User experience is critical for VOD services. To ensure a smooth video experience for our subscribers, we use a load balancer that directs traffic to the best-performing CDN, based on selected key metrics.
User experience is critical for VOD services. To ensure a smooth video experience for our subscribers, we use a load balancer that directs traffic to the best-performing CDN, based on selected key metrics. We are continually learning about route optimisation and investigating where our traffic is routed before arriving on our subscribers screens. Part of this learning is focused on CDN performance, and specifically on which CDN achieves the best results in a given territory. This allows us to optimise the route towards the path of least resistance and ultimately, create a better user experience.
Our experience of a public CDN service has generally been good, and in line with our go-to-market strategy. However, there can be a number of challenges. The biggest issue with using public CDNs lies in coverage and the number of PoPs your CDN provider holds in the territory your members are streaming in. Performances vary from country to country and among ISPs (internet service providers), simply because the network infrastructure is less mature than in Europe or the US; however, we are seeing steady improvements.
No single CDN provider is 100% capable of serving the MENA region without impacting delivery performance. If a CDN doesnt have good coverage then content delivery will be delayed and users will experience buffering a far from optimal experience. A load balancer deployed to sniff out the best routes ahead will help, but if capacity isnt there to begin with, the difference is minimal.
The topic of build versus buy is currently heating up as larger VOD services enter the region and deploy their CDNs; it certainly makes sense in regions where experience expectations are high. Local VOD services are investigating this approach now to understand the benefits of building a CDN and the associated costs versus using a public CDN.
Controlling the traffic routing through peering with ISPs and operators is an essential complementary activity. Otherwise, delivery is just through a private CDN as opposed to a public CDN and both face similar disadvantages. Congested networks result in inconsistent playback as achieving HD through bitrate adaptation takes longer, further affecting the user experience.
The optimal way to boost content delivery is to build a CDN cache and peer with local networks to have the best possible traffic routing that keeps your content within the region at least. Negotiate peering arrangements with operators and ISPs that prioritise your content delivery, and build additional caches inside the operator’s network to enhance the uplift at the last mile.
Digital giants such as Facebook and Netflix take this approach in dense markets where public CDNs don’t have enough coverage. There will be a considerable initial outlay in capital expenditure to create the infrastructure to manage the storage of content; network peering arrangements take time and patience to set up. Building your own CDN is a long-term commitment, not to be tackled unless you are comfortable with your growth trajectory to make it worth the while.
If you face a time-to-market constraint, then choosing a public CDN is the best option. Once you are in the market and your service is live, you will be able to gauge the responsiveness of your CDN against the user experience. If the economics still work on a public CDN against your services operational efficiency, then there is no need to build your own CDN. However, if you are experiencing restricted business growth due to average results from your public CDN, then it might be time to start looking at controlling your delivery supply chain.
Saleem Bhatti is CTO at Starz Play.