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Next Gen CMI

Context is king: Why QoE matters

 
June 13, 2016

“Humans have always been emotional and have always reacted to the artifacts in their world emotionally,” says software designer and author, Alan Cooper.

Emotions, that’s what user experience is all about – how you feel while using a particular product, system, or service. What emotion does the whole experience evoke in you? Does it make you want to repeat the engagement or discard it forever?

When you watch a video on YouTube or Netflix, the experience depends on both, the content as well as the ease of streaming. These videos consume most of the bandwidth of a Digital Service Provider’s (DSP) network. How you perceive your video-viewing experience depends a great deal on the quality and availability of those videos, anywhere and anytime, doesn’t it?

Your loyalty to your DSP, at the end of the day, depends on your experience of the service offered – be it video buffering and loading time, or the quality of transmission. As far as the network is concerned, you must have noticed that during peak hours, resources on the network are more prone to congestion. From consumers’ perspective, network congestion results in degradation of video –quality, and hence a drop in the video-viewing experience.

A couple of days back, my pre-teen son was watching a European league soccer match and he didn’t seem to be excited even though his favorite team was playing. The next day, he was watching the highlights of the same match with two of his soccer-fanatic friends, and their excitement couldn’t be contained. In another situation, there was a blurry, pixelated, non-HD telecast of one of his favorite cartoons and he was so engrossed in it, he didn’t pay me any heed when I asked him to switch channels as the picture quality was very poor. I was intrigued.

So, what are the elements that drive the viewing experience? It cannot be the content alone. In this case, it was a host of other factors, such as the company of friends or a pleasurable memory associated with the cartoon. It then becomes essential for a DSP to understand these elements and derive actionable business insights from the data collected, to deliver superior customer experience. These elements could be consumer factors – relating to consumers’ psychographic profile, and contextual factors – which are not within the control of the service provider but nevertheless, play a key role in the perception of service quality.

The factors that drive the Quality of Experience (QoE) for video consumption can be broadly classified into three categories:

Network and system factors: Network congestion during heavy usage periods, and associated delayed delivery of data packets falls in this category. The type of compression, codec used, average bit rate, amount of compression, buffer ratio, and joining time for multicast video can be some of the network and signal related factors, which significantly impact how the video content is finally rendered and played on a consumer’s device.

The genre of the content could also be associated as a system factor. For example, fast-paced (sports, action, comedy) content requires higher quality video than slow paced (drama, documentary). This is because fast-paced content has quick cuts and moves, and hence requires higher refresh rates, to provide higher quality images that satisfy a viewer.

Consumer factors: The personality of the consumer plays a big role in deciding the experience. Different people may have different levels of sensitivity to volume and channel changes. People who have a flair for technology, or let’s say, who understand technology more than an average viewer can sometimes be too critical and sensitive to even the minutest of QoE issues.

Interest plays an important role too. Content that resonates well with someone’s interest area results in higher QoE regardless of the actual video quality. So in my son’s case, because his favorite cartoon was playing, the pixelated view didn’t deter him from watching it spellbound. Also, if the visuals are too brilliant (captivating color scheme, unconventional camera moves, beautiful locales, and so on), consumers can sometimes have a high QoE even if the content does not correspond much with the viewer’s interest.

There are certain demography aspects as well. Age, gender, and cultural background can render different levels of QoE with people from different countries and continents. From my personal research and experience of interacting with people from across the globe, I feel that older people are more accommodating toward low-quality video, and often less critical. There also seems to exist gender-based differences in perception and response to the quality of video.

Contextual factors: The physical environment comprising viewing position, lighting condition, size of the TV screen, and so on, also drive the viewers’ QoE. For instance, a horror movie playing at night, with lights dimmed or completely turned off, will make for a scarier, more horrific, and engaging experience than if seen in a well-lit room.

There are socio-economic conditions too. Household or personal income can also create a perception of how much one is paying to enjoy a service against the enjoyment the person experiences. Emotional conditions – whether watching alone or with a group of like-minded friends – is another deciding factor. For instance, my son’s different reactions to the same match in different situations – one, when he watched it all by himself, and the other time, with friends.

So, measuring the network Quality of Service (QoS) alone for deciding the viewers’ QoE may be misleading and insufficient. Like everything associated with emotions and feelings, QoE is a complex parameter – a function of so many variables. For a DSP looking to enhance viewers’ customer experience and in turn drive customer retention, only measuring the network and system related factors won’t help. In this digital age, when viewers are bombarded with all kinds of media from various channels, DSPs can stand out by offering what the viewer wants, whenever, and wherever. After all, the consumer rules, and context is king!

Shantanu Sinha is a Solution Architect with the Communications, Media, and Information Services (CMI) business unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). With around 20 years of experience in IT, he is part of the Telecom Business Intelligence group and is responsible for driving digital initiatives and customer experience management programs for TCS’ media and telecom clients. Sinha’s areas of expertise include telecom BI consulting, solution conceptualization and design, business development, and project management