Streaming Video Quality Is Improving, But 40% Of Ad Starts Fail

As the streaming wars commence, the good news is that the general streaming video experience is improving — no doubt in part because of growing adoption of the types of new-breed technologies noted in a previous column

In this year’s third quarter, video start failures were down by 10% compared to third-quarter 2018, start times were 6% faster, there was 33% less buffering, and picture quality (bitrate) was 3% better, according to the latest “State of Streaming” report from streaming media platform Conviva. 

PCs saw the most consistent quality improvements, with 17% fewer video start failures, 23% faster video start times and 26% less buffering. Mobile saw big improvements in reducing buffering — down 34% year-over-year — although video start times and video start failures were down by only 4% and 2%, on average. 

The bad news: When it comes to streaming ads, start failures and buffering continue to be annoyingly common. 

Fully 39.6% of streaming ad attempts failed, and 3.9% of viewers exited before ad starts, on average, during the quarter.

On the worst day during the period, ad-start failures averaged 49.6%, and 8.2% of viewers exited before ad starts. Individual ads’ failure rates ranged as high as 90.1%, and pre-start exit rates as high as 18.3%. 

Ad start-up time averaged 1.14 seconds over the quarter, but hit 3.02 seconds on the worst day in the period. The worst performance on an individual-ad basis was 16.1 seconds. 

On average, ad buffering affected 0.77% of streaming ads’ viewing time. Worst-day buffering hit 3.22%, and the individual ads saw buffering go as long as 45.9%. 


Tolerance for streaming ads varied by content type, with roughly 9% to 20% of viewers dropping each time an ad is run. 

In most categories, the fourth ad in a stream triggers the biggest drop: On average, 20% of news viewers, 17% of drama and comedy viewers, and 16% of reality TV viewers stop watching. 

However, in the sports category, the greatest impact occurs with the first ad, where 18% of viewers drop; subsequent ads have less effect.

Overall, 54% of the audience stopped viewing after four ads, on average, during the quarter.

Conviva has been releasing data on overall streaming video buffering and quality issues since fourth-quarter 2017, but first published some early data specifically on ad performance, from its new Ad Insights platform, in its May (for Q1) State of Streaming report. That data suggested that in worst cases, ad-start failures occurred up to 47% of the time.

This is the first time the company has released true average ad-failure rates, broken down by start failures and exits before ad starts, as well as by ad start-up time and ad buffering times. The averages — broken out by single day and individual instances, as well as for the quarter — are based on an analysis of nearly 10 billion ad attempts in the third quarter.

“The average data illustrate the true magnitude of streaming ad quality issues and cannot be dismissed as edge cases,” the company’s data team tells Video Insider

Other highlights: 

Connected TVs are the most-used device for streaming, with viewing hours up 58%. Streaming viewing hours on PCs and mobile rose 36% and 33%, respectively.

Roku is the most-used streaming device.  Roku led with a 44% share during the period, and a 73% increase in viewing time. Amazon had a 20% share, followed by Apple with 9%. Roku’s quality was up, with video start failures down 52%. XBox had the least buffering and Apple TV had the fastest video start times.

NFL viewers’ migration to streaming accelerated: There was a 77% increase in streaming plays and a 50% increase in time spent streaming versus third-quarter 2018. Much of that was on mobile devices, which grew 109% in plays year-over-year, while streaming plays on PCs declined by 11%. Plays watched on TV also increased, by 66%. 

However, on phones, viewing minutes per play remain low (eight minutes), which likely means that fans are streaming to check in on their favorite teams rather than watching full games.

Fans streaming the NFL via TV or PC watched for an average of 24 and 22 minutes, respectively. NFL fans are also embracing streaming videos on social media, but their appetite varies by team and platform. 

Outside of the streaming ad data (sourcing explained above), data for the Conviva report was primarily collected from its proprietary sensor technology, currently embedded in three billion streaming video applications, measuring in excess of a 100 billion streams per year and a trillion real-time transactions per day across more than 180 countries.

Year-over-year comparisons were normalized at the customer level for accurate representations of industry growth. The social media data are based on an analysis of more than 100,000 social posts and 2.5 billion social video views across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. 

1 comment about "Streaming Video Quality Is Improving, But 40% Of Ad Starts Fail".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 5, 2019 at 9:47 a.m.

    Interesting, Karlene. When they say that 16% of the "viewers" stop "watching" I assume that they are referring to the content being on the screen---not whether anyone was present or their eyes were focused on the screen.

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