With social networking services seeking to improve the quality of content they host by making their own, even ephemeral messaging service Snapchat has felt compelled to act.
Snapchat has been teasing the idea of creating its own video content for at least a year, but this somewhat counter-intuitive move has taken a while to become reality. There is presumably only a very specific type of video content that is best consumed via a mobile messaging apps and now we finally get to see what that is.
“Today, we’re excited to debut Snap Originals – exclusive shows created by some of the world’s greatest storytellers, with new episodes released every day,” said the announcement. “Our first slate of Snap Originals includes Co-Ed, a new comedy from the Duplass Brothers; Class of Lies, a mystery thriller from one of the minds behind Riverdale; and Endless Summer, a docuseries following rising stars in Laguna Beach — from Bunim/Murray, the creators of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
“Snap Originals will also feature new Show Portals, letting you swipe up and step inside a scene from a Show to experience it for yourself. Snap Originals will also have Lenses, Filters, and other fun ways for you to share the show experience with your friends.
You can see the promotional video below. It indicates that Snapchat is trying to do some novel things that play to the strengths of video consumed via a smartphone. This trend also reinforces the consensus that video-driven mobile data consumption is growing exponentially and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Comcasts’s Xfinity Mobile is going to limit video streamed over cellular to 480p resolution and cap hotspot speeds at 600 kbps unless customers pay more.
In a letter sent to current customers, which inevitably got posted online for all to see (on Reddit), Xfinity Mobile announced two changes to its service: it will limit the resolution of video streaming over cellular networks to 480p (so-called “DVD quality”), and it will cap the speed of hotspots powered by mobile device to 600kps. Although it may help customers’ data plans last longer, ultimately this is a measure to control cost. Comcast does not have its own mobile network and is reselling Verizon Wireless’s data.
Limiting the resolution of mobile video streaming is nothing new. YouTube will fall back to SD (240p or 360p) when the network quality degrades, prioritising continuous play over picture quality. For a long time, Netflix had by default capped the resolution of streaming over cellular at 600p before it gave users the choice to go for higher resolution.
Neither is limiting tethering using mobile hotspots. When T-Mobile launched its Uncarrier programme “One”, mobile tethering speed was limited at 128kps. Even with the expensive “One Plus” the hotspot speed was only lifted to 512kps.
However Xfinity could have handled the issues better to avoid the backlash on its reputation. Xfinity should realise that the increasing popularity of video streaming is the main driver for data consumption. Therefore when designing the products it should either raise the data plan cap of its “Unlimited” data plan, currently at 20GB, or go for real “unlimited” but bill different customers based on the speeds offered, like the common practice in Finland, where per capita mobile data consumption is the highest in the world.
More importantly, Xfinity should have given its existing customers the grace period till their current contracts ran out if it wanted to avoid antagonizing them. Exerting new limitations and charging additional fee for services that are in the original contract is even potentially a breach of contract on the service providers’ side.
No sooner does Instagram make its mobile video move than YouTube and Snapchat counter-attack in an area of growing commercial significance to telcos too.
Facebook subsidiary Instagram launched IGTV yesterday in a bid to wrest back some of the initiative in a mobile video space largely dominated by YouTube. In hindsight the announcement may have been timed to steal some of YouTube’s thunder, because just a few hours later the Google-owned giant announced a bunch of initiatives designed to keep its ‘creators’ loyal.
It’s no coincidence that we’re getting so many online video-related announcements right now because we’re in the middle of VidCon – a big event devoted entirely to just that. Traditionally it has been a convention of YouTubers, i.e. people who devote much of their time to creating video content and sticking it up on YouTube. Since its acquisition by Viacom earlier this year it seems to have embraced the corporate world more closely and this is reflected in all these announcements.
Monetization is a critical issue when it comes to user-generated video as kids increasingly aspire to make a living that way. The most successful YouTubers make millions, but traffic doesn’t always map directly onto revenue, with YouTube reserving the right not to serve ads on content it thinks advertisers might not want to be associated with.
