Streaming Video Straining CDNs

April 1, 2015
Customers' expectations that online video be akin to the experience they are used to with broadcast TV are growing. At the same time, online ...
Customers' expectations that online video be akin to the experience they are used to with broadcast TV are growing. At the same time, online viewership is on the rise. More than 80% of Internet traffic is expected to be video within five years, and the streaming of major TV events, such as the World Cup and the Oscars, is breaking records for viewership. Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM) found a five-times increase in online traffic growth between the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.

"The challenges have been highly publicized in the news," said Phil Karcher, senior analyst at Forrester Research, during a webinar hosted by Akamai, Next Gen CDNs Are Needed To Deliver Broadcast Quality Video Online. "The stakes are higher as people's expectations for a TV-like viewing experience are higher. The delivery of online events is much more complex today. It is not just the volume of people trying to watch. It is the volume of people trying to authenticate against their cable provider (that) was a problem."

The need to monetize online video creates additional complications with the workflow. Complexities include ensuring consumers are not bombarded with the same advertisement over and over while streaming a program and that the video does not crash if the consumer attempts to fast forward through the commercial.

"For consumers watching VOD, (it is still) a nuisance today. But if the rapid change in consumption behavior continues, consumers will stop being forgiving as expectations grow," Karcher said. Regarding performance, research indicates that even now, viewers have a decreasing tolerance for buffering. After just 2 seconds, they start abandoning the effort; for every additional second, 6% of the audience leaves.

"The next-generation CDN (content delivery network) needs to be about more than content delivery," Karcher added. "It needs to support workflow integration with easy-to-provision services."

The gap between consumer expectations and content delivery boils down to four concepts: performance, convenience, personalization and trust. The CDN could plug into the workflow for content prep, storage, security and authentication to help alleviate these concerns.

For starters, regarding performance, there is continuing pressure for faster speeds and higher resolutions, in conjunction with competition from a multitude of sources providing content for consumers to select.

Convenience refers to the ability of consumers to watch content anywhere and on any device. While buffering and resolution have improved, broken media - i.e., where the video does not play at all - is still a concern, Karcher said, particularly on mobile devices where 17% of respondents in a recent survey reported this as a common problem. With the number of Android devices alone growing 50% last year, according to Akamai, visibility into what is on the network is growing in importance.

The CDN already is relied on for large-scale distribution across the Internet, and there is movement toward pushing storage closer to the edge and increasing support for adaptive bit rate streaming, among other things, Karcher said.

As for personalization and trust, these are emergent areas for next-gen CDNs. "They will play an important role in the high quality ad experience and (providing) dynamic video content to individual viewers," Karcher said. "Next-gen CDN analytics (could) provide visibility into what is going on in the network, giving content owners assurances that content is being delivered with high quality to large audiences."

CDNs could help with PCI compliance for credit card transactions and identity services to scale user authentication as well.