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The Future of Content Delivery Networks

By: Gyanendra Mohan Rashali

In an exclusive interview with Voice&Data, Gaurav Malik, Country Director of India, Limelight Networks, discusses ways to boost India’s gritty Internet infrastructure and ways to deal with the monetization challenges faced in OTT platforms. Excerpts:  

Voice&Data: How video platforms can assist in combating India’s poor Internet infrastructure?

Gaurav Malik: The unpredictability of the internet infrastructure in India is arguably the biggest obstacle in the content industry. While viewership in India is growing rapidly, a problem of consistency arises due to multiple devices and platforms that are used by consumers. This is where content delivery networks (CDN) come into the picture; ensuring that content is delivered across devices, in a seamless manner. Limelight Orchestrate platform, for instance, is a CDN that delivers and broadcasts quality video content all over the world, thereby meeting the increasing demand for over-the-top (OTT) content. It delivers digital content to users based on their location. This method minimizes latency, or slow response times, and eases the traffic load on a customer’s own network. The closer the CDN server is to a user, the faster the content will be delivered. Furthermore, CDNs can leverage technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) that can study historical audience data to predict or anticipate viewing patterns, and automatically download such content when a strong Wi-Fi connection is available. This will ensure that buffering issues do not get in the way of providing an optimal user experience.

Voice&Data: On what segments R&D investments are being made?

Gaurav Malik: Technological advancements, high-speed data consumption frameworks, and content personalization are the three broad segments on which OTT players are centering their research and development efforts. Predictive analysis and AI-based technologies that can successfully analyze consumer behavior and create more personalized content offerings are being projected as the future of OTT. In essence, OTT providers are focusing on technologies that can help to analyze the consumer psyche so they can anticipate and customize offerings that cater to these patterns of consumption. OTT platforms are also investing in regional content as the segment is considered to be a huge audience generator, especially in the emerging markets of rural India. Lastly, R&D is also conducted around identifying ideal deployment frameworks such as on-cloud/on-premise to ensure overall efficiency of content delivery in the process.

Voice&Data: What is the Next Wave in the OTT Space?

Gaurav Malik: With a significant increase in the number of smartphones coupled with a reduction in data costs, the number of consumers accessing OTT content in India is expected to reach unprecedented heights. And there are Indian expats in many countries as well. This calls for a more robust content distribution framework to enhance the speed and accessibility of the desired content to minimize dropouts from content latency, resulting from transmission delays and network congestions. Moving forward, we anticipate significant technological changes to transform the OTT space, to bring providers closer to achieving this reality as well.

Voice&Data: How sharing information is the key against cyber threats?

Gaurav Malik: With intense competition among OTT content providers, no OTT provider would want to find themselves losing their competitive edge as a result of a malfunctioning website or compromised security. Apart from losing revenue, such security attacks also cause a loss of credibility and consumer trust. While most OTT players previously opted for on-premise security solutions, they soon realized its infeasibility, especially when the scale of distribution is large. Hence, it is prudent to decentralize content storage and opt for cloud services such as a scattered data storage mechanism, as this will ensure that the entire system does not get compromised in the event of an attack. At the same time, it will also ensure that the site remains available and content protected until the security issue is resolved.

Voice&Data: What is the current state of OTT Streaming in India?

Gaurav Malik: Online video consumption continues to grow at a steady rate and the increase in the number of smartphone users coupled with reduced data costs have further propelled this growth. According to Limelight Networks ‘State of Digital Downloads report, 53.6% of Indian users download content to watch offline, but online streaming is fast catching up as the next best option at 35.8%. In fact, live streaming has become a popular medium for offering content, and OTT platforms are competing with each other to provide the best quality live streaming videos. Additionally, new OTT players are entering the segment every day with niche, high-quality content, biting into a significant market share of leaders such as Netflix. Video consumption is also showing a gradual shift from public platforms such as YouTube to OTT platforms, a strong indicator of promising times ahead for service providers.

Additionally, poor digital infrastructure and the absence of solutions to reduce the buffering duration or enable on-point download restart mechanisms contributes significantly to user frustration, as stated by 42.2% of Indian users. This process of having to start over whenever downloading is interrupted is the single most important factor of consumer dissatisfaction in India. CDNs thus need to keep improving and reinventing existing distribution frameworks to meet current trends and expectations for high video quality and dealing with buffering times to earn greater consumer support and uninterrupted engagement.

Voice&Data: How to address the monetization challenges of OTT Platforms?

Gaurav Malik: Monetization still remains a challenge for OTT content providers as 65.4% of global audiences still prefer to watch and download content only when it’s free, according to the Limelight report. OTT providers need to first identify their strengths, such as niche content and syndicate it to control and distribute the content. By evaluating the target audience and nature of the content, for example, if it is one-time or episode-based, OTT players can have more clarity on the monetization model-subscription, rental, purchase or advertising. While making these decisions, OTT players should address all screens and platforms and not compromise on the quality of the CDN they associate with, as these two factors often make up the most significant determinants of an OTT platform’s success.    

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