The result of this approach is that creators are increasingly finding their videos ‘demonetized’, with no prospect of traffic being converted into money. YouTube seems to be aware how alienating this process is to its creators and has belatedly moved to appease them with some new tools to help them pay the bills beyond taking a cut of ad revenue.
In a blog Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer at YouTube, announced its creators are earning more money than ever from advertising, but conceded the need to create other revenue channels, building on the Super Chat service it introduced last year that enabled viewers of a live stream to pay money in order to make their comments more prominent.
So now we have Channel Memberships, a premium subscription service that offers special access to the creator for five dollars per month. YouTube has also partnered with a merchandise specialist to assist creators with flogging branded tat to their viewers. Lastly there is Premiers, which aims to turn a pre-recorded video into a live event, thus unlocking the potential of things like Super Chat.
All this stuff is as much a response to alternative revenue-generation mechanisms such as Patreon, which is an easy way for anyone to pledge small regular donations to someone they want to support, thus bypassing the advertising channel, as to Facebook. There’s also Amazon-owned Twitch, which live-streams games and allows viewers to pay for premium virtual tat such as emojis if that’s what floats their boat.
The other big player in mobile video is Snapchat, which has been offering portrait-aligned video suspiciously similar to the IGTV announcement for some time. With much less fanfare it has just announced its Shows video format, which was previously only available to corporate producers, has now been extended to regular creators.
The only other major social media platform we haven’t mentioned yet is Twitter, but BuzzFeed reckons mobile video has been a key reason for the recent turnaround in its fortunes. If you had bought Twitter stock in August of last year you would have tripled your money by now and, alongside a focus on news, a general rethink and a healthy dollop of luck, BuzzFeed puts that down to an aggressive push into premium live video.
A visit to your Twitter stream typically finds sponsored video clips interspersed within the usual bile, virtue-signalling and twitch hunts. These could be ads, news clips, sports coverage. “Video is really really important to us,” Matt Derella, Twitter’s head of revenue and content partnerships, told BuzzFeed. “It’s our largest format in terms of revenue.”
All this is directly relevant to the telecoms industry as video continues to put enormous strain on networks and operators increasingly look to content to boost their ARPUs and become less dependent on traditional contracts for their revenues. Internet companies are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile video for their business models, which could create a host of new opportunities for telcos able to move quickly enough to exploit them.
Facebook subsidiary Instagram has launched a new app dedicated to long-form video on mobile devices that seems designed to compete with dominant incumbent YouTube.
If you want to publish video longer than a few minutes on the internet right now (outside of China) YouTube is by far the best place to get traffic and maybe even monetise your efforts. There are alternative specialist services, such as Vimeo, but they’re much smaller, and other social media platforms tend to be used for mini clips.
Instagram has traditionally been all about photos and while some producers, such as comedian Kyle Dunnigan, have adapted their video content to it, to date Instagram and Facebook have left the longer video market to their great competitor Google.
Not any more it seems. IGTV is a dedicated service within Instagram as well as a standalone app that increases the maximum length of uploaded videos from one minute to one hour. Additionally it displays the video in portrait (or vertical, as Instagram puts it), full-screen, while YouTube requires you to view full-screen video in landscape, thus needing to rotate your phone by 90 degrees. Oh, the first-world problems we have to endure.
“IGTV is different in a few ways,” said Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder & CEO of Instagram, in a blog that rather embarrassingly seems to feature a broken link to a video. “First, it’s built for how you actually use your phone, so videos are full screen and vertical. Also, unlike on Instagram, videos aren’t limited to one minute. Instead, each video can be up to an hour long.”
This launch seems designed to address several important issues for Facebook. It has been agonizing over user engagement and seems to want people to use the main Facebook platform for ‘engaging with each other’ somehow, instead of just monging out at cat video compilations, so it seems to be hoping to ring-fence the video stuff on Instagram. But even this strategy seems to be confused, as we saw with the recent announcement of a tool apparently designed to limit the time spend on Instagram.
