Content Delivery Summit Preview: A Meeting of the Minds

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With a number of events appearing to service the increasingly busy content delivery sector, I seek to focus Streaming Media Europe's Content Delivery Summit (CDS) in its own way: It is not a forum for one-to-many presentations, nor is it an exhibition of latest tech, nor indeed any other kind of show-and-tell. There are many such events emerging, and simply being a “me too” event would offer nothing new. It would only serve to dilute the other events as well. No, in keeping with the “smartnering” that is so common in the Streaming Media Europe conference, I am keeping the focus of the Content Delivery Summit sharply on the “Summit” aspect.

It is a “Summit”—a meeting of the key stakeholders in the content delivery market.

Avoiding pitches from vendors, it aims to bring out lively discussion and debate between the audience, speakers, and panellists. Not only will it inform delegates, but it will be participatory. Even the presentations from vendors will be about their products’ contexts, rather than their products themselves.

I have always championed the technical discussion within the Streaming Media Europe conferences, and yet I also acknowledge that marketing and product pitches are key to the success of exhibitions and conferences. After all, without increasing product sales, marketing directors wonder why they should exhibit and take part.

And yet, as I have so often highlighted, so many exhibitors at the Streaming Media exhibition and associated shows utterly fail to engage with their potential clients and utilise the opportunity of the “draw” or “bait” of the exhibit hall to find new opportunities. So often one walks onto a stand and, without asking a single question about your interests, the vendor/exhibitor launches into a prerecording of his product’s value and capabilities. And nearly always I already know this. Often, in fact, I know more than the poor sales rep in the front line, and all it does is serves to put them into my black book of “don’t listen to me” and “so full of themselves that they are only selling value to their investors and not to the end users.”

With my opportunity to drive the Content Delivery Summit last year, the Streaming Media Europe team took a risk and allowed me to show how there are many topics of interest to the peers within the industry and that fierce debate can be about better ways to do things rather than simply stating “our way is better than theirs.” Sometimes we need to be humble and learn to listen to each other and not to be preoccupied with the U.S. legal system, which seems to dictate that suing for intellectual property is the best way to make money. Here in Europe we have different legal boundaries, and so suing across those makes it harder to really persist with such a strategy anyway. Given this, and combined with the small interoperating culture here, it is often the case that we ape each other and copy good ideas. In fact, sometimes we just give them away, where our U.S. cousins cannot comprehend that strategy. What we do is enable wider growth of the sector, which in turn stimulates more stability and opportunity for all of us. It may take a little longer, and it may seem a little altruistic at times, but amazingly sharing ideas has brought our species a long way. With the internet starting to change the dynamic of cultural revolutions to operate on a global scale, it is high time that we in our industry had a forum to share our pain and our knowledge.

This is the essence of what the Content Delivery Summit is about. We in the sector are responsible for enabling our end users—the general public—to share information. Whether that is information a single publisher wants to make available to us or information that we want to share with our friends, the thirst for this sharing is exploding, and it is exploding on our infrastructure.

So CDS aims to take a key role by providing an opportunity for those facing the scaling and complex technical challenges. It facilitates discussion between all the stakeholders in the value chain: from the content creators and rightsholders, through the hardware, software, and network service suppliers, to the service vendors and aggregators to the analysts helping investors plan, to the device manufacturers and publishing platforms.

Naturally, vertical and horizontal business networking at a summit such as ours provides many business opportunities. But it also provides an opportunity to break out of the isolation of a single company’s walls, to find peers who face similar problems, and to use the event to role-play some scenarios that may solve the problems.

Last year we had the honour of Adobe, Microsoft, Wowza, CodeShop, and Flumotion sharing a panel, and one of the outcomes was a mutual acknowledgment that there was little competitive advantage to having disparate logging formats. For me this agreement was highly symbolic of where I aspire to make CDS valuable. While the actions that resulted from that agreement are hard to measure, it was reassuring to see that some of the early issues with adaptive bitrate logging have been addressed across the market this year. I can’t honestly say that this is a result of the panel session at CDS, but I think it was cathartic for all the parties to find that they actually agreed on this. The stakeholders do seem to be seeing benefits.

I strongly hope for more nuggets of value this year, and to that end we are holding a particularly interesting session as the closing session of the day, where two sector aficionados will lead a debate with the audience to explore what we in Europe can do to accelerate the much talked about, but so far little effected, CDN Federation. In my own “grand plan,” we will revisit this again in 2012 to see if the discussions have resulted in actions.

So let’s have a skim through the details of the sessions:

For those interested in the market as a whole (asking themselves “why we need CDNs”), we start the day looking at why the big European broadcast customers need and use CDNs and share an insight into the scale of operations and the effect that CDNs have. With Richard Cooper of the BBC opening the day, we see how he handles the traffic demands and content delivery challenges of the BBC’s iPlayer, giving us a clear picture of the reason why CDNs exist.

This is followed by a presentation by Michael Sandbichler of German national broadcaster Prosieben; he will discuss the content delivery challenges specific to his territory.

Immediately following this we will bring Cooper and Sandbichler together for a joint question-and-answer session where we will ask questions that explore the differences that these organisations face and examine the cultural, territorial, and legal issues that addressing the European market bring.

After a coffee break for reflection, we have two of the largest CDNs, Limelight and Level 3, presenting. I have asked George Fraser from Limelight to talk about the nuances of Europe and also the technical challenges of being an overlay CDN. Then we have Derek Gough from Level 3 providing insight for telcos that are looking at their own CDN strategies—being markedly different to an overlay architecture, the contrast between these two companies will help set the scene for the major trends in the sector.

A buffet lunch will then be served, providing an opportunity to engage with other delegates. It also provides an opportunity to update the handwritten “social network” whiteboard with contact details you may wish to share with the group. Contributions to this network will be added to the CDS LinkedIn group and will ensure that you can stay in touch with your contacts long after the event.

After lunch, for those wanting to sell technology into the CDN space or those looking at procurement strategies, we get a feel for the direction in which the technology providers serving the CDNs are being pushed. We also gain some insights into what is coming next, looking at technologies and services ranging from routers and hosting facilities to networks and clouds. Panellists will be present from Cisco, Conviva, BT, and Amazon.

For those who see video as the key content in the market, we then repeat our groundbreaking and “institutionalised” panel bringing together all the leading video server platform vendors. Yes—Wowza, Adobe, RealNetworks, Flumotion, and Codeshop will all share a platform. If last year is anything to go by, this is a rare opportunity to see the competing companies explore commonality and cohesion, rather than simply playing brinkmanship with other (which, in the spirit of the summit, is strictly not allowed!). Unfortunately, given diary commitments Microsoft cannot make it this year, but we are going to get in its diary early for 2012.

Finally, after a few key words from our sponsors, we are going to hold a panel session with a difference: The panellists will be you, the audience! With two leading figures in the CDN market, we are going to explore the concept of CDN Federation. We’ll see if there really is a call to arms to drive a CDN Federation movement together. If so, we’ll look at what actions we can actually commit to as a group and attempt to complete before we next convene.

So please arrive early, and grab a front-row seat. And don’t expect this to be a conference you can doze through!

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