It's something that we all should know at this point: low quality video will turn your viewers off in a heartbeat.  And we're not talking just poor production values, we're talking buffering, slow startup time, and low resolution due to bitrate issues.  According to a new study from Conviva, content producers left $2.16 billion on the table due to such issues in 2012.  And should this horrible trend continue, content producers are burning $20 billion through 2017.  So what do we need to do about it?  Let's look at this study more in-depth.

Conviva's Viewer Experience Report Findings

So content brands lost $2.16 billion based on Conviva's look into 22.6 billion streams worldwide in 2012, from 150 of the top video sites in 190 countries.  They found that a staggering 60% of streams suffered from low quality.  How did these quality problems break down?  It goes like this:

  • Buffering: 20.6%
  • Slow Video Start-Up Time: 19.5%
  • Low Resolution Due to Low Bitrates: 40%

As to slow star-up time, here's a ridiculous stat: If the video start time exceeds 2 seconds, the number of people who leave increases dramatically: 400% for long-form VOD content and a total of 140% increase in views lost.

And as you will see, and probably know, viewers don't like to wait around or be subjected to awful video quality.  Conviva gives us this stat:

In 2011, a 1% increase in the time spent buffering led to 3 minutes less viewing time.  In 2012, that same increase led to 8 minutes less viewing time.  A 166% increase.

The press release gives this quote from Conviva CEO Darren Feher:

Viewers are becoming increasing less tolerant of a poor viewing experience when streaming online content.  Shockingly, content providers have little to no visibility into how frequently this intolerance occurs—a crazy premise when you consider how deeply these viewers affect their daily economics. In the war for audience engagement, the companies that focus on providing exceptional content within a quality experience—one without buffering, with a quick video start time and high visual resolution—will amplify viewer engagement and ultimately be the most profitable.

No sobering news like this is complete without an improvement plan.  Here's what Conviva says we need to do about this, complete with stats that show what would happen with such an improvement:

  • Viewer measurement: Continuous, in-browser viewer monitoring across platforms in real time.
  • Dynamic stream adjustment: Real time quality decision making per viewer, based on multi-bitrate and multi-CDN (content delivery network) optimization.
  • Network quality mapping: Preemptive intelligence, based on local and global data identifies congestion and drives preventative stream adjustments.
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The benefits of such a plan are as follows (based on a 90-minute long-form viewing session, long form being anything over 15 minutes):

  • In one month, viewers watch 226% more with buffer-free experience.
  • Viewers are 4x more likely to stick around if buffer time is 2 seconds or less.
  • Higher bitrate (higher quality) translates into 25% longer viewing over one month.
  • With all three fixed, viewers watch 250% more.

And, I like this:

  • Few initiatives can deliver this magnitude of audience growth.

The "Best-of-Breed" long-form VOD sites have a low video start-up failure rate of 0.02%, a high-average bitrate (2516 Kbps), and low buffering of less than 0.5%.  Viewers watch 62% more video on Best-of-Breed sites than average sites.

With the improvements, video sites can see a 20% increase in revenue, a total of $1.4 million monthly.

Now, this study has long-form VOD content (longer than 15 minutes) at its heart, but those who specialize in short-form content can benefit from such improvements as well.  As we've seen from this study, viewers aren't going to stay around if it takes longer than 2 seconds for a video to buffer, or suffers from poor quality, or takes forever to start in the first place.  Those are annoyances whether the video is 3 minutes or it's 90 minutes.

We'd like to thank Conviva for their awesome insight.


  • G-Box.TV

    This article raises an interesting point. After spending time and resource on producing a video, web developers and businesses sharing video content online and pushing it to apps need to make sure that it renders correctly on a range of devices. Especially as videos are shared straight onto social networks via smartphones. An education piece lies here; in order to ensure a great video streaming experience the video will need to be optimised (encoded) first.

  • Video Production Company

    This is always a challenge. We tried adaptive bitrate streaming for a while but people either thought the video looked awful or something was wrong with the encoding! There's not much point in shooting at 1080 and doing all that grading when you're playing back with blocks the size of thumbnails!
    I'm amazed at the average bitrate of 2516 kbps. Where and to what devices are these guys streaming? Perhaps the best fix is the YouTube model of letting the viewer pick a bitrate/size and using progressive rather than streaming?

    Mike, CTO

  • Atlantic Creative

    Which are the "best of breed" sites with the low start-up failure?

    • Chris Atkinson

      They didn't say, unfortunately.

  • Lorraine Grula

    2 seconds. My, my. An impatient bunch.

    • Mark Robertson

      I know, right? OK, got to run. ;-)