For multichannel video programming distributors, monitoring the quality of online video might not be as critical as monitoring their own service, but it's getting there. Alcatel-Lucent is trialing a new managed service that enables MVPDs to monitor online quality of experience.

A-L's service goes beyond simply counting dropped bits and gauging buffer rates. The company is promising the kind of qualitative data that provides insight into what consumers actually see, and their response to it.

Furthermore, MVPDs will be able to compare the performance of different content delivery networks (CDNs) – Akamai vs. Limelight vs. Level 3, for example, or the performance of different content providers – Hulu vs. Netflix, or the difference between different types of content from a single content provider.

Alcatel-Lucent is calling the service AppGlide Video Analytics. It comes out of the company's Ventures organization, which is part of Bell Labs.

AppGlide Video Analytics combines data from video player plug-ins, QoE agents, content delivery network devices and routers to deliver a holistic view of subscriber QoE, viewing trends, content usage, CDN and network performance.

AppGlide Network

It shows the volume and quality of video being delivered; gives visibility into viewer behaviors (what is being watched, how long, why viewers stopped watching, etc.); and helps service providers monitor, and isolate, CDN performance.

There are questions only a holistic service can answer, said Buck Peterson, AppGlide's general manager, such as: "If the video buffers a lot, how does the subscriber react? How much quality of experience is enough – or too much?"

Everybody assumes that if you improve quality of service, viewers will respond, but that's not necessarily the case, Peterson said. A viewer might not see the effects of packet loss, but they will notice stops for buffering. QoE analytics will show the number of times video buffers. And that might not be the determining factor for viewer behavior. Streaming is now often provided at adaptive bit rates; consumer response might be more dependent on how often the bit rate changes. With AppGlide, an MVPD can determine that, he said.

Equipped with this information, MVPDs can fine-tune their delivery strategies, he said. And if the problem is not within the MVPD's control, the system can point to the source of any problem.

The product is based in part on the presence of the company's Velocix Digital Media Delivery Platform in various networks. Software clients have been developed for end-user devices. The only new hardware involved in AppGlide, Peterson said, would be network QoE agents, small servers that would actually download and evaluate the downloading process and the resultant video quality.

"Having access to the individual data sources is meaningful, but – according to service providers we've spoken with – the cross-correlation of this information is powerful and unique to AppGlide," Peterson said. "For example, being able to see that a viewer stopped watching a video after only a few minutes, and this coincided with poor quality of experience will enable the provider to take very specific remedial steps."