The term multi-platform delivery is oft-heard in the broadcast industry, but multiformat delivery is a more appropriate description in the streaming universe. This is chiefly because a CDN is supporting multiple streaming formats to ensure it is delivering high-quality video and audio to every device the broadcast client is targeting.
Simply put, there is no “one-size-fits-all.” That makes the server technology in the CDN architecture extremely important. Wowza Media particularly excels in supporting all major streaming protocols, and with minor changes can quickly adapt to new devices and software. Wowza has grown from strictly RTMP-to-Flash delivery to quickly supporting most emerging OTT and mobile-device protocols.
Adobe of course developed RTMP and remains a reliable, if expensive, service for targeting a wide range of platforms. RealNetworks, which originated RTSP streaming to Real Media Players, has grown to support more protocols, but it is an expensive option compared to Wowza. Meanwhile, emerging companies like EvoStream are building a niche for themselves in specific markets; they would have some catch-up work to do to compete in all fields. The point is that CDNs rely on these technologies to enable multiformat delivery and support desktops, phones, tablets, OTT devices and smart TVs — and all of these devices play an integral role in modern viewing habits.
Although the OTT and smart-TV markets show some overlap effects, tablets have become an especially important streaming target as consumer sales escalate. Tablet users expect to see full-resolution HD quality filling the screens, and as Wi-Fi-enabled devices, tablets can support higher bit rates than their cellular network counterparts. This makes the tablet a viable target for high-bandwidth encoded content to maximize quality.
Regardless, the most important aspect for broadcasters to communicate to the CDN is the list of devices they require the CDN to support. This will help the CDN identify format needs, and make recommendations on how live streams and on-demand files are prepared. It also helps the CDN tailor server configurations to reach all targeted devices.
On the cutting edge
Content delivery networks do more than simply deliver content. Many CDNs are equipped to help broadcasters increase reach, expand viewer bases and generate revenue through supporting mobile apps, offering audience and business analytics, and/or enabling dynamic ad insertion to work sponsors into the mix.
This is an emerging trend in streaming for broadcast that will surely make its mark on the television side moving forward. With the proliferation of OTT devices, there is a growing demand for on-demand viewing in comparison to live program viewing. This makes pre-, mid- and post-rolls a potential new revenue stream — and also opens the door wider for subscription-based streaming.
Business analytics are also taking off in the streaming world, offering richer data that note audience numbers, geographic locations and average dwell times. These services are important to help CDNs and broadcast clients understand the appropriate time to scale services at the infrastructure, from adding new live server nodes to increasing storage and for on-demand files.
The exploration and support for emerging, high-efficiency codecs is also a trademark of a reliable CDN. At press time, the International Telecommunications Union announced first-stage approval for HEVC H.265, the next-generation video codec following the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 standard. Early reports tout efficiency gains of 30 percent to 50 percent over the previous standard.
The role of the content delivery network has certainly evolved, from supporting more formats, bit rates and devices today to helping broadcasters develop a future roadmap through audience analytics and measurement to generate revenue now and into the future.
—Andrew Jones is director of sales engineering at StreamGuys.