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  • Writer's picturePenthera

Why Solving Startup Delays Should Be Every OTT’s Priority

Startup delays are one of streaming video providers’ worst enemies. The longer a viewer has to wait for a video to load, the more likely they are to abandon the stream before it even begins. With the OTT industry becoming increasingly competitive, solving for slow startup times could be the thing that sets one service ahead of the pack.

In fact, focusing on startup time is one of the things Spotify founder Daniel Ek attributes the music streaming giant’s success to. Though video streaming comes with a different set of challenges than music streaming, the OTT industry can take away an important lesson about the user experience from Spotify’s story.

When music streaming was first gaining traction, its biggest competitor was offline experiences, such as mp3 players where song files live and don’t require a good connection for perfect playback. Spotify understood that if it didn’t provide as good a user experience as these offline alternatives, listeners would become frustrated with streaming and cancel their subscription.

“We spent an insane amount of time focusing on latency, when no one cared, because we were hell bent on making it feel like you had all the world’s music on your hard drive,” said Ek in a 2016 Q&A on Quora. “Obsessing over small details can sometimes make all the difference. That’s what I believe is the biggest misunderstanding about the minimum viable product concept.”

They set a goal to make startup time as low as possible, aiming for the ambitious goal of 200 milliseconds, and worked to make the user experience feel as seamless as listening offline.

“We never got it down to 200 milliseconds consistently. We got it down to about half a second but when you play then with things such as the throbber … and you actually, cognitively make it move even before there’s sound, the human brain perceives it to be instant even though technically, it wasn’t. There’s a lot of things that you could do, and I got really into the details thereof just creating an amazing experience that solved the end goal.”

For video streaming providers, there’s an important insight here. Though many services are focused on their fellow OTT competitors, most viewers are still regularly using cable to watch, even if they have streaming subscriptions. The cable viewing experience doesn’t come with the same level of experiential issues, like startup delays and re-buffering, that video streaming does. That means users have an expectation for a perfect viewing experience, which is why so many report being frustrated when they stream. In fact, in a survey across 12 countries, 90% reported frustrations with streaming video.

Spotify recognized early on that replicating the smooth experience of offline music was critical to its success. OTT providers need to understand the same. While OTTs fight over content and spend countless dollars on marketing, the real best way to get ahead in the increasingly busy streaming space is to follow Spotify’s lead and work on facilitating a frustration-free experience for users.

Of course, this can be tricky to do. For video streaming providers, many of the factors that lead to startup delays, like wifi or cell connectivity, are outside your control. That doesn’t mean the experience can’t be solved, though. Luckily there’s technology that can help.

Penthera’s Fastplay Streaming product reduces time-to-first-frame to half a second, guaranteeing videos start almost instantaneously when a user hits play. To learn more, read about Fastplay here or contact one of our experts.


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