The Case for Video Analytics: Why Google Analytics Is Not Enough for Streaming Providers

(Image credit: NPAW)

A good amount of medium-sized over-the-top (OTT) and video on-demand (VoD) companies still opt for Google Analytics (GA) to keep track of their streaming business’ performance.

But, no matter how great — and free — Google Analytics is, it simply was not built with video in mind. Any streaming provider who is serious about providing a good quality of experience (QoE) for its users needs the data capabilities of a purpose-built video analytics tool. 

Counting on the right video analytics solution is critical in a time of overwhelming competition between services. According to our data, individual VoD services experienced an average 9% drop globally in daily consumption per user last year as they fought for the viewers’ attention.

The message is clear: with so many platform and content options available, only services providing the best quality of experience will succeed — and Google Anlytics is simply not cut out for that.

And let’s not forget about the need to comply with GDPR and other data privacy regulations.

Built With Video in Mind
Google Analytics is, in essence, a marketing tool focusing on attribution. Its capabilities are meant to help web owners understand what traffic channels are the most important for them and how to acquire the biggest number of users for the lowest price.

Accordingly, Google Analytics is good at tracking how users get to a website and how they navigate it — i.e. what they click on to get from one page to another, how much time they spent on the page, etc. However, it does so from a standpoint of measuring the effectiveness of your SEO and Google Ads strategy, and not from a video performance perspective.

Google Analytics’ event-based model only tracks clicks, so you can see if users clicked on the video start button, but not what happened afterward. There’s no telling how long the video took to start, if the user experienced drops in quality and why, or at what point throughout the video the viewer jumped off. Neither can you tell how your video app is performing or what app features your users enjoy or struggle with the most.

Video streaming analytics tools are built around events directly affecting the viewing experience. They start right where Google Analytics ends to give you the full picture of how to optimize the user experience and content consumption patterns.

Reliable Individual User Data
And, if we’re talking about optimizing the user experience, you must be able to track each individual user and how your platform is perceived on their end.

GA’s model is based on aggregate, sample data centered around traffic. As such, it falls short when it comes to identifying individual users and tracking them across dimensions. You get a representative sample of the data, but that isn’t worth much when trying to optimize the experience for each user — you might miss some relevant information.

From the tool's limited number of user properties to shortcomings like not being able to identify the same user when it logs in from a different device or web browser, visibility into each user’s needs and experiences is out of the question with Google Analytics.

Plus, Google traffic measurements are vulnerable to being altered by things like bots — spam traffic makes up a substantial amount of all website traffic. Additionally, if cookies are not allowed or Javascript is not enabled on the browser, Google Analytics will not track that user. Video analytics tools are implemented right at the data source (video player and platform) and offer unequivocal data insights.

With video analytics, you can look at individual users across as many dimensions as you need and respond based on that deep level of understanding.

You can, for example, see that a particular user is experiencing errors on both their laptop and their smart TV and tie that malfunction to their Internet Service Provider as opposed to your platform. Or, you can and send them directly to a dedicated package offering one month for free as a way to compensate and loyalize them.

Real-Time Tracking
The real-time tracking capabilities of Google Analytics are extremely limited and only offer visibility into a few insights like location, traffic source, and conversions. Yet, video streaming providers depend on real-time visibility into everything that’s affecting the viewing experience to optimize it and troubleshoot problems accordingly.

A proper video analytics tool allows you to take a proactive as opposed to a reactive approach, getting to any problems before they become a larger issue and maintaining a satisfied user base. You can set real-time alerts based on the video-related events of your choice, triggering a warning when, for example, a significant amount of users is affected by a network issue or your platform surpasses a level of concurrent users that would require increased infrastructure resources.

Real-time video insights also allow for better, more effective customer care. Google Analytics and its limited visibility into video events are not very helpful for a representative trying to figure out what exactly is making the customer’s video crash. With a video analytics tool, they can pinpoint the root cause of the issue and provide a swift resolution that improves overall customer satisfaction.

Data Privacy and Compliance
Finally, another area where Google Analytics presents serious shortcomings is data privacy and GDPR compliance.

Google Analytics uses Javascript-based cookies to track users’ movements across a website, a very contentious topic in the current privacy-sensitive climate. In fact, earlier this year, an Austrian court ruled the use of Google Analytics in the country illegal on the basis that it breached GDRP regulations by storing data on EU citizens in the US. Other countries might soon follow.

It is, therefore, of paramount importance for streaming providers to pick an analytics provider that is fully compliant with GDPR and counts with information security certifications such as ISO/IEC 27001


Till Sudworth is CMO for NPAW.