Live video streaming is gaining momentum, especially for live sports. Recent industry research shows that sports fans are willing to pay for all-sports OTT channels. A study by Verizon found that 63% of consumers already paying for live sports streaming services would be willing to pay more for a more personalized user experience.
Yet, to have a successful live streaming channel, OTT service providers need to deliver a high quality of experience (QoE) to viewers, with a latency comparable to broadcast. Overcoming scalability issues that may occur during peaks in viewership is also critical.
There are two main types of live events that are popular for video streaming. One type of live content that viewers demand is premium live sports events, such as NFL games. Pop-up channels are also becoming trendy for special events that only last a couple of hours or weeks.
Let’s look at some of the key challenges of delivering live OTT services and solutions.
EFFECTIVELY MANAGING TRAFFIC
The traffic pattern for live video streaming is very specific. Unlike SVOD, which has regular daily peaks with higher values on weekends, it’s harder to predict how many viewers will watch a live event. Peaks can jump to multiple times the average traffic during a weekend football game.
Public CDNs (content delivery networks) are the only solution up to the task of scaling on-demand for the duration of a high-demand live event. When a CDN is used during high audience peaks, it drives a peak of traffic from the origin server. In this situation, it’s advantageous to have an origin server in the cloud to sustain super high peak of traffic.
KEEPING BITRATES LOW
During a live event, video bitrate is key. Using advanced encoding technology such as artificial intelligence and content-aware encoding algorithms service providers can reduce the bitrate for live video streaming by up to 50%. This results in 50% less egress traffic at the output of the CDN. Encoding solutions are central to service providers reducing the overall traffic and cost of distribution.
Today, premium live events are generally watched on the TV screen as opposed to a mobile handheld device. As fiber high-speed broadband access grows, and core network upgrades are completed, the average bandwidth used by consumers is continuously increasing. A number of HD OTT services require at least 5 Mbps—with UHD on the distant horizon, scaling issues are only going to intensify. Adopting a multi-CDN strategy is one way to increase scalability.
Using a live streaming platform with a multitiered, multi-CDN approach to delivery, operators can achieve real-time scalability for mission-critical, high-demand live video streaming services. This type of capability has successfully been deployed by leading mobile network operators to deliver live sports content.
IMPROVING VIDEO QUALITY
Live sports video has to be extremely high quality. Sports fans won’t settle for a low QoE. A number of premium events are now produced in UHD, and in many cases OTT is the only practical way to distribute UHD signals to UHD screens to the home. Delivering live UHD streams requires a bit of media processing and using a cloud-based live streaming platform is a cost-efficient approach for short-term events.
Another important consideration is that live video streaming requires low latency. Viewers expect the same latency as broadcast. Using a live streaming platform that supports MPEG DASH CMAF for Android and LL HLS for iOS, OTT service providers can deliver low latency for OTT.
PREPARING FOR A DISASTER
A premium live event can’t fail. If service providers are investing a significant amount of money in acquiring the content rights they don’t want to experience a black screen or even glitches in the middle of the event.
Cloud infrastructure is a cost-efficient way to duplicate the video workflow infrastructure for the duration of a live event. Having a live streaming platform that can run on a datacenter and in the cloud, in parallel, is not only cost-effective, it’s convenient and flexible. Under this type of deployment, it’s critical to ensure seamless failover in case something goes wrong in the datacenter. For example, service providers can deploy one workflow on Microsoft Azure and the redundant workflow on Google Cloud or AWS. If anything happens to the Microsoft Azure datacenter, TV viewers will not see any impact.
MONETIZING LIVE OTT EVENTS
Monetization is essential for live events. In particular, live sports events tend to attract a large audience. Not taking advantage of ad insertion opportunities can result in lost revenue.
In the OTT world, the trend is to deploy dynamic ad insertion (DAI) with a server-side architecture, where service providers replace the national ad with a targeted ad for each user by manipulating the OTT manifest. This operation requires strong scalability because one manifest needs to be processed and served for each user. Only cloud-based solutions can effectively scale without restraint.
LAUNCHING ON THE FLY
Pop-up channels are another use case that benefits greatly from cloud deployments. When service providers are launching an OTT channel for a short-term event, they don’t want to invest in an entirely new infrastructure.
A cloud-based solution is a fraction of the cost and won’t incur any cost for streaming video in between events. As an added advantage, cloud-based live streaming platforms speed up the time to market for new offerings, enabling service providers to launch pop-up channels in minutes.
There is a growing industry trend toward more on-demand content. Consumers today want more choice, content on mobile devices, personalized advertising and the ability to view live sports events on OTT channels. As consumer viewing habits evolve, the complexity of media workflows is increasing. The challenge of scaling OTT unicast distribution and keeping costs low is likely to get worse.
Relying on a cloud-based live streaming platform with multi-CDN capabilities, OTT service providers can rapidly scale during live events, reduce costs and deliver exceptional video quality on every screen.
Alain Pellen is the senior market manager, OTT & IPTV at Harmonic
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