Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

Spiteri ‘21PhD Receives Two Major Dissertation Awards for Video Streaming Research

Kevin Spiteri
Kevin Spiteri

Kevin Spiteri ‘21PhD, a doctoral graduate of the UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS), has been selected for the 2021 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Multimedia (SIGMM) Outstanding PhD Thesis Award for its potential of very high impact in multimedia computing, communication, and applications. At most, one doctoral dissertation is chosen by ACM SIGMM each year for the award. 

Spiteri’s thesis also received the 2021 DASH Industry Forum (DASH-IF) Best PhD Dissertation Award for contributions that led to the advancement of open standards for video streaming on the internet. DASH-IF is a consortium of major enterprises in the video and multimedia ecosystem, including Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Netflix, Hulu, Comcast, Cisco, Intel, Samsung, and Qualcomm. The consortium presents the award to a doctoral dissertation every two years to recognize practical enhancements and developments that sustain video streaming. 

The dissertation, “Video Adaptation for High-Quality Content Delivery,” presents Spiteri’s work on Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) algorithms that enhance the video viewing experience of users. His ABR algorithm, BOLA, uses Lyapunov optimization to maximize the quality of video playback, while minimizing the chance of a video freezing. BOLA and its variants are now part of the open standard for video streaming on the internet and are implemented in the MPEG-DASH reference video player dash.js. BOLA has also been implemented in the video players of commercial video providers such as Amazon Prime Video, BBC, Orange, and CBS. 

“Kevin’s thesis is truly exceptional—it goes all the way from theoretical conception to a practical implementation that is currently widely used for commercial video streaming,” says Ramesh Sitaraman, Spiteri’s doctoral advisor and professor at CICS. “Such major impact for a doctoral thesis within such a short period of time is rare. Kevin’s thesis stands out for its theoretical elegance and practical impact.”

Video streaming is a technology that supports media, entertainment, and conferencing applications, and accounts for much of today’s internet traffic. However, users are often faced with low-quality video experiences due to lower-than-desired bitrates. While users prefer videos presented at a higher bitrate, if the bitrate is too high, the video will freeze up during unpredictable network events—which also degrades the quality of experience. BOLA proposes a utility function that captures user experience and uses sophisticated optimization techniques to modulate the bitrate and maximize utility, even in the presence of unforeseen network glitches.

“Kevin’s work on BOLA is perhaps the first clean theoretical formulation and solution of ABR,” says Sitaraman. “It is considered state-of-the-art in the research community and is often used as a benchmark for comparison with other ABR algorithms.”

The DASH-IF award was presented at the ACM Multimedia Systems Conference in Istanbul, Turkey on October 1, 2021. The SIGMM award will be presented at the ACM Multimedia 2021 conference in Chengdu, China on October 22, 2021. 

Spiteri and Sitaraman, along with Daniel Sparacio of CBS Interactive, were awarded the Excellence in DASH Award in 2018 for their paper presenting three algorithms to improve video quality, which are now part of the MPEG-DASH video reference player standard. Spiteri currently works with the YouTube video edge streaming and performance team at Google.