The State of the Content Delivery Market

This article appears in the August/September issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription

To those who are new to the online video industry, it may seem like the content delivery market has been around for only a few years. But amazingly, 2008 marks the 13th year since some of the first content delivery networks (CDNs)—such as Sandpiper and Real Broadcast Networks—began offering streaming media services on the internet. In that time frame, the video delivery market has gone through enormous changes, both from a technology standpoint and assorted business standpoints, including how these services are priced, packaged, productized, and marketed.

Now that the service is evolving and the process of delivering bits has become somewhat of a commodity, people in the industry are just starting to talk about all of the other pieces in the content ecosystem. Today, most CDNs are still focused only on moving bits across the internet, while many content owners are struggling to figure out all of the other pieces in the workflow process that truly enable them to monetize their content. Delivering bits is not the complex part. Content owners are wrestling with the entire ecosystem workflow of content creation, capture, ingestion, transcoding, management, authentication, syndication, storage, delivery, and reporting, among other possible steps.

That being said, video delivery networks still play a vital role in the industry and will continue to do so down the road. Today, almost no company builds out its own video delivery network, as most CDNs can do it far more economically and efficiently than a content publisher can, especially when capacity and global reach are crucial.

Ups and Downs
As CDNs evolve, so does the term. Today, there is still no clear definition agreed upon by the industry that determines which companies will be classified as a CDN and which won’t. The term is very vague and continues to have a very broad definition as more types of content outside of video—such as applications—are delivered across CDNs. Everyone seems to have a different answer as to what makes a company a CDN and what kind of infrastructure CDNs are required to have in place in order to use the term.

Even with that confusion, the video delivery market is hot. In the past 6 months alone, the content delivery market specific to video has seen some enormous growth in the number of new vendors in the market, the amount of venture capital raised, and the expectations many people have regarding what the video market will grow into down the road. We’ve seen telcos enter the market and lawsuits over patents, and many hybrid or P2P-only networks have entered the fray. There are more than 50 video delivery networks now in the industry (see www.cdnlist.com), including those that are P2P-based, and the vast majority of them are competing for the same business in a market that is still small in the U.S.

While many reports in the industry have talked about how the size of the CDN market is much more than a billion dollars, none of those reports break out video-only revenue, which is the fastest growing segment of content delivery and takes up the most bits on any network. Based on my calculations of vendors’ revenue, the market size for outsourced video delivery services in the U.S. was $450 million to $500 million last year and has the potential to grow to about $800 million this year (see www.cdnmarket.com).

At the same time, in the past 18 months, more than 16 video delivery vendors, including P2P-based providers, have raised almost $300 million in capital. CDNetworks, EdgeCast Networks, Panther Express, GridNetworks, Highwinds Network Group, Velocix, ITIVA, Move Networks, Pando Networks, Conviva (formerly Rinera), BitTorrent, ChinaCache, RawFlow, Oversi Networks and BitGravity combined raised $285.35 million in 2007 and 2008, and that number does not take into account other CDNs that have already raised money but have not yet made it public or those that are out in the market raising another round. When all is said and done, I expect close to another $100 million will be raised in the next 12 months. Combine this much money being raised with a market that’s not as big as some think and one has to worry that, in the next 18 months, the number of video delivery networks in the industry will fall considerably. The market can’t support 50 providers, and not every company will be acquired and make back their investors’ money.

History has a way of repeating itself, and we have gone through this before. In 2000, before the bubble burst, we had nearly 50 CDN providers in the market. Two years later, we had less than 10. Five years later, we’re back to 50, but for how long? At some point, investors are going to want to see some return on their money, and with fewer video delivery networks focusing on doing more than just delivering bits, it’s going to be hard to get acquired unless they can show a lot of revenue, which most don’t have.

While all this is going on inside the industry, on the outside, customers who are trying to choose the right video delivery network for their needs are more confused than ever. Thirteen years on, there are still no standards for online video and no agreed-upon way to fairly compare one vendor against another for the many different levels of services. In addition, while video delivery pricing continues to drop each year (see www.cdnpricing.com), it’s no longer falling at the rates we have seen in years past. All the while, consumers are watching more online video content more frequently, at higher bitrates, for longer periods of time, and on more devices. More than ever, CDNs are a crucial piece of the puzzle in helping this industry grow to the next level.

When it comes right down to it, the entire CDN market hinges on the ability of all CDNs to be able to use the economics of scale to operate their networks more efficiently. They need to spend less money to deliver more content with fewer resources and less infrastructure so they can reduce pricing to drive more consumption while still trying to earn a profit. Today, most CDNs are still losing money and spending a lot on capital expenditures, all while trying to stand out in a very crowded market.

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