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The corrosive impact of poor quality video streaming

Buffering decreases positive and increases negative emotions

We all know the frustration caused when a video we are watching freezes. However, a new study from Sensum and Akamai shows that a poor quality video experience has a more serious and sinister impact on a service’s brand.

There are plenty of surveys that show that consumers hate poor quality video experiences, but very little empirical data to back it up. Akamai worked with Sensum, a biometric software and solutions company, to measure people’s true reactions to bad quality video. Here are some of the top findings of the research.

Higher quality video is more engaging

Better quality yields higher engagementIt turns out how much we sweat and how fast our heart beats are great predictors of how engaged we are with videos we watch. Simply put, the more engaged we are the more we sweat and the higher our heart rate. Sensum measured these parameters for a group of people and converted the data into an overall engagement score.

This testing showed that the quality of video watched had a big impact on engagement. Sensum test subjects were asked to watch high and lower quality versions of a video. In a segment of the video where nothing particularly intense was happening, the test subjects were 10% more engaged with the high-quality version. During intense scenes, the difference was 20%.

Buffering causes big negative emotional response

If you’ve ever watched the show Lie to Me, you already know our faces register many emotions before our conscious mind can react. Sensum used facial coding techniques to measure the instantaneous emotional reaction of test subjects while they were watching video. The company compared the scores for emotions such as surprise, happiness, focus, disgust, and sadness between good and bad quality video experiences.

The bad quality experience included a buffering event, a moment when the video playback froze. The difference in emotional scores caused by the buffering is shocking. Surprise increased 27%, happiness decreased 14%, and focus dropped 8%. Negative emotions like disgust and sadness increased 9% and 7% respectively. In other words, the buffering event caused an overall decrease of 22% in positive emotions, and an increase of 16% in negative emotions.

The corrosive impact of poor quality

In the previous viewing session tests, each test subject believed they had viewed the video under a different business model. For example, some viewed from and SVOD service, some after purchasing the video (TVOD), and some watching for free ad-supported (AVOD.)

After the good and bad viewing sessions, test subjects were asked about their reaction to the experiences. A word was flashed on a screen and the test subject had to say if they associated the word with the brand connected to the experience. They had to react within 0.5 seconds, before they could consciously evaluate their answer.

Those watching video that they had purchased (TVOD) scored the word captivating 22% less with the low-quality video than the high-quality. AVOD viewers associated the word boring 43% more with low-quality experiences than high-quality.

This data suggests that, over time, a service delivering lower quality video experiences will come to be associated less with positive attributes, and more with negative ones. Not a healthy trend for any video provider.

Why it matters

The Sensum/Akamai data shows that poor quality video delivery will result in:

  • Lower engagement with the video
  • A negative emotional response
  • An increase in negative qualities being associated with the brand responsible for the video experience
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