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The Math Behind the Magic

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Ours is a technical industry. While we’ve got our fair share of marketers, sales associates, financiers, and accountants, as well as public relations practitioners, it all comes to a screeching halt if the content itself can’t be delivered at an acceptable quality in a timely manner.

With 2020 around the corner, we're not a nascent industry anymore; indeed, we're about to celebrate our 23rd birthday. But we’re still as reliant on algorithms and the late-night coding sessions required to refine them as we were back in 1997.

During our 2020 editorial calendar discussions, I asked our editor Eric for permission to write a sequence of articles called "The Algorithm Series," which will be a deep dive into the underpinning math that powers the streaming industry.

For me personally, the Algorithm Series comes at an opportune time for three reasons.

First, 2020 has always been one of those "in the future" dates that held a lot of weight, even as a kid growing up in the 1970s. It makes for a good reflection point on how the industry has progressed and sets the stage to ask whether the math behind the magic will be different in 20 years' time.

Second, my fiancée has been introducing me to numbers theory, modulo, and all manner of math terms. She gets this math stuff, as I witnessed at an informal lunch at the IBC broadcast trade show in Amsterdam back in September. One of the more brilliant minds in the industry was explaining a concept to me, and he started to jot down the math decisioning stages in the notebook he carries. The look on my fiancée’s face—and the subsequent conversation that followed between her and him, complete with terms that I was struggling to keep up with—led directly to the desire to both learn and to share with our readers not just the engineering implications but the math itself.

Third, it’s a return to the roots of Streaming Media. Back in the late 1990s, you were just as likely to hear a conversation at the Streaming Media trade shows that involved math and logical constructs as you were to hear a business pitch. I personally feel, in conjunction with the rise of the Women in Streaming Media group, that it’s time to get quite a bit more of that heritage back into mainstream conversations as a way to demonstrate that math offers a legitimate career path in what is an enviable industry to both work and thrive in.

The Algorithms Series will be broken down in to four topics: content delivery, player performance, live events, and digital rights management (DRM).

Delivering content at scale requires precise content caching or replication, optimized network paths, and strategic server placement. This will be the first article’s focus, and will arrive in the January 2020 issue. We’ll look at a few of the key algorithms used to balance strategic core and edge architecture demands, with an eye on how they potentially lower operational costs.

Part of my job as a writer is to be able to convey concepts in a clear, hopefully precise manner, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. But it’s a challenge, and my parents instilled in me a desire for lifelong learning, so my task over the next few months will be to learn it well enough to explain it to you, the reader.

Along the way I’ll also interview some of the mathematicians in the industry, both to better digest their published findings as well as to understand what initial vexing problem drove them towards discovery—and what they’re doing to continually optimize the algorithms for global streaming applications.

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