Q&A: Akamai says people will watch next Olympics on watches, glasses

January 20th, 2014 | by Alfred Siew
Q&A: Akamai says people will watch next Olympics on watches, glasses
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David Habben - Akamai

Video has been one of the biggest reason people turn to the Internet these days with their PCs, tablets and smartphones. What many users don’t know is that smooth, high-resolution videos are possible today because of complex networks that distribute the demanding content across the world.

Akamai Technologies, a content delivery network provider, helps videos of, say, a live concert or Olympics event, to online viewers by delivering it through its global network of servers, which are situated close to where the audience is.

So, instead of everyone hitting the same server hosting a video, a Singapore viewer will stream it from an Akamai server based here, while another viewer in the United States will stream it from an American server. This brings smooth videos to users worldwide without saturating the original server.

David Habben, the company’s chief strategist for media for Asia-Pacific and Japan, recently spoke with Techgoondu over e-mail about the increasingly high-quality content coming on stream in the years ahead.

Move over HD video, he says, predicting that 4K clips featuring several times the resolution are becoming increasingly popular. And people will be viewing the clips using not just tablets and phones but also smart watches and glasses, according to him.

1. Asia-Pacific is a rather diverse region in terms of technology usage. Which are the markets where online videos have been the most popular?

We are definitely seeing greater online video consumption in markets like Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. There are two factors that drive online video usage. The first being simple, affordable and fast bandwidth. Based on the Q2 2013 State of the Internet (SOTI) report by Akamai, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong track some of the world’s highest average connection speeds between 10.8Mbps and 13.3Mbps, which are also at least three times faster than the global average connection speed of 3.3Mbps.

The other factor that boosts online video consumption is the penetration rate of mobile devices. Countries like Korea, Japan and Hong Kong have some of the highest smartphone penetrations, with many using multiple mobile phones. We also saw the region reporting an increase in tablet ownership, with most of the countries doubling its figures in 2013.

2. Can you briefly share some online video consumption trends you’ve seen in Asia-Pacific – what are people watching (short clips or movies?), what are they using to watch (mobile devices?) and on what networks are they accessing the videos (3G?)?

In just a few short years, video has exploded onto the Internet, grabbing significant mind share. A recent study in Singapore found that the top two activities online include reading content and viewing photos and videos. The single biggest use of mobile bandwidth is video, and we are seeing video usage across almost every device type. While smaller screens such as mobile phones tend to lend themselves to more stackable content such as YouTube videos, tablets see more episodic and theatrical consumption through streaming of television series and movies.

3. How has the consumption changed from a few years ago and what kind of experience do people expect in 2014?

Just three years ago, streams were at 800Kbps at the upper end of the quality scale. Now, we have customers in Southeast Asia who are experiencing connection speeds at 5Mbps or faster. In the near future, speeds for 4K (or Ultra High Definition) [videos] will be widely available and we can expect to see the first 20Mbps streams by the end of 2014.

That huge improvement, combined with the increasing penetration of mobile devices, will see a large uptake of online video consumption as it gets faster and easier to watch videos on the go.

We saw 10 per cent of streams coming from tablets at the 2012 London Olympics, which is incredible, since iPads were not even available at the previous 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the rate that wearable technology is progressing, we can expect more traffic to come from watches and glasses at the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro!

4. With users owning higher-res screens and watching more streams in HD now, how are content companies coping with the delivery of such rich content?

Our solutions are built on the Akamai Intelligent Platform – over 100,000 globally distributed servers – representing the world’s largest content delivery network. We help companies scale to meet the demands of fluctuations in online audience, for both planned and unanticipated – live and on-demand – high-impact viral content. What media companies are under pressure to achieve is monetisation.

The compound annual growth rate of online video is about 20 to 30 per cent in monetary terms, but video growth is double of that. This means that there is less money per video play. Businesses are coping with this through new innovations in monetisation such as linking second screens and building in eCommerce experiences.

We are working with companies to implement video analytics which enhance audience tracking and enable them to identify changing user attributes and behaviors. With these insights (gross viewership numbers, visits/repeat visits, plays, play duration, completion rates, and number of plays abandoned), companies can better increase brand loyalty, user satisfaction and maximize engagement.

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