Hybrid CDN: Redefining the Paradox of Quality and Cost for OTT Businesses
Since “over-the-top video” became synonymous with live and on-demand TV, numerous businesses around the world have popped up (and gone under) to bring video to consumers.
Pure-play OTT platforms focus on delivering broad or specialty content to large audiences. Many of the business models—while initially free—now offer all-you-can-watch packages for a low, fixed monthly price.
We’ve made tremendous progress in improving internet connectivity speeds in recent years. Not so long ago, 10 Mbps at home was unheard of, whereas today subscribers to internet services can easily get 100 Mbps or even 1 Gbps in many areas. This will continue as the cost of bandwidth and access declines. OTT providers welcome these improvements to reliably deliver their content across the internet.
However, large telecom operators operate a dual network: one part of their network is managed and can be used for very high-quality IP video delivery, and the other part of the network is unmanaged or “best effort.” These providers typically do not offer original content outside of their managed network, leaving OTT companies to leverage the unmanaged part of the network for their video services.
As the term “best effort” suggests, there’s no guarantee of up-time, performance, or overall reach. Thousands of OTT services are therefore delivering content to a myriad of devices over a public internet connection that they do not manage or control. They make content available and provide a portal. From that point on, it’s fingers crossed.
Consumers in many markets meanwhile have traditionally enjoyed content from cable and/or satellite television, which is reliable, always on and offers solid quality. Many are not aware that to deliver the same level of reliability, content providers go to great lengths to optimize video compression, leverage adaptive bit-rate technologies and turn to content delivery networks. These CDNs aim to deliver content as close to the end user as possible to eliminate latency and packet loss that impact bandwidth throughput and buffering on the last mile.
Content owners pay CDNs either on total bandwidth or consumption, measured in gigabytes per month. Ironically, as the demand for quality from the consumer increases, so does the load on the CDN and so does the bill for the publisher. A consumer watching SD content (let’s assume 3,000 Kbps) for 1.5 hours per day consumes approximately 60 Gigabytes per month. If the same user watches for three hours per day at HD quality, he now consumes 120 Gigabytes per month. If the same user watches it in 4K, consumption multiplies again. So there is a direct correlation between the number of viewers, quality (bitrate) consumed and viewing time.
The downside is that content owners are typically not able to charge more or monetize more for the same content delivered. Sure, you can have a 4K pricing differential, but 4K video is typically consumed at 12-15 Mbps, and it is highly doubtful that the content owner is able to charge 3-4 times the price merely for content offered in 4K instead of HD.
Traditional delivery models increase with growing audiences and higher bitrates.
So paradoxically, the consumers—who are typically price-sensitive—demand high quality video (they’re used to TV image quality), yet the content owner has no incentive for offering higher quality as every increase in consumption (time and/or quality) immediately leads to a higher bill. The issue is exacerbated by the trend towards higher resolutions, binge watching and increased multiscreen viewing. It is a constant evaluation and tradeoff between quality, cost and customer satisfaction.
The internet, in all its glory, capability and tremendous capacity, has traditionally not been a medium that can scale affordably to TV-sized audiences around the world without either having to compromise on picture quality (bitrate) or play-back quality (playback consistency, elimination of buffering and re-buffering). This leaves content providers with quite a conundrum.
Our hybrid CDN approach, which combines the Lumen global CDN infrastructure and software-based Mesh Delivery, finally helps break the correlation between viewer behavior and the cost of delivery.
Mesh Delivery offers a fixed price per session or per viewer, decorrelating the cost of delivery from viewer behavior.
While it is not a one-size-fits-all approach, it comes closer to providing a highly reliable distribution platform with a business model that mimics satellite or cable TV infrastructure. Mesh Delivery uses fixed fees per video session or per concurrent viewer, thereby enabling broadcasters to offer higher quality and run a profitable business. By adding Mesh Delivery on top of the Lumen® CDN or another CDN provider, content owners can have the best of two technologies with a reliable and global distribution network and the scale, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of a mesh network. In fact, it incentivizes them to offer higher quality as they can more effectively control costs while delivering video reliably. And as we well know, an increase in video quality can ultimately lead to more engagement, higher consumption of premium content and overall customer satisfaction. And of course, to improving the bottom line.
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