It's official: low-quality streaming makes us sad

22 June 2017

Low-quality streaming video = sad cat

Today in ‘studies confirming stuff we actually already know’: it seems that shoddy video streaming really, really grinds our gears.

Akamai Technologies has released the results of a 1200-person study into our physiological responses to video quality - and unsurprisingly, it shows that we don’t love buffering, low-resolution streams or inconsistent experiences.

The study used biometric measurement tools to determine how engaged and comfortable participants were with various qualities of video, especially when content was affected by buffering. Researchers measured factors including skin conductance and facial coding, testing how participants responded to unexpected streaming issues compared to uninterrupted or higher-quality video.

Happiness is HD

Volunteers were divided into two groups, each of which viewed the same video content, but at different resolutions. Group one enjoyed uninterrupted, ultra-high definition 2160p streaming, while the second group viewed 1080p HD video, with buffering during an intense scene.

Overall? Higher definition streaming, combined with no buffering, equals higher viewer engagement, positive emotional responses and increased loyalty towards a streaming service or brand. Testing showed that high-resolution streaming generates up to 19.8% more emotional engagement from viewers when compared to the same content in lower quality (and particularly when buffering occurs).

When content begins to buffer, the average viewer experiences an overall 16% increase in negative emotions, including a 9% rise in disgust, a 7% increase in sadness, and a drop in focus of 8%. Happiness decreases by 14%, while feelings of surprise shoot up by 27%.

Basically, the second that video quality drops or pauses, so does the enjoyment and interest of viewers. An additional participant survey confirms the physical responses recorded in the study, showing that 76% of volunteers would quit using a streaming service due to frequent buffering.

Beating the buffering blues

Of course, none of this is news to most streaming video aficionados, but it does prove to providers that if you want to retain subscribers, consumer experience is key. Compromise your content with frequent buffering or disappointing resolution, and you’ll quickly lose viewer engagement (and your paying customers).

For said paying customers, the better the connection, the easier it is to stream high-definition video. When you’re considering a broadband plan that’s stream-friendly, you’ll need to look at both the speed of your connection and your monthly data cap: luckily, we’ve compiled a list of the best Netflix, Stan and Amazon-ready plans and providers.

And if you’re not sure which on-demand streaming service is right for you, head here for our toe-to-toe breakdown of Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and Foxtel Now.

Frustrated cat image: Jonas Löwgren @ Flickr

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