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Cost-Effective Content Streaming: Maintaining Delivery Quality While Managing Expenses

As consumers, we are addicted to video. 6/26/2017 12:45 PM Eastern

As consumers, we are addicted to video. Digital analyst Mary Meeker at VC firm Kleiner Perkins predicts in her 2017 Internet Trends presentation that video will make up 74 percent of all online traffic this year.

While we know that there is an addressable and willing audience for video consumption, the economics of video creation and delivery, as well as the traditional approaches to those processes, require a second look to help keep costs manageable for organizations that offer video.

Two approaches to adaptive bit rate encoding

The streaming format wars ended a few years back in favor of today's adaptive bit rate (ABR) technology. This approach enables communication between the delivery network and the consumption device—a smartphone, for example—to shift between rungs on the ladder of bit rate renditions when connectivity improves or degrades. Though this approach has been successful in reaching screens of all shapes and sizes with streaming technology that adapts to maintain a quality experience, it comes with the expense of a "one size fits all" approach. Taking the same approach for all content types isn't optimal, however, and it wastes storage and bandwidth.

Meet the New Mousetrap
Rather than using one ABR ladder for all content, new technology such as Brightcove's Context Aware Encoding analyzes each source video and intelligently builds a custom bit rate ladder for each piece of content. Then, going a step further, the technology takes into account the constraints sometimes associated with the delivery network and device being used to view the content—the improvement and degradation in network conditions. The system then decides how many renditions are needed and what resolutions and bit rates to use for each, while still maintaining a consistent level of quality across all titles. This results in massive savings on storage and bandwidth costs, while improving the playback experience for users.

Savings in Your Pocket, But Not in the Playback
Let's look at an example and the numbers themselves to see how this technology does its work. On the left of the image, we see that, using a traditional ABR approach, encoding video to all eight renditions of a static ABR ladder generates a total of 14,750 Kb/s of data. For a one-minute video, that's 885 MB. The ladder on the right generates only 4,950 Kb/s. For the same one-minute video, that's only 297 MB, which represents a savings of 66 percent in storage costs. Since the bandwidth used depends on the number of viewers and the duration of video viewed, bandwidth savings can be even higher than those for storage. Overall, a publisher can anticipate as much as a 50 percent savings on storage and bandwidth costs. By adjusting the bit rates of the renditions to the lowest rate necessary to maintain visual quality, viewers will generally consume less bandwidth during each viewing session, providing additional savings on bandwidth costs.

This advance means that publishers and media brands can expect to deliver visually compelling video but save significantly on their storage and delivery costs. Getting "more for less" doesn't seem to be standard practice anymore, but we are working hard at Brightcove to make creating and delivering great video experiences more cost-effective as video takes center stage in our daily lives.

Matt Smith is vice president and principal media evangelist for Brightcove's media business unit.

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