The streaming media sector is undoubtedly approaching the maturity stage of its product life cycle. Nonetheless, there are still opportunities for new brands to carve a niche. Market leaders like Spotify, Netflix and Twitch face dozens of challengers, with each platform offering unique advantages and drawbacks.
As standards rise across this burgeoning industry, streaming companies have to be practically faultless. It’s unacceptable for servers to be forced offline by a software failure, or for customer databases to be sold on the dark web. Consumer expectations are higher than ever, yet delivering a satisfactory service isn’t an unattainable ambition.
Below, we consider ten golden rules every streaming service should adhere to. By following these steps closely, any streaming media provider will be able to avoid most of this industry’s pitfalls…
#1. Choose a hosting partner with a global footprint.
The whole point of on-demand content is its availability at any time, anywhere. Consumers will be unimpressed if their chosen stream or platform is offline when they try to access it. Downtime is simply unacceptable, unless it’s caused by the sort of catastrophic global DDoS attack that occasionally takes down Twitter and Netflix.
It’s crucial to choose a hosting partner with a 99.99% service level agreement. Your chosen host needs to understand this industry’s unique pressures, and be equipped for fluctuations in demand throughout every 24-hour cycle. After all, it’s always peak viewing time somewhere in the world.
Ensure your streaming service’s hosting provider has servers on multiple continents. For instance, 100TB has data centers from the west coast of America to the Far East. Each center contains all the hardware and bandwidth required to deliver content seamlessly to users on any continent, with negligible delays. Our interconnected web of servers also shares the load when a particular location experiences peak demand. And each center is near a primary market, enabling us to quickly reach large numbers of consumers.
#2. Learn from the market leaders.
Backed by Google’s vast server infrastructure, YouTube excels at predictive searches and rapid downloads. Its advertising-funded business model and audience engagement techniques are inspirational for new market entrants. However, other platforms are also worth studying for purposes of market research and competitor analysis.
Wowza offers live streaming software used by tens of thousands of organizations, including ESPN and Facebook. It has succeeded by augmenting the basics with unusual features like Github repositories. Service providers in this industry aren’t always conventional; Steamcast is hugely popular despite being in perpetual beta. That means quirky subscription models, unique software interfaces, and niche material are all potentially justifiable.
#3. Design interfaces for as many devices as possible.
Another eclectic area involves the fragmentation of user hardware. From TVs and computers to smartphones and tablets, customers expect access to streaming services from whichever devices they own. That requires a variety of apps and interfaces, capable of dovetailing with anything from Android and Linux to the app stores of leading TV manufacturers. Yet at the same time, every interface has to offer near-identical aesthetics and functionality, for a seamless user experience.
Each platform’s software needs thoroughly testing before your streaming service goes live to ensure any glitches have been eradicated. Even TV sets contain quad-core processors nowadays, making them increasingly prone to crashes. Also bear in mind that software updates occasionally affect the performance of existing apps or firmware. Compatibility is an ongoing challenge.
Don’t forget about obsolete platforms, either. People might try to access your offerings from a BlackBerry PlayBook, or through Microsoft Internet Explorer. These should be a lower priority than Android or Windows, but backwards compatibility will further expand your potential customer base.
#4. Ensure content will display universally – and reliably.
This builds on the previous point. If you don’t offer the ability to download files for offline viewing, mobile audiences probably won’t burn through their 4G data allowance during their morning commute. If you don’t incorporate a full-screen option into your media player, files might be unwatchable on a four-inch smartphone. Also, any smartphone user will find Flash content to be incompatible and off-limits.
It’s clearly important to clarify any minimum hardware specs or internet connection speeds. A 3G handset isn’t going to be suitable for lossless audio streaming, so make this clear to prospective customers. Nonetheless, these scenarios should be minimized as far as possible. Transcoding middleware like ViMP can format media files for varying pixel resolutions and bitrates, enabling a spectrum of devices to display the same output.
#5. Employ MPEG-DASH for video content.
Moving Picture Expert Group Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP is far simpler than its name might suggest. MPEG-DASH is a unique collaboration between the likes of Adobe, Dolby, Microsoft and Netflix. Even Apple’s proprietary HLS plays these fragmented MP4 files, ensuring compatibility across a spectrum of devices. That’s vastly superior to the conflicting codecs and formats previously in existence.
As well as offering near-universal compatibility, MPEG-DASH can be coupled with the transcoding middleware mentioned above. This regulates real-time adjustments in picture quality, depending on network congestion or the capabilities of recipient devices. The highest-quality data packets will automatically be distributed for each individual clip or fragment. As such, MPEG-DASH underpins an optimal viewing experience.
#6. Wage war on latency.
The war on latency needs to be unrelenting. Any delay in data transfers may be harmful to a service based on near-instant content delivery. And yet the internet is a highly unpredictable environment, where each node encountered along a data packet’s journey extends its arrival. As packets are bounced along the path of least resistance rather than the geographically quickest route, they can end up circumventing the globe. This manifests as lag in gameplay, stuttering playback and buffering audio streams.
Getting latency below 50 milliseconds, at which point it ceases to be significant, is a huge challenge. One obvious step involves optimizing data routes using algorithmic analysis and modeling tools, to determine the most efficient distribution protocols. An excess of server capacity helps to absorb demand spikes,
#7. Simplify UIs as far as possible.
The user interface plays a critical role in determining public perceptions of a streaming provider. There are clear limitations posed by some devices, such as the remote controls used to navigate TV firmware. Screen sizes also vary hugely—text that’s legible on an iPad might not be on an iPhone.
It’s crucial to develop an intuitive and smooth interface with a consistent appearance across every platform. Streamlining the UX ensures audiences will always know how to navigate around. Core functionalities should include a home screen Search bar with predictive results, and strategically chosen thumbnails of video files. Curated results are also important, using an algorithm to determine what material a user may like based on previous behaviors. Get a head start by asking new subscribers to complete a basic questionnaire about their interests.
#8. Host original and exclusive content.
From cable to Hulu, we are living in a golden age of quality entertainment. To attract substantial audiences, any new service really has to provide unique material, or offer functionalities rivals can’t match. For music streaming sites, lossless audio at 1,311kbps will elevate your brand above many – though not all – competitors. Or perhaps you can talk TV production companies into exclusivity agreements, locking fans of their work into your platform. It’s hard to lower subscription costs beyond those already offered by established players.
#9. Offer proactive solution-based customer support.
Technical issues arise for countless reasons. Maybe an account holder’s credit card has expired, or their new baby monitor is interfering with wifi signals. Older devices sometimes struggle to process high-resolution graphics smoothly, and a full hard drive may also prove problematic. None of these issues are the streaming provider’s fault, or even within their control. Yet each one requires proactive customer support to be resolved.
As the public face of an often impersonal industry, customer service personnel are critical to the success of any streaming company. They need to be technically proficient and natural problem solvers, working with clients to identify the root cause of interrupted service. Consumers rarely know how (or care why) something has stopped working properly – they just want it fixed. And remember, reliability is a key driver of renewals and recommendations.
#10. Offer data security, and respect client confidentiality.
Finally, use common sense. If your one-subscription-per-household account includes adult content, exclude any viewed files from curated suggestions. If you broadcast documentaries about infertility, don’t sell the IP addresses of viewers to fertility centers. It only takes one wronged individual to whip up a PR storm across social media, tarnishing your brand and deterring unknown quantities of other people from signing up.