Broadcaster Video Delivery Networks: Part 2 - Scaling OTT

The purpose of the new Video Delivery Network model is to provide high-performing capacity with economies of scale for the benefit of (potentially) all broadcasters in a geographic location.

In the last 10 years there have been many examples of private CDNs built by the largest media companies to give them best performance and best cost control of their OTT streams. Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, the BBC and most recently DAZN have all followed this path, pioneering the development and deployment of streaming platforms to ensure streaming video would cut through the internet’s congestion.

Now that streaming has become highly strategic and a priority for business growth in the 2020s for almost all broadcasters in all developed nations, the next wave of streaming pioneers are emerging. If the expectation is to expand a broadcaster’s streaming services from 10-15% of total audience to 80% of total audience over the next 10 years, then it’s time to figure out the video delivery capacity plan.

CDN Limitations

Today’s model for many large broadcasters is to use multiple public CDNs to obtain capacity and cost efficiencies. Price per GB has indeed dropped dramatically and become very competitive over the last 3-5 years. But it is not about price per GB as we think about supporting large live audiences on a routine basis and enormous quantities of live and VOD consumption every day of the week. Costs will grow dramatically because of the consumption and this may be overcome, for some budgets, by simply negotiating lowest pricing with public CDN service providers. What it is really about is how to ensure large audiences are well-served with high quality video on their large-screen TVs. This cannot be solved by reducing the cost per GB, because the problem is not about cost. This will be solved by strategic network design for high bandwidth, high throughput video delivery. If it is not solved, perhaps those large live audiences will not be as large as they are today and broadcasters will be hurt by problems with their subscription and advertising revenues.

The core concept of the Video Delivery Network (VDN) is that it should support multiple broadcasters. It is a specialised, high-scale platform. Often those two concepts do not go together, but in the case of high-bandwidth professional video delivery, they do. The specialist nature of high-bandwidth video for professional broadcasters requires a particularly focused approach. And by supporting multiple broadcasters the platform can achieve economies of scale that an individual broadcaster cannot achieve on its own.

Prioritising Live

Another key requirement for VDN is to support live video delivery as a first priority. We know that live programmes and live events are where the big advertising revenues lie. If this type of streaming is not considered the first priority, the risk of eroding value in your content increases. We should therefore think about broadcast-grade live streaming as a must-have.

In many countries around the world, there are well-established specialist network operators supporting the broadcast industry. From contribution to distribution, these specialists are fully attuned to the concept of “broadcast-grade”. They focus on network readiness, network resilience, network performance, operational readiness and proactive service assurance. A big event for the broadcaster is a fully focused big event for the specialist broadcast network operators.

Limited Visibility

Most of these specialists already deal with streaming delivery, but not end to end. They manage the head-ends for CBR video, but they generally hand off those streams to CDNs and OVPs for onward OTT delivery. The CDNs and OVPs deal with ABR encoding, packaging, DRM integration, origination and delivery. But stories abound of a lack of visibility, or performance, or understanding about the quality of video delivered to the end consumer. There are also concerns about the variabilities in consumer experience of the service performance from the satellite transmitters, IPTV and Cable TV head-ends, versus the OTT services. There is a growing desire to ensure that, in OTT, live means live and a bit-rate is a high quality sustained bit-rate. And as the audiences shift from satellite/IPTV/Cable to OTT there is a growing commercial need from these specialist network operators to ensure that the D2C delivery is folded into their overall business.

Combining the legacy and OTT networks into a Singular Video Delivery Network for broadcasters means that we can create national Hyper-Scalers that are focused exclusively on this special broadcaster use case. These Hyper-Scalers will be able to collaborate with ISPs to very efficiently manage this enormous consumption of internet bandwidth in each national territory. They will be able to provide a broadcast-grade service to the relatively small number of large broadcasters who need this service. They will be able to combine their expertise in live video delivery to ensure delivery is consistently excellent across all delivery platforms. As one type of network scales up and another scales down they will be able to offer best possible cost benefits to broadcasters over time.

Broadcaster Collaboration

By working with multiple broadcasters, the Video Delivery Network for D2C streaming will primarily rely on the core Private CDN capacity that can be most strategically deployed deep inside the ISP networks, saving core network bandwidth for the ISPs and ensuring best possible delivery quality for the broadcasters. This will happen as broadcasters continue to share the total audience on a daily basis. As one broadcaster gets a large audience for a prime-time program from 7pm-8pm, they will consume most of the capacity. Then another broadcaster gets a large audience from 8pm-9pm and uses the majority of the capacity. Combined they have a higher peak of capacity than any single broadcaster will consistently use on a daily basis. And when those large events come along, and the audience swings even more towards a single source of content, the capacity will largely be in place on the private CDN for those few hours and days per year.

Specialist broadcast network operators see this transition in their futures. The recent spike in D2C service awareness and consumption due to the pandemic, and the renewed D2C strategic intent clearly demonstrated by many broadcasters around the world, means that the time is now to establish this new Video Delivery Network and begin the process of underpinning the concept of “broadcast-grade” with purpose-built infrastructures.

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