Audio-only Playback for Video Streaming

Audio-only Playback for Video Streaming

Ever dealt with a viewer you had to turn away because their connection speed was simply too slow, even at the lowest quality setting? Audio-only playback for video streaming can be a possible solution. It offers a low bandwidth option for an on demand and live streaming platform that can further broaden accessibility to content.

This feature was recently introduced for IBM Video Streaming and IBM Enterprise Video Streaming.

Audio-only playback

When toggled on by the viewer, audio-only mode turns off the video feed inside the player but still pushes through sound. While in this mode the video player will not download video data, conserving the viewer’s bandwidth. Closed captions, live audience polling and other player functions will continue to work as normal. This also includes switching between multiple audio tracks, if these were added to the video stream.

When switching back from audio-only to an option with video there is a very momentary delay before the video returns. This is usually 1-2 seconds, or less. The variability is related to it coming back on the next video keyframe, which are generally setup to appear every 2 seconds. As a result, if the user turns it back on right before the keyframe it would appear to come back almost instantaneously. This experience is similar to adjusting the resolution inside the video player and the sometimes momentary delay before the change is reflected.

Enabling audio-only playback

There are no extra steps on the part of the content owner or broadcaster in adding audio-only playback. It is a feature that now appears inside the video player and is enabled by the viewer directly. This is done by clicking the HD icon located in the player controls. This brings up a series of options that include the various bitrate and resolution combinations along with a new selection: audio only.

Below is a video of a case study, on Salesforce, where this feature can be tested out.

This feature works for both live and on demand video content. However, there are limitations to using this feature for video on demand over iOS.


The chief benefit of audio-only playback for video streaming is found in conserving bandwidth. This involves both reducing data usage and allowing slower connections to still understand the content.

Example of audio-only playback in the video player

In the former example, some users may find themselves in situations were their data usage is very limited. This is often associated with those on mobile devices, who are on plans that feature a set amount of data transfer before incurring overages. It can also apply to general Internet connections, though, as data limits are becoming more common from ISPs (Internet Service Providers). As a result of these situations, broadcasters and content owners might find themselves with certain audience members who are conscious of their data usage. Consequently, this segment of the audience might appreciate a low data, audio-only option.

Another scenario that benefits from this feature are those on a slower connection. Now IBM does offer adaptive bitrate delivery and automatic video transcoding. This process creates additional resolution and bitrate versions of the video stream and serves them to viewers based on their connection speed. That means someone with a faster connection might get a really nice 4K or 1080p high definition stream, if available. Conversely, someone on a slower connection might get a 480p or 240p standard definition version. For most they shouldn’t have an issue watching at a minimum of the 240p version, especially with the growth of the average Internet connection speed in the United States and other locations over the past decade. That said, there are certainly scenarios where someone might not have an adequate connection for the video stream. A common one can be someone trying to watch from a mobile device in a location with bad reception. In these circumstances, an audio-only stream can be a way to still deliver some content to this audience even if it isn’t the full video stream.


Audio-only playback for video streaming can be yet another tool and feature to broaden your audience. It can allow content owners and creators the ability to reach an even greater viewership regardless of individual connection speed. It can also be mindful of users that have very limited bandwidth.

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