Orange is the New Black, Still Buffering Don't Blame Your Network Blame Your App
|Jeff Kim in Application Testing Thursday, July 21, 2016|
Apps are winning the mobile video streaming wars. A mere 18% of users stream on mobile web, with the majority watching their favorite videos on apps like Netflix, YouTube, and HBO GO. Yet despite the popularity, video loading remains frustratingly slow - between the constant buffering and lost connections, it’s becoming increasingly tempting to throw your phone out the window and skip GoT for the week.
Recently, services like speedtest.net and Netflix’s fast.com have been introduced to help consumers understand the root of their streaming problems by providing transparency into network speeds. Though this sounds like a great idea, these tools ignore the main issue affecting mobile streaming speed - users are mobile and are therefore constantly changing networks, from WiFi to 4G to no Gs. As users turn away from the web and head to apps for their entertainment, it’s imperative that app developers find ways to improve the user’s viewing experience and stay ahead of the competition.
The shift from mobile web to mobile apps
It’s no secret that mobile has powered the growth of online video viewing. In 2005, the streaming service YouTube was introduced on desktop, quickly followed by Netflix’s streaming services in 2007. By 2009, about one year after the launch of the Apple Store, streaming app Ustream had launched for iPhones and racked up 1M downloads in just a month, showing how badly users wanted to stream their video on-the-go.
Now, YouTube and Netflix are in Apple’s top 20 free apps, making it no surprise that while between 2013 and 2015 monthly smartphones users of online video increased from 26% to 56%, laptop and desktop growth increased a mere 3% during the same period.
What’s more, mobile apps don’t only capture higher video views, users interact with them more. In fact, 88% of smartphone usage is app-driven. Part of the reason that apps hold such a high percentage of mobile usage is because they are more customizable, which improves the user experience. Apps can remember account information, show previously viewed or interacted content and even provide helpful recommendations.
The problem with fast.com
Even as more consumers choose to 'cut the cord,' ditching cable to watch video exclusively online, viewers across devices are continually frustrated by buffering and low quality, pixelated video.
To provide transparency into this issue, Netflix recently released fast.com, a speed test that shows how fast your internet is, essentially to determine streaming potential. While it’s great to see how fast your WiFi is, these tests ignore the issue of streaming speed on mobile apps. If the app’s infrastructure isn’t designed for streaming video, then not even the best connection can help.
Speedtest.net has taken it past the browser and made a mobile app, but it only monitors network speed and not the actual app speed, load times nor streaming quality, and ignores the app infrastructure that makes third-party calls to SDKs, ad networks, content providers and the like.
Unlike web, app developers also have to think about a user’s mobile data. Network availability differs around the world, and streaming on 3G dramatically differs from streaming on WiFi. Commuters on those on road trips will have mixed performance ranging from full bars to dead zones, adding frustration to viewers on the move.
App developers need to make sure their products are optimized for high-quality video streaming to help avoid slow load times, such as Netflix’s dreaded 25% load screen and other annoying issues. This will ensure that their customers are able to enjoy the show -- regardless of network.
Do it for the viewers
With the exploding popularity of streaming video on mobile apps, developers need to build a framework that supports a premium streaming experience. There are legacy CDN networks out there that promise to boost mobile speed, but they only focus on optimizing the mobile web experience.
Instead, companies and developers should look to SDKs that boost app performance. The fact is, if your app can’t load a video after two times, you run the risk of losing them to a competitor - only 16% of users will try to open or load an app more than twice.
It’s equally important to be proactive, and know how the users are evolving and engaging with your product and produce new tools to show them that you’re listening. For instance, Netflix might have added an update to their app that lets users see how much bandwidth their app is using and what that means in terms of streaming quality, instead of just releasing a speed test on a browser.
And it’s not just about the consumers. Video ad spend is expected to double by 2019 - meaning brands will have to optimize and prepare their apps to display video content from third-party calls in order to monetize. As the saying goes, if the ad doesn’t display, you don’t get paid!
Mobile video is growing fast, so it’s essential to optimize your app-based streaming experience so you don’t fall behind. Make sure you’re building an app infrastructure that supports rich media and video no matter the bandwidth given. Listen to your users and see what new functionality you can add to help provide transparency and actionable improvements, boosting the user experience. Help make buffering a relic of the past, and everyone from your customers to future generations may ultimately thank you.
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