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The Streaming Industry's Stellar 2021 Opens the Door to an Even Better 2022

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As we reach the end of 2021, and as I sit and type in that weird lull before Christmas when no one is quite certain if anyone else is working or not, compounded by yet another cycle of complications caused by COVID, it seems important to spend a moment reflecting on the year past and thinking about the year ahead.

Several things stand out from 2021. The streaming industry itself had a year of fundamental continued organic growth, propelled by widespread adoption of streaming as part of life for the general public over 2020, and muted new business growth thanks to the lack of opportunism and serendipity provided by real-world conferences.

The lack of major marketing events and skewed timing of major live sporting events has meant that innovation cycles are no longer in sync. Any company may introduce any innovation at any time. This is increasing the role of industry groups who try to create collaborative attempts and focused momentum in specific areas to innovate at a macro level.

The Streaming Video Alliance is doing wonders to bring harmony across multiple other industry groups, the newly formed CDN Alliance also is gathering momentum quickly, and I personally was overwhelmed by the response to the launch of Greening of Streaming, to the extent that we made a full-time hire to run the project.

Remote live production and video workflow engineering in the cloud, and more generally moving towards virtualized strategies, has become the norm rather than the new. That said, there are many questions about adoption strategy, and it feels in general like we are in the first iteration (if you like the initial rush to market from all the new entrance), with some significant changes to come to improve the global resilience of the world’s streaming infrastructures.

Indeed a few notable significant outages in the CDN space, while shocking the general public, highlighted how the core of this industry is still very small and the group of friends and network of engineers in the community is still surprisingly close-knit, given that we have collectively a huge impact if things go wrong. Sometimes this hides the fact that we are always (well very nearly) having an unsung but major impact for at least four of the five nines of time!

As for my predictions for 2022: While the core of the established industry will continue to patiently innovate and collaborate and make real-world differences, there is a new component to the streaming sector. I would venture it almost exclusively consists of finance from new entrants who have joined the industry within the last two years. In recent months it’s been evident to me that there has been a significant amount of venture capital invested into what some may call Web3 start-ups.

As far as I can tell, the Web3 topic has been emerging from an investment community that seems to rotate around Andreesen Horowitz. It is driving a great deal of speculative new interest where the technology behind cryptocurrency (namely blockchain) can be promoted in such a way that it offers the hope of disintermediation to startups in the media sector. I think back to my first adventures with streaming in the late 90s, centred around MP3. MP3 represented a disruptive opportunity for me, one that still fuels much of my excitement in streaming today.

However much of what I have seen in this Web3 space seems to be taking what I would call (in their language) Web 2.0’s centrally controlled infrastructure and renaming parts of it and calling it Web3.

Calling a distributed database performing a digital asset management function a “decentralised fabric” does not create anything new technically, even if it communicates some dream to venture capitalists

The idea of creating a trusted exchange with no central control is very utopian, but in my mind struggles with real-world technical delivery problems such as quality of service guarantees and SLAs (which underpin subscriber or ad-driven contracts, which in turn ultimately pay for infrastructure), and a lack of content because of these commercial drivers. Also, to extract the value from these virtual economies into the real world, you typically still have to pass through a centralised exchange, and so the very premise of mutualised trust is something of a figment of the imagination.

Call me cynical or call me scientific, but at the moment my two decades-plus of experience and understanding in the streaming sector has yet to have any fire lit under it by the current marketing hype that I’ve seen coming out of many of these Web3 startups in the past few months. I am sure some of them will surprise me and become successes, particularly if the success is purely about selling the equity in a company. But I will be even more surprised if any of these companies deliver real operating profits for many, many years. I quite like being proven wrong, and I will be watching this space with some interest over the next 12 months in particular.

To return to sustainability for a moment, I’m delighted that energy conservation has moved so rapidly up the agenda of so many technical strategies that I’ve encountered this year. I predict that 2022 will be a spawning ground for a lot of exciting innovation in and around how power-efficiently we can continue to deliver such excellent services.

So over the break, and as we come back for an exciting January of innovation and collaboration (which is essentially my main prediction for 2022), do take a moment to reflect on how well we are doing and how far the industry has now come. While day-to-day in our sector doing what we do we can often feel like we’re always at the beginning of new complex paths, it never hurts to reflect on the many complexities that we’ve navigated so far.

Have a great 2022!

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