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Good service used to mean something different than it does today. Good service used to be friendly representatives, people who would do everything they could to solve a customer’s problem, and always made the customer’s business a priority. That has completely changed.
Today, good service means the fastest, best, least lagging, always available, always up, never down, most reliable Internet connection possible. If that sounds too modern for you, you are not part of the majority of American consumers who prefer that kind of service, and that is fine. But a majority of Americans do not care how hard a company tries to deliver, or how personal they are during the process, Americans want results and they want them fast.
Research suggests that 25% of people will abandon a website that takes longer than 4 seconds to load. Amazon found that just 100 milliseconds of extra load time cost them 1% in sales. Those statistics, as profound as they are, pale in comparison to video buffering.
Users hate video buffering. Just one instance of buffering decreases video consumption by 39%. This is a real problem for companies in the video distribution space. And since all brands are media companies today this pretty much applies to everyone.
No A For Effort
“The Internet is a competitive place and brands and media companies do not get awards for making a good effort,” says Nathan Barnett, a network expert and founder of Swarmify, a video delivery platform. “Your video content can be amazing and no one will watch it if the playback lags.”
Video lag, or buffering, can be caused by a few different variables. For starters, your home Internet could be too slow to handle the HD video you are trying to watch. But if you live in a major city and are not leeching Internet from your neighbor, that probably is not the issue. Netflix offers a quick and easy way to test your Internet speed through their service Fast.com. If you are getting 5 Mbps, your home Internet is probably fast enough to stream most content.
More commonly, the issue is the fault of the media company distributing the video you are trying to watch. Video delivery relies on having a close and open route from its server to your computer. That means that if you are in New York City watching a Hulu video, you are not streaming that video from their servers in Santa Monica, California. Instead, the video is likely being hosted on servers much nearer to home, possibly in New York City itself. This method is done by using what is called a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
“Media companies commonly rely on content delivery networks, or CDNs,” explains Barnett. “To reduce latency, they host their content on servers all over the country, even around the world. The further a file has to travel, the slower the playback will be for the video consumer.”
Not the Final Answer
Latency is the enemy of brands and media companies. But CDNs are not the final answer. Being close to the end destination does not guarantee that a video file will arrive uninterrupted. The route that a file takes can become clogged with other files, a particularly serious problem when many computers are trying to access the same file from the same source.
“If you’re a service provider on the Internet and you need to maintain a certain level of performance for your users; you need to know where there are accidents, traffic congestion, construction,” writes Larry Seltzer. “Basically, where are the fastest routes between you and your users?”
The solution could be more agile networks, a system that functionally allows traffic to change lanes when it gets busy. With more route options to arrive at the same destination, jams can be avoided. Barnett says agility is the key, and it is something that CDNs lack. And according to a recent study, creating this type of agile network is a hot job market right now in the US as well.
“A CDN gets your content close to the end destination, but it does not guarantee that there will not be traffic jams along the way. That is why it is important to have an agile network, one that lets traffic move into un-congested space.”
Brands and media companies that lack the budgets of major video distribution companies like YouTube and Netflix can be priced out of upgrading their CDNs. Agility is an affordable route to decreasing lag and keeping up with the competition. They are under immense pressure from consumers, not to answer calls with a human voice, but to cut milliseconds out of lag time.
This small difference can dictate who stays and who goes in the race to provide the best, and presumably the most-relevant content.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.