The bigger play seems to be to take on YouTube as the place for user-generated content. YouTube has been spending most of this year trying to alienate many of its producers by refusing to serve ads against their content, thus depriving them of the main means of being paid for their work. The market is desperate for a viable alternative and this could be it, so we imagine YouTube execs will be watching this situation very closely.
Having said that they don’t need to panic just yet, because right now there’s no way of directly monetising videos on IGTV. As reported by Variety, Systrom said he wants to build ‘engagement’ first but tentatively conceded that monetising is “obviously a very reasonable place to end up.”
If and when that does happen Facebook has the opportunity to steal a lot of video business from Google, but only if it does a better job of looking after its producers than YouTube has. Advertisers are very sensitive about having their brand positioned next to the ‘wrong’ kind of content, but accurately identifying that content is tricky. YouTube id currently erring on the side of caution, leading to innocuous videos being demonetised. If even Google can’t get that algorithm right, what hope does Facebook have?
Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Raffaele D’Albenzio, Solution Architect at F5 Networks, looks at ways CSPs can counter the challenges posed by increased video consumption in a cost-effective way.
Video is fast emerging as the Holy Grail for mobile operators and the numbers don’t lie. Facebook users consume eight billion videos a day and 82% of those active on Twitter view video content. Significantly, 90% of Twitter video views and 60% of YouTube views are now from users on mobile devices.
The video bonanza is partly fuelled across the industry by ambitious service providers offering zero rating approaches or aggressively priced unlimited data plans. For example, mobile network Three announced in July plans to include unlimited video streaming for free as part of some contracts. This has been further complicated by ethical debates about the management of network traffic by major operators, as regulators seek to uphold net neutrality. In this context, intelligent traffic management is key for mobile network operators adapting to a landscape with no scope to relax customer service standards.
The majority of mobile video has two main characteristics: encryption via SSL (or similar protocols) and the fact that it is based on Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) technology, which changes video resolution depending on available bandwidth. Although encryption is a key security feature, it can hinder the ability of operators to maintain a high-quality user experience, as the encryption protocols used by video providers such as Netflix and YouTube can prevent data optimisation using standard traffic management tools. To counter the challenges posed by increased video consumption in a cost-effective way, service providers must look to improve the way Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) works on the mobile network.
TCP is the key transport protocol of internet infrastructure; the glue which, together with Internet Protocol (IP), ensures that all applications connect smoothly to our devices. It allows us to share resources with billions of people all over the world at the same time. It also establishes and manages traffic connections and congestion while taking care of transmission errors.
Today, the ability to detect video streams and manage them using TCP-Proxy-based bandwidth controls or Shaping Capabilities for User Datagram Protocol-based video streams can have a profound impact. It enables service providers to adapt and reduce the amount of bandwidth used by video streams, while continually safeguarding the user experience. Looking ahead, TCP optimisation will become increasingly important to service providers by significantly improving download performance by signal strength on faraway networks
Furthermore, TCP optimisation also allows mobile operators access to radio-centric congestion control algorithms, that adapt to the idiosyncrasies of specific networks. These algorithms are vital conduits to improve traffic flow and the overall user experience. Techniques such as these can also decrease the time between client and TCP termination, enabling both sides to react quickly in the instance of isolated losses or congestion events in the network. Furthermore, it is possible to decrease retransmissions to improve radio resource efficiency.
TCP has many moving parts, with new ones being added every day. Making sense of it all without proper fine-tuning is ill-advised. It is crucial for decision-makers to choose a TCP stack that encompasses high goodput and minimal buffer bloat, as well as allowing for fairness between flows. In the era of mass video dissemination and usage, the TCP must be more than a static bolt-on. Integration with other functionalities — including deep packet inspection, traffic steering, and load balancing — is essential.
Raffaele D’Albenzio is a Solution Architect at F5 Networks. He specialises in IP networking and network security, with over 15 years of experience in the enterprise tech and service provider markets.