The highly competitive broadcast industry is taking advantage of content delivery networks (CDNs) to enhance viewers' online experiences.
The unprecedented growth in Internet video traffic -- set to make up 80% of all consumer Internet traffic in 2019, according to the Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) visual networking index -- is unquestionably creating spikes in demand for bandwidth. Both established broadcasters and "new kids on the block" will have to adapt if they are to survive.
With the advent of 4K video and the surge in online gaming, competition for customers has become fiercer than ever. Content providers must therefore ensure that all the services they offer are of high quality and satisfactory to end users.
Adding to these competitive trends, the rise in the "TV Everywhere" phenomenon means that content providers must also be able to provide high-quality content around the world across multiple platforms, from tablets to smart TVs.
Efficient content delivery -- investing to grow with demand
A CDN can help meet these challenges. But to introduce this technology effectively, providers must consider three key elements: efficiency of delivery, performance and security. CDNs are not just fundamental tools for traditional broadcasters and their catch-up service offerings. TV Everywhere and the rise in OTT (over the top) content have led to a major change in the way that people consume video. In the UK, a recent decision to make BBC Three an online-only channel highlights this shifting broadcasting paradigm.
Due to these demands, service providers need to ensure the CDN they invest in is able to grow accordingly. The right CDN will allow content to be optimized across a variety of devices and screen sizes while allowing providers to maintain a high-quality service.
But TV Everywhere doesn't mean just a variety of platforms: It also means serving a number of locations in all corners of the globe. With companies such as Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) now streaming in more than 190 countries, a CDN must support a scalable approach across different markets to reach an increasingly global audience. Performance could suffer if the premise of a free and open Internet is constrained by interconnection challenges. This puts pressure on the industry and regulatory authorities to share the responsibility for providing high-quality services to consumers.
Performance and measurement to counteract user abandonment
The next challenge for content providers will be to address the issue of performance and ensure it can be constantly maintained and improved. Given the content overlap between rival providers, customers are likely to move elsewhere if service quality is poor.
Indeed, given the growing variety of content options, user abandonment has become the biggest concern for content providers. It is not just speed that audiences have come to expect: The overall experience needs to match the one users would get from traditional satellite content. A robust CDN can deliver this level of performance, but content providers will have to continually monitor their networks and make sure the performance never falters, whether for real-time (streaming), near real-time (on demand) or downloaded (not real time) content delivery.
Identifying an issue is the first priority. That might be a problem with the broadband connection -- but if the fault is on the provider's end, it will have to be addressed immediately. Measurement is now taking place at a far more granular level, which highlights another benefit of using a single, IP-level provider that can provide this kind of detailed insight into the network, giving OTT providers a more effective means of guaranteeing customer satisfaction.
Security to protect content origin
Protecting customer data is always important; and when it comes to content, origin is key. This was demonstrated in the recent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) . Attacks on individuals within the network are certainly harmful, but they are not as damaging as attacks on the content origin itself. Once the origin has been affected, end users will lose access and suffer a poor experience. A strong CDN, coupled with IP-level monitoring, can help to prevent this and ensure that customers do not defect to alternative providers.
A shift to more encrypted video formats has helped to improve the security of content by requiring stricter authentication, ensuring the viewing experience for end users is seamless.
Geo-blocking has also become an issue, particularly when it comes to sports content. For example, certain English Premier League games cannot be viewed in some parts of the world for licensing reasons. If geo-blocking is not put in place, the provider can be held accountable. It is therefore in the best interests of the content provider to make sure its CDN supports the relevant security restrictions.
As with any service, the security of customer data and content is a priority. A CDN, particularly one that is owned and operated within a secure network, can provide early visibility of security issues and tackle them at the network level. This helps keep problems at bay while having a limited impact on the speed and efficiency of delivery.
What happens next?
Following TV Everywhere and the rise of online gaming, virtual reality (VR) is fast becoming a part of the broadcast and gaming sectors. Any content provider will need to have the right end-to-end CDNs in place, allowing it to deliver content at the "eyeball" level and move it efficiently around the network.
Perhaps the biggest and most immediate change for content providers will be the viewing habits of consumers -- something much harder to predict. With the death of TV scheduling and the rise of TV everywhere, customers want to watch a variety of content at any time of the day and across a range of devices.
If the right service is not provided through a high-quality CDN, customers will tap into alternatives and get their content elsewhere.
— Andrew Crouch, Regional President EMEA and Global Accounts Management Division, Level 3