Streaming services in India might want to sit down for this.

If a streaming service is bad, it loses customers, a not-so-shocking report from Akamai has revealed. Things like bad video quality and buffering are leading to streaming services’ brand image suffering in the long term, and customers having negative emotional responses in the short term.

What users go through when video quality drops

Sample this: when a ‘buffering event’ happened during a scene, viewers’ happiness went down by 14%, disgust went up by 9%, and sadness increased by 7%. “But wait,” some streaming companies may interrupt, “buffering is practically non-existent these days, because we use *adaptive streaming*, where video doesn’t need to stop for buffering; we can just switch to a lower bitrate!” Well, not so fast. Even if that’s true (which it isn’t for some video services) this report also defines instances when video quality changes as ‘buffering events’, which happens often with adaptive streaming. So, even adaptive streaming.

On top of that, there’s a 27% increase in surprise when a buffering event happens when users are watching a video. The report points out the obvious: the surprise here is not a good thing.

What this means for streaming companies

Well, it seems like not having 1080p video as an option and poor video encoding for 720p video might not be the best idea for keeping the millions of customers you’re aggressively attracting (cough). Having very low video quality with no quality selection options may also fall flat (ahem). While you can invest exorbitant amounts of money on cricket rights and try to juggle TV shows, films, live sports, brief clips and trailers, if you’re not delivering a satisfying experience, you may just end up having customers lured away by international streaming players that have streaming experiences figured out.

Some players might be tempted to argue that India’s mobile-first Internet market may mean that brutal video compression and low bitrates are necessary to ensure that videos actually load for customers. However, you may want to be careful deploying that argument in a country where data costs are plummeting (thanks to Jio), even as better-looking video compression technologies are being developed globally. On a side note, it’s worth pondering how much time and money Indian streaming services actually invest in better video compression technologies.

Negative emotions increase 16 percent while engagement decreases nearly 20 percent as a result of negative experiences like buffering and bad video quality. Attention drops by 3 percent and focus decreases by 8 percent. Akamai said that it used testing procedures including sensory, implicit and explicit responses from more than 1,200 participants. Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) brands lose the most engagement due to buffering. On the other hand, transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) players like Google Play and iTunes Movies, where you have to buy individual titles to watch them, suffer the most negative impact to brand loyalty if they deliver low-quality experiences.

MediaNama’s Take

This is particularly pertinent for Indian players in the on-demand video streaming space, because they do not have the deep pockets like Netflix and Amazon to invest heavily in content acquisition. The presence of these two players has also meant that the cost of content acquisition has significantly increased. So, no one will be able to hold on to a viewer’s attention for any length of time: they might be watching a web series on one platform, then skip to another to follow a cricket match, and then return later to resume watching the web series. In such a scenario, if the experience on one platform is markedly better than the other then the other platform has to wonder if it has enough unique/exclusive content on offer to hold on to the viewer. On the flip side, the high cost of content acquisition has resulted in platforms investing in original content. So, for example, even if the quality of streaming on TVFPlay isn’t the same as on Netflix, the fans of TVF’s original shows will return to watch them, because they aren’t available widely.