What Can Streaming Take From Broadcast?

Patricia Corral Alava
Updated August 23 2021
Girl watching a live streaming on her laptop
Patricia Corral Alava
Updated August 23 2021

Streaming outages before season finales or live events have become a hot topic, much to millions of viewers’ dismay (and frustration). The last episodes of HBO Max’s Mare of Easttown and Disney’s Wandavision have been notorious examples, although nothing compared to the outage during the boxing match between Mayweather and Paul on Showtime. The latter was a $50 PPV piece of content that did not allow fans to rewind coverage or catch up on their lost viewing time (whoops!). As a streaming provider, you can’t afford to let this happen.


How is it possible that the world’s best media companies are affected by these glitches? True, they only occur when there is extremely high demand for content, but user volume is not to blame here. Any streaming service should be ready for this – some might even joke it is their one and only job to do. So, considering that video viewing already accounts for most internet traffic (82% by 2022, according to Cisco), how can streaming providers avoid their services crashing in times of network saturation?


The key is anticipating what elements of the service to prioritize. Much more during major live streams where many processes happen simultaneously in the background (i.e., transcoding, delivery, user authentication, DRM, ad insertion, payment processing, and more). For that, what better than to learn from those who have been in this business the longest? Of course, we are referring to the broadcasters.


The Broadcasting Recipe for Success? Always Be Prepared!

The broadcast industry is notable for several things. A major one is that this industry always plans well in advance for the demand it expects. Because of its traditional on-premises nature, broadcasters purchase, install, and test all necessary equipment (servers, racks, network facilities, and more) days or even months before going on air. This way, they guarantee service reliability and high-quality content delivery.


Moreover, suppose the solution needs to scale up. In that case, broadcasters increase their investments and expand their capacity by installing new equipment – although scaling down is not easy once you have committed to an investment for a capacity increase.


Despite being challenging to adequately provision, the highly prepared broadcast infrastructure guarantees bulletproof robustness and avoids any dreaded downtime on-air. Broadcasting was conceived to bring content to the mass market in a uniform way, and the truth is it has been very successful since the first regular TV broadcasts began. Do you remember the last time you watched TV and the broadcast cut out? I don’t.


Having said that, one might wonder whether operators can bring the robustness and smooth quality of the broadcast signal into streaming. Can IP and cloud be as efficient as on-prem deployments for delivering broadcast-grade service quality, even in the most extreme cases? Of course they can, if one knows how to operate their cloud deployment adequately. Let us show you how!



Bringing the Best of Broadcasting to Streaming

Transitioning from SDI to IP and from on-prem, server-based media processing to a fully cloud-based operation consists of much more than just expanding the capacity of your data center.


The goal for any TV service provider embarking on a similar process should be blending the best of the two worlds. That is, transitioning to a service merging the flexibility and agility of streaming with the robustness and reliability of traditional broadcast – basically, what Cloud TV is all about.


Cloud TV allows streaming services to maintain broadcast-grade availability and at the same time, react to sudden and unexpected demand changes, hence avoiding service outages. There are three fundamental levels to guarantee this level of TV service:


  • Scalability and availability of the solution:

Autoscaling is undoubtedly one of the benefits of Cloud TV. Operators can constantly limit resources and overall costs based on demand fluctuation by scaling up and down their cloud infrastructure and platform’s backend.


This elasticity helps them match resources to demand, providing a seamless viewing experience without interruption. Much like the broadcast, but quicker and easier. For example, suppose a service operator expects a season finale to become a huge hit. In that case, the operator can scale up to peak demand for maximum throughput in a matter of minutes.


However, the infrastructure and the platform are not the only pieces to consider. All components of the solution, including the plethora of systems involved (CDNs, DRMs, authentication systems, internet service providers, and more), need to run and tap into the same scale. That is what streaming providers often overlook and leads to service disruptions most of the time.


Configuring all the systems to work at the same speed or scale prevents the video delivery chain from breaking somewhere in the middle. Once this point is covered, it is time to zoom in to where (almost) everything begins – the media preparation.


  • Elastic media preparation:

Typically, finding the right balance between costs and availability of resources remains a challenge for the “video delivery pipeline” in the cloud (transcoding, packaging, and CDN). These processes tend to be time-consuming, bandwidth-intensive, and therefore, the most expensive. Still, there is no need to overbuild media processing capacity for these workflows. Elastic media processing can be convenient to control costs and service availability by interchanging on-premises and public clouds in times of congestion.


Starting with transcoding, the cloud’s infinite capacity and continuous update of new codecs and formats help operators transcode content faster than depending on fixed on-prem capacity.


Similarly, private CDNs can offload workload to cloud video delivery when they cannot serve more streams without reducing the bitrate. For instance, if live sports is your top priority as an operator, you can flip it over to the public cloud and secure the highest bitrate for this content in times of network congestion.


Additionally, implementing a multi-CDN environment guards systems from overload and preserves the quality of experience for selected content, devices, or customer tiers. And the same goes for temporary or seasonal channels (i.e. the Olympics channels). Operators can set them up in the public cloud with very little upfront investment without building a dedicated infrastructure.


In short, elastic media processing helps operators become interoperable and handle demand peaks in an agile and cost-effective way. It is a crucial element that, combined with the scalability previously explained and the user experience we will see next, offers all the advantages any operator could dream of for its TV service.


  • Evolving user experience sustained by data:

Contrary to traditional broadcast, Cloud TV platforms can handle video in sophisticated ways through data. From letting users decide how to watch content (user profiles, favorites, devices, pricing models, etc.) to delivering them tailored viewing experiences (content recommendations, upgrades, personalized promotions, etc.), all these aspects contribute to conform a service incomparable to mass television.


With Cloud TV, streaming providers can predict the future behavior of millions of subscribers and the influx of viewers they expect for a live event or show finale. They can even be creative about it and launch waiting rooms before the event, for example, to better account for the final user volume. This way, scaling resources and capacity to meet demand becomes more of a strategic decision than a leap of faith.


Likewise, streaming operators can personalize their business offerings and increase user engagement through data analysis and new features onboarding. Furthermore, they can continuously launch, monitor, and optimize those without incurring unsustainable investments for experimentation. Data helps operators build a sustainable Cloud TV business and move away from traditional TV stiffness.



Planning for the Unknown

As major live events and content premieres prevail in the streaming world, operators must learn from broadcasters to mitigate unexpected service outages and bring the necessary robustness into their operations. Simply put, if 20 million people show up at a streaming service’s front door at the same time, it needs to let the 20 million people walk through the door simultaneously. And here is where Cloud TV can help.


A scalable cloud-based infrastructure, elastic media processing, and user experience based on data can help streaming providers be ready to reap the benefits of the cloud and avoid any service outage. Planning for the unknown is also part of the job and to the point of a WarnerMedia executive: “if you are doing your job, you won’t hear many people commenting on your tech.” That is why with Cloud TV, you can expect people will only talk about your amazing content and forget about the tech.

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