Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently declared victory in the battle against conventional television. At a recent press event in New York City, Schmidt bluntly stated that Internet video has already surpassed television in overall popularity. He touted the fact that YouTube passed the 1-billion-views-per-month milestone. Declaring "the future is now," the Google chief noted that once the Third World gets online, that number could increase to 6 or 7 billion views per month.
Certainly, the appeal of YouTube is attributable to availability; the fact that quality can be variable becomes a nonissue when viewing video on a phone. At the same time, YouTube is one of the few services that already supports 4K streaming video—making it a pioneer in high-quality content delivery as well as low-bandwidth distribution. YouTube is casting a very broad net.
There is some question as to how much of YouTube's victory comes at the expense of television versus other media. The variability in quality of YouTube content comes from both the source and the delivery method. An Internet connection with insufficient bandwidth will simply not support high-definition video. As YouTube proceeds with its expansion, including the addition of dedicated channels, it will be crucial that the user experience remain as fast and friendly as possible. That means issues plaguing streaming video must be addressed.
In order for YouTube to compete with cable television, consumers need to experience high-quality video that is available instantaneously. Recent data suggest that a wait time as short as two seconds can adversely impact viewership—the longer the wait, the greater the likelihood a video will be abandoned for another option. In essence, online viewers are like cable-television viewers with a remote control. If they don't like what they see, they change the channel almost instantly.
Which brings us to the hard data—and by hard, perhaps I mean hard to swallow—regarding the current state of broadband and streaming. A recent article published by streamingmedia.com claims that streaming quality is a major impediment to YouTube overtaking cable TV.
Citing data from Conviva, a company specializing in video-stream optimization, the article highlights this fact: Over 60% of all streams suffer some quality defect—typically delays caused by buffering or a decrease in resolution caused by limited bandwidth. Furthermore, buffering delays can result in a stream's abandonment.
Conviva's data shows that an awful lot of streams never play at all—there were 900 million failed streams in 2012. On the other hand, if the stream does play, the chances are very high that the experience will not be as reliable or high quality as cable TV. Streaming content rarely displays at HD resolutions, except under ideal circumstances with a powerful computer and a good Internet connection. Even at standard definition, reliability during long, live streaming events was rather low. In one example cited by the article, 12% of a 90-minute live-streamed event wound up being unwatchable due to buffering issues.
There is a flipside to all the negatives associated with streaming. When the connection is good, and the bandwidth is adequate, then viewership of online streaming content increases dramatically. There appears to be a solid correlation between a good Internet connection and consumer comfort with using YouTube (and other streaming providers) as a source of entertainment. Conviva highlighted some of the benefits of having a good connection:
- The start time for a video to launch is critical. If video start time exceeds 2 seconds, the number of people that abandon viewing dramatically increases—400% for long-form VOD and for live content, abandoned views increase 140%.
- Viewers with a buffer-free experience watch 226% more and are four times more likely to stay and watch if video starts in 2 seconds or less
- For live video streams, viewers not impacted by buffering watch 10 times longer.
Consumers have more options than ever when it comes to video entertainment. Will regions that enjoy reliable, high-speed Internet service rapidly abandon cable television—or does cable television enjoy a an intrinsic quality advantage, in terms of the overall experience, that will not be surpassed by streaming video any time soon? I suppose the real question is this: YouTube may have announced that it won the battle versus TV, but what chance does it have of winning the war against cable? After all, YouTube may compete against TV, but it is still highly dependent on cable-provided Internet access to reach its audience.
Edited by imagic - 5/9/13 at 6:08am