While content owners and video distributors are exploring live streaming as part of Internet TV services or TV Everywhere offerings, these companies haven’t had much luck in handling high demand for their online video services.
The Online Reporter asked Andrej Kostresevic, CEO of Nomads, to shed some light on obstacles to live streaming TV and the future of Internet TV services.
Nomads is a mobile engineering and innovation consultancy company. “We take rapid innovation methodology and take that to enterprise,” Kostresevic told us. “Our specialty is over-the-top video delivery products on multi-screens.” Nomads targets content owners and video distributors for its services. Kostresevic “vaguely hinted” at a few of its clients, which include “one of the top US sports leagues” and a “top broadcast distributor in the US.”
Twin trends in the OTT space are a new push among traditional TV distributors to deliver live linear content online (see: HBO Now, HBO Go, CBS All Access, and Dish Network’s Sling TV); and the tendency for those sites to crash during peak demand. We asked Kostresevic to elucidate what problems these companies are having in their respective live streaming endeavors.
When live streams crash…
(apologies de la Touche)
“We watch this very closely and spend a lot of time thinking about it,” Kostresevic said. “The recent problems of crashes during peak demand really shouldn’t be an issue. The scale that [they] are delivering currently is something that should be handled very easily.”
Despite what some media companies would have you believe, Kostresevic said it’s not a technology problem. “It’s not caused by any real limitations in infrastructure – it’s not a problem with the Internet not being ready for prime time,” he said. “It’s a problem of execution, architecture and implementation.”
While content delivery networks (CDNs) are better suited to carry on-demand files, live streaming doesn’t present much of an obstacle, Kostresevic said, thanks to the advent of HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), a live streaming protocol that helps ease delivery of the content across CDNs. “HLS takes a stream of live video content and breaks it up into small chunks, transcodes them at different bitrates, and then streams those files out to the clients based on what their connection can handle,” he said. “With the advent of HLS, live streaming becomes no different than VoD delivery.”
That means there’s nothing special about live streaming video on a CDN, but problems can arise getting the video to the CDN. “Where problems might occur is: Is the media company doing the right things to get their media into the CDN?” he said “Are there bottlenecks there?”
Despite this fact, media companies will often blame interruptions in live streaming on high demand, but Kostresevic said the issue more likely resides in their own processing.
CDN Architectures for High Demand and Long Tail Content
CDN architecture can also have an important impact on the success or failure of an online video event, particularly for the large tent pole type events such as the Super Bowl, the World Cup or the Olympics, when large numbers of users are trying to access to the same piece of content.
“There is a difference between the long tail content versus single high demand content, in terms of how to architect it for scaling it,” Kostresevic said. Netflix’s library content, or Amazon’s or Hulu’s or even YouTube’s, is filled with long tail content, meaning there is a large library of content, and each title is being consumed by niche groups of users.
“There are some popular pieces of content, but they’re generally not consumed in real-time, and their bandwidth utilization is spread across a large library of content,” Kostresevic said.
For high-demand, big live events, such as the Super Bowl, or an awards ceremony, there will be many users across a geography looking to access the same piece of content.
“CDNs have different architectures, and can be suited for one of those contexts or another,” he said. A CDN takes a piece of content and distributes it to the edge, which is a series of nodes strategically located to be very close to where the end user is.
Take Akamai for example: “They have a very large number of small point-of-presence nodes,” he said. That means something like 90% of Internet users are a single-network-hop away from an Akamai edge node.
“If you’re distributing a single large file, this is a great way to distribute it,” Kostresevic said. “You get the content cached at all the edge nodes that the people are hitting and [the content] is there and ready to be consumed when the user is looking for them.”
Most other CDNs have an architecture comprised of a small number of point-of-presence nodes that are very powerful, which is more suited for Netflix-style video libraries. “When distributing long tail content, the chances that a user in your neighborhood will be going through a micronode for the same piece of content that someone has already looked up is very low,” he said.
“If you have a mix of content, we recommend a hot-swappable CDN infrastructure where one type of content goes through one CDN and the other goes through the other types of CDNs,” he added.
The Downstream Traffic Deluge
Still, there is another problem brewing, as more viewers begin watching more video online, more frequently.
Netflix accounted for 35% of Internet traffic last year in the US. YouTube and Netflix together account for 50% of US Internet traffic. Total video traffic represented 65% of all Internet traffic last year, Kostresevic said.
“In terms of video viewing hours, only a small subset of all hours of video watched is being delivered OTT, it already consumes over half of the Internet traffic,” Kostresevic said. “So what would happen if all video viewing shifted over night to OTT? Downstream traffic would go up several orders of magnitude.”
He said he’s not sure if ISPs in the US could handle that amount of traffic. “I don’t have an answer, I have a question: what will happen when this traffic goes up tenfold?” he said. “Something will need to change…”
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