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How Peak OTT Traffic Could Stop the Festive Cheer this Christmas
With Amazon Prime Video streaming all nine Premier League fixtures on Boxing Day in the UK, here's a look at the challenges facing OTT providers this holiday season as they battle to cope with the increasing demand for TV content
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The festive period is synonymous with certain activities: overeating, spending too much money, and watching a lot of TV. It's a time for excess as much as it's a time to relax with family and friends. And while it should ultimately present the majority of us with the opportunity to recharge the batteries (if they're included!), for those involved in the TV industry, it's perhaps the busiest time of the year.

With living rooms around the world full of people looking to Christmas programming to provide a much-needed respite from having to talk to each other, there is a huge available audience sat there ready to be entertained. Then factoring in those unwrapping new smart TV's, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones who are desperate to see what content they can access and the level of picture quality their new toys can deliver, it's no longer just one main screen per household. There might be multiple streams being requested by multiple devices in the home and on the go that now need to be delivered glitch-free as viewers search for that "beyond broadcast" experience.

A Feast of Football Streams

Let's look at Boxing Day in the UK for example. Being one of the most-watched sports globally, the Premier League is one of the most valuable sporting properties in the world, and the 26th December is traditionally one of its busiest days. This year, for the first time, all nine fixtures on that day will be streamed live and exclusively on Amazon Prime Video between 12:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., as part of a rights package picked up by Amazon. It's a deal that has taken live Premier League broadcasts off linear TV for the first time, starting with a handful of matches earlier this month.

The U.S. tech giant's first foray into English football, and its most high-profile move yet into live sports content, has resulted in a record number of sign-ups to the retailer's Prime Video service. With so many eyes on its OTT platform, there will be no room for technical problems or drops in quality. This is particularly important as many of those signing up to Prime Video will have taken advantage of its 30-day free trial, and may opt out before having to commit to paying for the annual service.

The fact that coverage of the Boxing Day Premier League fixtures will be solely distributed by an OTT streaming service shows a trend in the TV distribution landscape. So, with this anticipated increase in demand for VOD content across the festive period, how can OTT TV providers avoid a Christmas hangover and show off the full potential of their services for what they are: a way to deliver a TV beyond broadcast experience?

Staying Ahead of the Game

Providers are increasingly using more than one content delivery network (CDN) to deliver their content to their growing audiences. As with road traffic, providing more than one route to reach a destination gives drivers greater flexibility to overcome unexpected delays. This approach carries several important benefits including increased reach, redundancy, and flexibility around peak traffic. Indeed, having a choice of available CDNs can ensure fast, buffer-free streams that meet viewers' increasingly high standards.

The problem with using multiple CDNs is that the delivery of content is left in the hands of the CDN provider. They are, therefore, responsible for the viewing experience. Because they don't have control of their delivery, content distributors have limited visibility and no means to instantly fix any potential issues that may arise during the streaming session. 

Taking Back Control of OTT Content Delivery

With QoE being so important in a time where there is so much choice, and news of poor service spreading on social media faster than waistlines at Christmas, content providers need to take back control of their delivery while gaining more insight into their users' experience. The traditional way to do this would be through client-side solutions, but this comes with the drawback of requiring client integration. And given the ever-growing mix of devices, this can quickly become complex, time-consuming, and costly.

This is all made even more complicated by the fact that CDNs are not all necessarily standardised, so there is a risk that one network's capabilities cannot be matched by another. This makes it difficult to create one overall control functionality that works independently of which network is delivering the content.

An ability to select the optimal delivery on a granular level, for example per-segment, in real time and independent of both client and CDN would offer a new level of control that is essential when it comes to multi-CDN delivery. With these capabilities, content providers are in the driver's seat and can optimise the viewers' quality experience, which in turn helps to improve customer growth and retention.

No Client Integration Needed

The new capability gives distributors independence towards both CDN providers and clients. It also removes the need for any complicated client integration, which would have to be factored in every time a new device comes to market. All segment requests can be measured, and should a problem occur when someone's watching a match on Boxing Day, that session can be moved to another CDN seamlessly to overcome the issue. And if there's a common denominator in those sessions that isn't performing as it should, then it can quickly be identified and actioned for other clients within that same group (source, client, geography, etc.).

With more and more providers offering experiences that can go beyond traditional broadcast to viewers through their OTT services, they must be able to deliver on this. If Amazon's Boxing Day feast of football produces some crackers, then it could be the spark that propels streaming to a new level. It'll signify the entry of the Silicon Valley giants into the OTT sports market, delivering high-end live sports over the internet instead of via aerial, cable or satellite. 

With the seemingly unstoppable momentum behind OTT, providers will need complete control over their multi-CDN delivery, something they do not currently have. They'll also need in-depth insight into the behaviour of their viewers, so they can identify QoE issues and also build up advanced user profiles in order to deliver a more personalised service going forward. 

The best way of achieving a level of control that enables users to switch, modify and terminate sessions in real time, as well as avoid dependency to clients or CDNs is with the capabilities mentioned above. Therefore, in order to ensure a happy holiday for viewers, this year's must-have for OTT service providers should be a platform that enables real-time, in-session and per segment-based delivery control in multi-CDN environments—independent of client, CDN, and video formats.

[This is a vendor-contributed article from Edgeware. Streaming Media accepts vendor-contributed articles based solely on their value to our readers.]