Why Video Streaming Technology Stacks Are Always Evolving

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According to technology veteran Steve Anderson, it took 22 years for the television to reach a mass audience at 25% market access. It took the internet just seven years. You can imagine that the streaming video took about that as well. The quickness of adoption with streaming video, from the first baseball game in the mid-1990s to global OTT delivery platforms today, has resulted in exponential change and growth within the video streaming technology stack.

Video streaming technology stacks are always adapting

When streaming first began, it was based on very specific protocols. First, there was Real, then Flash (RTMP) and then Quicktime (RTSP). These protocols all had different pros and cons, but one thing they shared was adoption. From commercial CDNs to early telcos, these protocols promised an improved viewing experience. In 2008, Move Networks introduced segmented HTTP streaming, and this radically changed how streaming video was prepared and delivered. The specialised servers required for those initial protocols were replaced with standard HTTP servers, which were easier to come by and cheaper to maintain. Although there were some tradeoffs, such as latency, this kind of streaming was adopted by Apple in the HLS specification, and resulted in massive adoption. This forced OTT operators to adjust and update their video streaming technology stacks accordingly.

Since then, whether it was a change in protocols, codecs or security, streaming has undergone a constant state of transformation. These improvements – sometimes small, sometimes large – have always been aimed at improving the viewing experience: to ensure the highest quality streams with the least amount of bandwidth. Each change has also required streaming operators, whether telcos or stand-alone OTT delivery platforms, to adapt their video streaming technology stacks as well. The TLDR of these changes reflect a move from hardware to software to do the same job.

From replacing technologies to modifying workflows and other processes, these operators have had to continually evaluate new streaming technologies while simultaneously offering their platform to paying subscribers, that is, to replace an engine on a moving vehicle. For telecommunications companies that have ventured into streaming as either a replacement or augmentation of their traditional broadcast operations, in particular, this continual transformation has also required a fundamental change.

 

How to update video streaming technology stacks & ensure high QoE amidst constant change

Quality of Service (QoS) has always been the mainstay of cable operators’ broadcast offerings. With well-established processes and technologies, they could trace issues down to individual set-top boxes. They had complete control of the network and, as such, could guarantee four or five nines of service, meaning 99.99%-99.999% uptime. 

Streaming doesn’t follow that playbook. It’s delivered over an unmanaged network, and since operators can’t guarantee that QoS will remain up and running all the time, they have to instead focus on the user’s experience with the streams they receive. In short, QoS has now become Quality of Experience (QoE) – this is at the heart of the continual streaming transformation. 

Even as technologies are evaluated, replaced and operationalised, there must be a constant focus on the QoE lest viewers churn to other streaming services.

To ensure that QoE metrics can be constantly tracked, measured and acted upon, streaming operators must enable some fundamental aspects of their video streaming technology stack, such as a monitoring harness, which can support the continual transformation but remain inherently stable. Monitoring is an often overlooked and undervalued asset in supporting QoE because a good monitoring system allows prevention rather than reaction to problems, and helps these providers pinpoint where issues lay.

It’s inevitable that streaming operators will change the components of their technology stack and OTT delivery workflow, and that they’ll do so while the train is running. Whether it’s improved security, the newest protocol, like SRT or HESP, or a better codec, like VVC, the pieces within will always be changing. 

Operators can embrace this continual transformation while also ensuring the highest QoE by adopting a monitoring harness.

This framework within the streaming architecture provides operators with the ability to connect any internal or external data source from within the streaming workflow through programmatic interfaces and a consistent dashboard. Operations engineers only need to train once because the method by which they monitor QoE, the dashboard, remains the same even as components within the technology stack are swapped out and connected to the harness.

 

Video streaming technology stacks will continue evolving

Continually changing technologies is counter to what many operators have experienced with traditional broadcast. Television components, backed by government-approved standards, rarely change. Even if components are improved over time, the operator is still providing a service within an accepted and understood range of parameters. That is not so with streaming. 

For example, changing protocols requires a massive retooling of the entire workflow, from how the content is encoded to how it is delivered. This is a paradigm shift for operators, which is why it’s so critical to embrace the stability of a monitoring harness as part of the video streaming technology stack. 

Let’s face it, viewers don’t care if the stream is being delivered via RTMP or HTTP or if it requires an AV1 or HEVC decoder. They just want it to work. This means QoE has to be front-and-centre for streaming, just as QoS is front-and-centre for broadcast. 

Change, even constant, can be a good thing when it provides customers with a better end product, and that’s what’s happening with each iteration of the components in the streaming technology stack. It doesn’t mean that everything needs to change all the time; with a monitoring harness, the stability of ensuring a great viewer experience never changes, even amid constant transformation.

👉 To find out more about how a monitoring harness can help your streaming operations, download our free White Paper here.