Who is King?
In the media industry we talk about Content as King because blockbuster content will always deliver the best commercial return, regardless of the platform on which it is available. Some people will say that Distribution is equally powerful, because where content is available is as important as what content is available. It’s all very hard to quantify precisely, but it is evident that there is a constant tug-of-war between Media businesses and Telecommunications businesses to extract a larger profit from their respective positions in the value chain for consumer entertainment, education, and information.
But let’s take a step backwards to a bigger point – isn’t the Customer the actual King? The customer is the ultimate provider of success or failure. The customer decides what content to watch and when to watch it. The customer decides whether to pay for content or watch the ads. The customer decides how many hours they will watch for, and whether they will act on what they have seen.
What Customers Want
So rather than argue about whether content or distribution is all-powerful, we should look at what customers want. It’s a simple list – customers want the content they want, consumable when, how, and where they want, at a price they believe is good value.
From a streaming video technology perspective, the main customer requirement to focus on is to make the content “consumable how I want”. However, technology also plays a part in assuring the perception of “good value”. Streaming technology cannot do much about the content itself, or exactly when and where that content is available, which depend mostly on content provider programming decisions.
The Focal Point of Streaming Technology
To meet both these requirements, we must focus on just one thing – assuring the customer’s quality of experience (QoE). When a customer hits play, we must deliver the best possible experience. This is defined by another simple list of requirements – the video quality must be what the customer expects to receive, the start-up time must be instantaneous, and the time delay between the on-screen video and a live event must be unnoticeable compared to the live action.
As consumers, we have the luxury of asking for simple things which actually place really challenging requirements on the businesses that we expect to deliver them. Not that long ago, the industry would say “good enough is good enough” to refer to people’s relatively low expectations of quality and latency when viewing online streaming video. But things have changed VERY fast.
To meet today’s very demanding requirements, streaming video technologies are evolving quickly. Latency objectives can be met by implementing new standards from DASH and HLS, and new protocols like HESP. Quality objectives can be met by implementing the right encoders to deliver the sort of quality expected on an 80-inch, 4K TV. But the biggest challenge we face every day in terms of streaming video technology is to stream in low latency and high quality both at scale and consistently, when many thousands or millions of people are watching a big live event.
Why is this the biggest challenge? Because the delivery infrastructure is complex, sometimes too fragile (e.g., copper networks were not designed for broadband), and because the same infrastructure is used simultaneously by all other activities on the internet, like online shopping, web browsing, video calling, messaging, gaming, studying, and working. Streaming at consistently high quality and at scale requires a specific type of platform, which is of course a CDN. But not just any CDN. To meet the demanding customer expectations for quality and latency, the CDN needs to be a specialist video CDN.
MainStreaming is a Video Specialist
Live video is the crown jewel of the media industry. The biggest, most culturally significant moments are arguably our live events spanning sport, music, news, comedy, theatre, government announcements, and even the daily appointment-TV soap operas. In our modern times, social media combines with old-fashioned social gatherings around the big screen TV to make these live events moments to remember. These events drive the biggest audiences, the biggest advertising revenues for media businesses, and the biggest pressure on delivery performance and customer satisfaction. Every broadcaster knows the critical importance of executing well on live video. And streaming amplifies these pressures because people no longer think “good enough is good enough”. Yet there are inherently difficult challenges in meeting viewers’ high expectations of streaming live content across the internet.
This is why MainStreaming is a video specialist. We solve this problem with hard-earned expertise. And just as “good enough is no longer good enough”, so CDN services themselves must raise the bar towards world-class excellence. Specialising is how we are able to raise the bar to new heights.
Why Video Specialism is important
In a separate article we explain our “40,000 Tbps” estimate for the peak video streaming capacity required in the foreseeable future. This assumes up to 50% of a national population would stream a major event, like a state of the nation address or an annual major cultural event. This is when streaming infrastructure will need to be industrial-strength and broadcast-grade, easily meeting all the consumer requirements described above. In reality, even if everything just works, it won’t be easy at all. It will involve risk mitigation and proactive operational management, to overcome the ever-changing capacity supply and consumer demand dynamics of the internet. It will involve smart systems to continuously analyse streaming performance to every consumer and make real-time decisions to safeguard and optimise their stream quality.
“Don’t give a reason to switch off”
MainStreaming’s live video specialism was born from the desire to ensure a great viewing experience on any device, anytime, anywhere. And in particular, to do this when it matters most for media companies and for consumers – for the biggest live events. Today, the Head of Distribution at one of our major customers likes to say that their daily job is “to not give their subscribers a reason to switch off”. This person knows how fragile customer satisfaction can be. This customer’s own measurements of the MainStreaming platform compared to other CDN platforms they use in their multi-CDN set-up, proved that the MainStreaming platform increases customer engagement by increasing viewing time, because QoE performance is better.
This is the ultimate accolade for us. We help our customers to prevent viewer frustration from buffering and serious ABR ladder changes. We achieve this through analysis of a continuous flow of metrics from across the streaming workflow and infrastructure, which we use in real-time to make stream routing and infrastructure balancing decisions. This is MainStreaming’s core competence. We describe it as our Orchestrator capability, and it works continuously across our Edge network for every one of our customers.
MainStreaming Technology & Managed Services
Video is an area of deep specialism in streaming, and Live video is an even deeper specialism. The MainStreaming Intelligent Media Delivery Platform is designed from the ground up to handle the intensive pressures of live video streaming, continuously gathering metrics and applying real-time intelligence to streaming decisions. MainStreaming’s expert Managed Services ensure all the details are right to maximise the audience experience and our customers’ business results.
D2C Streaming businesses that need excellent QoE to earn, satisfy, and retain evermore demanding viewers can rely on MainStreaming’s specialist technology and specialist operations to guarantee the best possible QoE.