The State of Content Delivery 2015
Whether it’s a homegrown, in-house content delivery solution of a service provided by a large content delivery network (CDN) provider, the state of content delivery has never been more robust—or more fraught with peril—than today.
The last year saw several major trends, three of which feature in this article, and the continued success of online video delivery in 2015—be it to over-the-top (OTT) set-top boxes or smart TV, or to gaming consoles and mobile devices—hinges on the industry’s ability to accelerate the growth while avoiding a few key pitfalls.
Online Video Growth
To start, let’s talk about the continuing growth of online streaming. It might seem like old hat to talk about the growth of internet video, but the trend toward more and more media content—especially streaming video— continues unabated as it has for the last 12 years.
2014 has surprised even the big players in the CDN space. For instance, Akamai topped its own third-quarter 2014 revenue guidance based on “unseasonably strong” media delivery solutions revenue, which was up 22 percent year over year, accounting for almost half of all of Akamai’s third-quarter revenue.
Akamai also doesn’t see the trend slowing down, citing 4K (Ultra HD or UHD) as a primary driver. The company says it already sees “several customers distributing video at rates near 10Mbps, which is about a factor of three higher than what was recently the norm. ”Rob Malnati, vice president of marketing at Cedexis, says the trend isn’t just limited to Akamai.
“Higher quality video continued to pour across the internet as shown by Akamai and Cisco reports,” Manalti says. “Several Cedexis Radar CDN members are relating that video growth was on the order of 30 percent, ahead of the general growth of the CDN business.”
Radar is a Cedexis service that allows CDNs to assess hundreds of millions of data points per day, responding to traffic spikes and anomalies at both a macro (countrywide) and micro (citywide or even neighborhood-wide) level.
Handheld, Portable, or Mobile?
To be sure, mobile devices with gorgeous, ever-larger HD screens contribute to OTT delivery, as do smart televisions and even game consoles, but the trend toward primary consumption hasn’t quite left the desktop or living room.
In fact, based on a survey performed by Akamai, StreamingMedia.com, Transitions, Inc., and Unisphere Research, the laptop and desktop consumption of online media in 2014 still held an aggregate upper hand against other form factors.
Survey responses showed that, at least for those in our industry, laptops are still the dominant form factor for primary online media consumption. In this survey, the combination of desktops and laptops made up almost half (46 percent) of primary media consumption devices.
Tablets barely eked out third place against the oldest media consumption device on the list: television. For North American survey takers, tablets barely registered 10 percent and the combination of desktop and laptops made up a full half of primary media devices, higher than overall responses, which included European responses (Table 1).
2014 online media consumption by device
In a subsequent survey, we asked the same question and received a very similar answer, despite fewer than 15 percent of survey responses overlapping from those who took the Akamai-sponsored survey.
That subsequent survey, sponsored by Brightcove, should be available on StreamingMedia.com by the time this article is published. In it, we found consistency: The combination of desktops and laptops still makes up a majority (55 percent) of primary media consumption for our survey takers. Tablets and television were neck-and-neck, with tablets (17.14 percent) barely squeaking by television (16.64 percent). Smartphones came in at 10 percent.
Even more interesting, fewer than half of respondents preferred to view live content on a screen other than a television. Still, the trend toward non-television live media consumption appears inevitable. While television (53 percent) accounted for barely more than half of total responses, when compared to other forms of viewing live-linear online streams, this number equates to an approximately 3 percent decline from previous surveys StreamingMedia.com, Transitions, and Unisphere had conducted in 2014. Online live streams consumed in a non-television setting (47 percent) also rose to their highest level ever.
Building for Growth
The result of all this content consumption, be it on mobile, computer, or network-attached television, is a need for CDNs to build out their infrastructures.
What is the impact for CDNs and the major media companies that rely on them? The answer to how the build-out for growth is being handled depends on your perspective from opposite sides of the content delivery fence.
Some companies, notably Apple, Google, and Microsoft, have created their own delivery networks. In addition, many enterprises are moving from homegrown homogenous network infrastructures to purpose-built enterprise CDNs (E-CDN).
Despite acknowledging that “do-it-yourself will be an issue,” Akamai says the trend, including Apple’s business potentially being moved from Akamai to an Apple-owned network, has not yet impacted growth.
On the enterprise front, as well as for select major content providers, online video traffic growth has encouraged creative new architectures for content delivery.
One approach that’s continued to gain in popularity is a multi-CDN approach, for those selling and delivering premium content—in other words, those who demand 100 percent availability, or need the best performance in every region of the world. Another reason for a multi-CDN approach is to use it as leverage to drive down delivery costs.
Another emerging approach, one that Cedexis spotted as a trend and brought to our attention almost a year ago, is the hybrid CDN approach. In this approach, there’s a cloud component and a traditional CDN component.
“These hybrid CDNs are distributed,” Malnati says, “and employ the use of low cost, localized cloud virtual machines for acceleration and as a strategy for offloading traffic from CDNs, where it makes sense.”
The same hybrid approach, using cloud for portions of delivery and either a CDN or an E-CDN, is also gaining popularity, primarily as a method for dynamic application delivery. Scaled with enterprise cloud adoption, this may create the potential to deliver customized video apps that are sent alongside or just ahead of an online stream.
As mentioned in The State of the Enterprise, cloud-only media delivery models still aren’t widely adopted due to security reasons, although there are several innovators tying enterprise video platforms to Microsoft’s Active Directory authentication service, which has been a standard in the enterprise for a number of years.
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