Shweta Mulki

What does it take to build and sustain an OTT platform?

At vdonxt session 2017, Akamai's Vijay Koli shares his insights on how to deliver content seamlessly, and retain users in an OTT ecosystem.

Vijay Koli- head of mobile strategy - APAC at Akamai Technologies began his vdonxt session 2017, by introducing the 18 year old content delivery solutions company, as one that could be looked at as 'a platform that delivers video which is not on youtube'. He took the audience through how technology could help the OTT ecosystem.

Citing India's growing internet user base, he began by saying that of the 350 million users only a fraction had data speeds above 2G, which wasn't very conducive to video. He also pointed out that despite the high number of smartphone users in India, infrastructure still had to catch up when it came to serve video and e-commerce content to these users.

What does it take to build and sustain an OTT platform?
Speaking of consumption, Koli observed that till the recent past, internet on the phone was used for apps like facebook and whatsapp, but with Jio and its telecom space disruption, people are now consuming between 1 and 10 GB, and that this was just the beginning of where the OTT market especially should be going. There will be a stage sooner than later when people consume 10-50 GB of content daily, rivalling television consumption, he added.

Observing that the audience's (especially in the case of children) expectations on high quality, high-speed, minimal buffering video have significantly increased, Koli said that the game has gone beyond statistics like improved network or reduced start-up times and was more about 'being the best'. "If there's a player who comes into the market with some amount of differentiation and some amount of technology, everybody needs to match up", Koli asserted.

Key factors to be considered while building an OTT platform are scale, proper service and security. "Once you've started, you need to be able to scale quickly, and secondly, you need to have a good system to say whether your content is being delivered properly, and the third factor is of ensuring security of your platform, as hacking is prevalent in every vertical in digital."

Pointing out the challenges in this space, Koli said that Indian networks were extremely spotty (varying speeds during the course of the day), and they were mostly limited to 5 or 10 GB plans. As far as devices were concerned, India being an android-heavy market also lent itself to having a huge variety of devices, so providing quality service to all could be challenging. He pointed that content that was housed in huge 'server farms' was limited by the distribution (telecom) and the 'pipes' quality therein. "You need to have backups and serve content from multiple places," added Koli.

"To have a robust digital platform, you need an overlay system - somebody who can handle all the different networks to seamlessly deliver content to the end-user.

For instance, it doesn't make sense for a show you are watching to come from where it is produced, as it should come from a server close to the network you are on," he stressed.

Koli also spoke of the need for an effective feedback system. He said, "As digital platforms mature, there will be standardisation, and delivering content successfully to the end user has been accomplished by many players but the feedback system needs to optimised."

Explaining the workings of a large OTT platform, the next big step needed was about having beacons to collect data and bring it to a 'BOC' or a Broadcast Operations Centre as done in the television space. Elaborating further on the BOC system Koli, said that it helps evaluate the given platform's networks and all its videos making sure everything is delivered properly and on time.

While talking about the introduction of features like offline viewing, Koli remarked that in the case of YouTube offline more content was downloaded at work and watched at home instead of the reverse, while Facebook's instant play of video for the first 15 sec had managed to provid instant gratification to users. "You need creative ideas which will make sure that when networks are cheap, consumers will stay in your ecosystem", adding that successfully delivering content on cheaper networks and cheaper time (2 am to 5 am free data plan for instance), was an important issue. He remarked that overall, increasing time spent would, without doubt, help in monetisation.