with Qoree along with methods for improving them.

1. Start Time and Startup Delay

Start time or startup delay is the amount of time it takes a video to start playing after a user selects it. Sports viewers have little tolerance for startup delays of more than a few seconds. Common causes of high startup delays include faulty transcoding, network congestion, and playback logic problems.

To reduce startup delays, the service provider can:

  • Use optimal video codecs such as H.264 to ensure proper data compression.

  • Implement adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming to match bitrates to end-user network conditions.

  • Deliver content through a CDN to reduce bandwidth stress and allow servers to process requests more efficiently. As live sporting events have globally distributed audiences, moving content closer to users is critically important.

Illustration of how CDNs work

2. Error Rate

Error rates for OTT services are the rate at which playback errors occur for users streaming video. For OTT viewers across platforms, error rates are 2.54% and ultimately cost service providers 6% of subscriptions. Causes for these errors are diverse and often difficult to identify.

Diagnosis begins with looking for patterns in errors specific to content, domain, web browser, or operating system. To dig deeper, service engineers can take several steps:

  • Review error details from individual sessions: Individual session data can help service providers determine whether the issue originates in a CDN, the provider’s network, or users’ devices.

  • Examine stack traces: When many errors contain the same error code or message, providers can comb through stack traces to match the error to its cause.

  • View last network requests for user sessions: Viewing errors as they occurred in real-time can clarify debugging blind spots.

3. Video Stream Resolution

Viewers often stream live sports on larger screens both in businesses and at home. Maintaining video quality on larger screens requires higher-resolution streams.

However, higher resolutions involve larger file sizes which may cause more frequent rebuffering. If you’re providing content in high resolutions in anticipation of viewers’ needs, consider using video compression techniques such as high-efficiency video coding (HVEC or H.265) to support resolutions up to 8192×4320.

4. Rebuffer Time and Rebuffer Rate

Rebuffer time refers to the average duration of rebufferings users experience, and rebuffer rate is the incident rate for rebuffering in a fixed time. If rebufferings come at critical moments in live sporting events, it can be extremely frustrating to viewers who may miss — in just a few seconds — exactly what they are viewing for.

If your rebuffer times or rates are high, the cause may trace back to either the viewer’s internet connection speed or the speed of the provider’s network. In cases like the former, the only thing for providers to do is attempt to communicate clearly to customers the internet speed requirements of live streaming content. If the latter is the culprit, providers must invest in better network infrastructure.

Superior OTT Live Sports Streaming Video Quality with Penthera

Penthera specializes in providing OTT streaming video solutions to reduce rebuffering, playback errors, and other technical issues that negatively impact streaming content. Penthera’s Personal Edge solutions ensure subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service providers deliver viewers uninterrupted content with high picture and sound quality. With an analytics platform to view performance statistics and a world class support team, Penthera is the trusted partner SVOD service providers need.

To learn more about improving video streaming quality, contact Penthera today.


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