“You are live on channel four, please don’t swear”
This popular tagline in the famous Big Brother show is a prime example of the acceptance and prevalence of livestreaming in today’s society. Time and time again, there is the need to stream an event live to a target audience and in some cases, the entire world. Since technology has successfully wrought the magic of live streaming, various industries have employed its use in the fulfilment of their objectives. Religious bodies, sporting organisations, news platforms, the entertainment industry and even private individuals are only a few in the myriad of its users.
WHAT EXACTLY IS LIVESTREAMING?
Basically, live streaming is online streaming media recorded and broadcast simultaneously in real time. In simple terms, it is the broadcasting of live video to an audience over the Internet, real-time. So, someone in Wisconsin can record and broadcast an on-going event live to the entire world and it is immediately available for viewing all over the world, irrespective of geographical differences.
Live streaming is a bandwidth-intensive and very demanding process. Since most of the video files span over a long period of time, they are often quite large and can overload slow internet connections. Apart from the speed, there are other issues that plague live streams like buffering, stream interruptions, lags and other quality problems.
A quality viewing experience is a determinant of an effective live stream. If the target audience has to watch a poor quality stream, its purpose may as well be defeated. Instead, a smooth seamless streaming experience allows your audience view your content in the best possible light.
And this is where the CDN comes in.
WHAT IS A CDN?
CDN stands for Content Distribution Network. According to Wikipedia, a CDN is a geographically distributed network of proxy servers and their data centres. It is a network of servers distributed around the world, and linked via high-speed internet cables. Primarily, its purpose is to provide high availability and high performance by distributing the service spatially relative to end users. Today, CDNs supply a large portion of the Internet content today. From web objects(text, graphics and scripts) to downloadable objects(media files, software, documents), applications(e-commerce, portals),live streaming media, on-demand streaming media and social media sites, CDNs use software to intelligently distribute traffic throughout the network, routing data fast to the closest servers to any user.
WHY YOU SHOULD USE A CDN.
Till date, CDN is the fastest and most reliable way to broadcast your content to a wide range of viewers all around the world. CDNs can very well accommodate viral viewership spikes and larger than expected live audiences.
Now if you are live streaming a fashion show from your single server and all of a sudden, something really spectacular happens and it just goes viral. While this is good for your content publicity, there could be disastrous consequences. A lot more people, say a million begin to try to tune in to the event, requesting data from your server. Your single server, unfortunately, does not have the capacity to deliver and so your machine is overloaded, crashes and nobody can access your
stream. On the other hand, a CDN is a network ofservers, usually with high distribution. So even if a lot of requests come in, they can be distributed across hundreds, thousands and even millions of servers, causing no service interruptions in your live stream.
Also, since the goal is quality viewer experience, CDNs allow you to achieve the best sound quality and video resolution, minimizing buffering and delays to the barest minimum. CDNs also deliver content at low latency, using superfast superhighways to send streams all over the world.
Presently, there are diverse CDNs, even private ones, available and to make the best choice, there are certain features to consider in a CDN intended for live streaming.
ESSENTIAL FEATURES TO CONSIDER IN A CDN FOR LIVE STREAMING
The number of servers
A good CDN for live streaming should have a large number of servers. The number of servers would go a long way in determining speed and scalability. The higher the number of servers in a network, the more bandwidth the network can handle. So even if there is an unexpected increase in the number of requests, the load is evenly distributed among the servers and viewers get fast responses and a quality viewing experience. If the CDN has a few servers, it might cause congestion and give very slow responses and is most probably not your preferred choice
Geographic distribution of the servers
Another important feature to consider in your live streaming CDN is a good distribution of servers. It is not enough to have many servers concentrated in a geographical region, a good CDN should have servers evenly distributed around the world.
CDNs usually operate via points of presence, often called PoP. Pops are edge servers in the CDN network that deliver content directly to viewers. So a very good live streaming experience would also be determined by the viewer’s closeness to a PoP edge server.
Most live streaming CDNs are concentrated in major cities in the US and Europe, leaving a very sparse and sometimes, completely non-existent number of servers in other regions. So these regions are assured of very low quality video live streams, super slow download speeds, many buffering problems and incredibly long video start up times.
If you have an exclusive target audience, your servers should be concentrated in their geographic region. If however, your content is more general and your audience global, it is recommended that you use a CDN with a global distribution of servers.
You should also consider the performance of your live stream CDN, as per its speed. It is important that your choice of CDN has high speed as it would greatly reduce buffering problems It is usually difficult to compare CDN speed directly since it depends on a size and some other variable factors. To get a sense of CDN speed, you can look at various comparisons of different providers. However, we can look at average performance to get a sense of CDN speed. Most of the comparisons make an average of the CDNs performance over long periods of time to determine which is fastest.
Live streaming features
For your particular live stream, you should also consider what features come along with the CDN package you choose. Some CDNs provide a greater range of features than others. For instance, on some CDN networks, it is easy to run live channel provisioning. In this case, you can launch as many live streams as you need to, simultaneously.
If you intend to broadcast sensitive material, you should consider a CDN that provides security systems. Your CDN can help to prevent distributed denial of service (DDos) attacks. These attacks mostly occur when a site or resource is flooded by multiple, simultaneous attempts of breach. If your CDN is redundant and has multiple access points, your content’s security may be breached easily.
Most CDNs with good quality give you detailed analytics of your livestream. Basically, this gives you data on how many viewers saw your content, the geographical location with the most participation and other relevant information. These analytics can also be categorized by region, file, type of data and so on. These analytics could also be used as a marketing tool or for reference purposes.
There are generally many factors that influence the pricing of CDNs. Factors like the volume and the geographic location of your target audience go a long way in determining how much you would pay for each livestream. Now if you have spikes in your volume, ie your video goes viral and more people than you anticipated begin to tune in, many CDNs will price you at a higher rate. It’s referred to as “burst” rate pricing.
Amazingly, some CDNs have a standard price for delivery all round the world. So whether your traffic goes higher than the ceiling or lower than the floor, there are no extra charges. Most of them are however peer-to-peer based CDNs.
Finally, since most CDNs are quite expensive, it is important that your preferred choice should be cost-effective. There are both paid and free CDN options available.
Check out www.cdn.net for globally distributed CDN for live streaming at cost effective rate, as low as $0.06/GB!