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Tencent Cloud's James Gea Talks Delivering Viral Video

What are some key challenges for international CDN infrastructure when delivering viral videos? Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, sits down with James Gea, Business Development Manager, Tencent Cloud at Streaming Media West 2022, for an in-depth chat about this topic and what Gea’s overall role is at Tencent.

Siglin mentions that Gea conducted a thorough presentation at the event’s Content Delivery Summit covering some of the challenges that the Chinese-founded Tencent has faced and how the company has handled them, along with the white papers they have written. He asks Gea to elaborate further on his present role at Tencent.

“I joined Tencent five years ago,” Gea says. “I'm on the business development side, helping them expand their international business here in the US. Tencent has a lot of infrastructure in China, but also globally, and we're kind of the first space to work with a lot of international companies to figure out how to leverage better some of the technologies and infrastructure that Tencent has built up over its time and experience operating these large scale infrastructures and services inside of China.”

“Tencent has, as you told me, offices here in Southern California and up in Palo Alto,” Siglin says. “But obviously a very, very big presence in China. One of the things you were talking about in the white paper that you were presenting was just the sheer scale of some of the videos. So what's a typical viral video in China versus, say, in the States regarding the number of people who would consume it?”

Gea replies, “Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you just look at the number of people right inside of China and also the emerging markets, not just China [but] right now India, all these places…one of these applications has 700 million active users per month.” He says that due to the sheer size of viewership, combined with the cultural homogeneousness, “It's really just the whole country gets eyeballs to it really fast. And just…take a percentage of it. If half of these active users are looking at it, you have more than the population of the United States.”

“So what are the decisioning factors as something ramps up?” Siglin asks. “Because I think you also said they can ramp super-fast. So what are some of the learnings around that and how to sort of handle a massive spike from a viral standpoint?”

“At the first level, I think, is how large these video sizes are,” Gea says. “Especially for these short video platforms, they're kind of different where what matters more is making sure that short video gets a load at that moment. So some of the things we do is obviously on the codec…how do we optimize the video sizes that we're actually delivering? But because Tencent occupies kind of a unique space where we not only have the infrastructure, but we also have a lot of user-facing apps that the customer uses, we're able to use a lot of that data in terms of different users from different areas, and how they're receiving that. We can modify how we're delivering that traffic with different traffic algorithms to make sure that these videos are getting delivered to the end user well.”

“And is that not just geography, but also the type of device they're consuming on?” Siglin says.

“In China, the network landscape is very interesting,” Gea says. “There's a couple of these big state ISPs, but they almost operate kind of independently in each region. It's not really coordinated per se. So it's a lot of work with each local ISP. Some regions might have certain ISPs that perform better. Some ISPs are stronger [in] the north and the south. It's a lot of that data and feedback that we get from very minuscule, localized data. And we use that to make decisions on how we're delivering that path.”

Siglin says, “I did a presentation this morning around the state of the industry. One of the questions we asked was, as people in the industry deliver, how much do they deliver to battery-operated devices like mobile phones versus mains-powered devices like connected TVs? The model came down to roughly 44% battery powered…this is primarily in North America and 56% mains power in China. Is it 60% mobile, or what would you say in terms of the delivery?”

“I would say the mobile device is definitely something that's just ingrained,” Gea says. “A lot of people in China grew up with mobile first. You know, whether the economics, they don't have a PC, so a lot of them are basically trained and operate day-to-day on a phone. And you kind of see that proliferating through how the industry's evolving towards digital payments on phones. It's way further ahead than here. You go to a convenience store [in China], you pay with cash, they won't accept it anymore. They don't have cash in the drawers to give to you.”

“The same is true in India,” Siglin says. “There are certain parts of the areas that I've worked in where cash is still there, but as the national identity system kicked in, then suddenly it's payment schemes that you can actually do through your phone as well. So, how do you deal with long tail content? You talked about that viral spike. Is it just as quickly dropping off, where nobody wants to watch it again because everybody's seen it in the first two days? Or how do those models work?”

Gea says he does not have the exact details about how Tencent does different caching algorithms, but he believes that what is most important is having the infrastructure that crosses over to all the varying ISPs in the different regions. “Being kind of a big hyper cloud provider in China, we have different layers of our CDN that we can cache in,” he says. “I mean, it's not unlike how different caching schemes work. On the long tail content, I think the short video aspect of it [is] evolving, and I think on the application level, you can also control certain videos that are falling off, you may not just serve that anymore because it just doesn't show up. And the algorithm gets to control what you're seeing. So I think the model is a little different from, let's say, YouTube, where you have a historical archive of everything you can go and see, and things are kind of getting updated very fast.”

“And how [has] Tencent moved beyond China and India?” Siglin says. “How has it been in the States and how has it been in Europe and other parts of the country or the world?”

“Of course, our infrastructure not just extends in China, it's global,” Gea says. “I would say for our global business right now our main focus initially when I joined five years ago was helping a lot of these companies leverage that infrastructure inside of China, inbound into China. What we have also seen more and more of is it's not just China anymore. If you look at Chinese users and companies coming out, Asia-Pacific (APAC) has become a strength. So more and more, we're working with national companies, helping them optimize their infrastructure, not just in China but now in APAC. And then the other side of it is Tencent also is very big in the gaming world. So we’ve started seeing some of the gaming companies start leveraging infrastructure globally as well. Then some of the optimizations we've done on the networking side are benefiting some of these companies."

Don’t miss more in-depth interviews with leading industry professionals at Streaming Media East 2023.

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