Earlier this month, we headed to Los Angeles to share our expertise and insights with the online video community at Streaming Media West.
Streaming Media conferences are a great opportunity to meet industry leaders, discuss current trends and gain insight into what’s to come. This year, we hosted a panel discussion to examine the future of video delivery. As quality constantly improves and video becomes an interactive, immersive experience, new broadcasting standards challenge the current delivery infrastructure paradigm. As need for bandwidth grows, in an age where consumers are more demanding than ever, how do we make sure we keep delivering a consistent, reliable top-quality experience?
To answer that, we gathered together executives and engineers from major broadcasters who are working to build the most robust video delivery infrastructures possible. During the 45- minute session, they shared their best practices, strategies and tips on how to handle the rapidly changing delivery landscape and how to best prepare for the future. Here are our top three key takeaways from the session:
1. Diversity and redundancy: the name of the game
“Depending 100% on a vendor is not a good thing when your core business is delivery”, says Rodrigo Violante, CTO of Televisa, the largest Hispanic media company in the world. Indeed, we’ve witnessed a strong shift towards a multi-CDN and multi-technology approach to strengthen reliability, provide failover and avoid vendor lock-in. When service outages make front-page news, the importance of diversity has never been so crucial, especially for highly-anticipated live events. The flexibility to send traffic to different CDNs obliges CDN providers to compete on a performance basis for publishers’ business, which in turn gain more leverage in pricing negotiations. However, opting out of one-vendor bundles can increase complexity, and striking the right balance between diversity, redundancy and cost is essential. More and more broadcasters have set their sights on peer-to-peer to mitigate those costs and naturally build in redundancy, particularly when it comes to delivering to specific areas during peak traffic: “We stream live breaking news events throughout the world which generate spikes in traffic. I’d like to see what peer-to-peer can do to ensure quality localized delivery in these use cases,” says Flavio Ribeiro, Lead Engineer for The New York Times.
2. Last mile delivery: the final frontier
One big focus moving forward is how to control the last mile – or how to get as close to the viewer as possible to ensure a high-quality user experience. “Getting deeper into ISPs networks and using caching that is even closer to customers has become even more critical as we talk about incredibly high-traffic events such as the Super Bowl,” says Zac Shenker, Principal Video Software Engineer at CBS Interactive, which airs some of the largest sporting events in the US. On the subject of better penetration at the ISP level, Ryan Korte, Content & Media Development VP at Level 3 Communications, is optimistic about the company’s acquisition by CenturyLink. “Having and understanding the network are more important than caching in a lot of ways; today we’re working to more tightly couple with the infrastructure so content gets to the best place to serve.” This control includes being able to choose which CDN and which POP specifically should serve a given region or subset of the audience. However, making this choice is not an easy task; while a POP or a CDN seem to be working well at one region, determining what’s working well for a specific individual is still a challenge. Peer-to-peer streaming may help overcome this obstacle as a viable approach to optimizing the last mile, as it takes into account parameters including ISP, location and device to dynamically source content on a per-viewer basis.
3. Granular data… and constant testing
In order for these complex systems to keep viewers happy, broadcasters need precise data and metrics to make data-driven decisions regarding their video-flow components and delivery providers. Key indicators include bitrate, startup time, re-buffering and track switches; however, in a hybrid delivery workflow it is crucial to have insights on each component – namely CDN, ISP and geolocation – to have an accurate understanding of the impact each system has all through the chain. Real user measurement approaches are becoming standard as they allow broadcasters to have a granular understanding of viewers and iterate accordingly. While some rely on third party vendors, others build their own platforms to measure quality of service, a task that can often be a challenge. More importantly, being able to use this data to make real-time adjustments to improve viewers’ experience will be a key competitive advantage going forward.