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By Meir Lehrer, VP Portfolio Development, MediaKind

Demand for live content remains at an all-time high, reaching levels that continue to exceed industry expectations. Sports has undoubtedly driven the bulk of this growth, particularly as smaller and more niche events hustle their way into mainstream programming. News, music, and other entertainment content have also undoubtedly contributed in a big way. But where is it going next?

As the quantity of live content consumption increases, the way it’s accessed is evolving simultaneously. We’re now seeing a wholesale shift that mirrors the development of digital technologies. Traditional delivery routes, such as broadcast, satellite, and cable, previously dominated how consumers got their live TV fix. Now, we see a rapid acceleration towards over-the-top (OTT) delivery that leverages internet-based adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming.

And it’s quickly becoming a staple means of consuming live content. Research from Nielsen found that time spent streaming increased by almost 75% in 2020, while PwC’s Global Entertainment + Media Outlook 2021-2025 saw the number of streaming subscribers in the US double between Q1 2019 – Q4 2020.

Handling peaks in OTT traffic

The migration to OTT delivery raises new questions and considerations for operators and service providers looking to replicate the same quality of experience that broadcast, satellite, and cable offer. One of the preeminent challenges experienced when transitioning to a streaming service is the unpredictability of scaling a solution for the potential peaks in traffic caused by live events. This challenge is especially true in operator use cases; they must consider the capacity needs of their networks at every stage and the costs for scaling unicast traffic via operator content delivery networks (CDNs).

As more live content migrates from broadcast to streaming, the peak demand for traffic will inevitably increase since popular live events naturally have the highest concurrent viewing figures. Today, the level of streaming in large multi-network events is still tiny compared to the total viewership. However, this is changing rapidly.

A prime example of this was Super Bowl LV, which aired in February 2021. According to the NFL, 96.4 million viewers tuned in to the event in total, with 5.7 million viewers per minute streaming. This was a significant increase of 65% from 2020’s 3.4 million. Presuming this growth rate continues, the Super Bowl peak in streaming traffic will increase by around ten times in under five years, and this growth could easily turn out to be higher.

Delivering OTT services at scale

By not addressing these challenges in OTT video delivery, operators will face issues with buffering, latency, and even drops in the live feed – with potentially damaging consequences to their brand reputation and subscriber loyalty. Finding a solution to enable live content OTT delivery at scale is one of the toughest challenges to overcome in the video space yet one of the most vital.

Solutions exist that enable operators to tackle OTT delivery at scale head-on. The adoption of high-performance in-network caching, in addition to augmentation through external cloud-based delivery capacity, means these peaks can be supported more cost-effectively.

Additional technologies such as multicast ABR may hold an alternative answer. Internet-based ABR streaming typically goes over the top of an operator/ISP’s network, but increasingly the operators themselves are using the same technology for their own managed TV services to end-users. This means, in many cases, the implementation of such technologies is an interim step before sufficient network capacity is available.

Addressing market needs through ABR technology 

Delivering a five-nines service on an ABR video stream requires optimized video encoding and packaging and optimization or elimination of caches and buffers across the video distribution chain, right into the client. The trick here is to achieve this on real networks when there are highly popular live events.

The challenge of delivering OTT content at scale is an area MediaKind has been heavily researching and investing in over recent years and finding good momentum. You can learn more about our optimized solution for low-latency ABR delivered content here. The solution provides live content to consumers using ABR technology for OTT or streaming services, leveraging ‘direct path’ technology between encoder and packager to minimize end-to-end video latency.

Feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn to learn more!