Video Streaming Surges Amidst Challenging Times

The coronavirus pandemic impacts virtually every aspect of our lives. From shifts in business practices to adjustments in our personal routines, the changes are dramatic. While you’d be hard-pressed to find an industry that isn’t feeling the effects of widespread stay-at-home orders, some sectors are surging during these uncertain times.
9/06/20
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By Max Kalmykov
Vice President, Media & Entertainment
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Video Streaming Surges Amidst Challenging Times

As the majority of people continue to work at home, and many parents seek activities to entertain their children while schools remain closed, video streaming consumption is skyrocketing. In fact, the growth of video streaming was so rapid that the EU asked Netflix and YouTube to reduce the video quality on their services to avoid an overload on overall bandwidth capacity.

Handling Video Streaming Spike

Although video streaming platforms may be considered fortunate to be experiencing a surge in usage during the pandemic, the growth brings about a new set of challenges. As a large percentage of people find themselves at home with extra free time, video streaming providers must implement methods to effectively handle the expanding usage of their services.

To better understand the impact on video streaming platforms resulting from the spike in traffic, I reached out to my colleagues at DataArt to gain insight into the technical implications of the increased usage.

Sergey Remizov, a solution architect at DataArt specializing in video streaming, believes that disabling high-resolution streaming is the ideal method for avoiding complications during the surge.

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Due to social distancing around the world, streaming video services are facing an increase in both new customers and volumes of network traffic. Most of the new video content is available in HD or 4K quality, and the increase in video streaming usage leads to an additional load on network providers. Some European countries have already asked Netflix to switch to lower resolution streams to reserve network bandwidth for other types of traffic.

Sergey Remizov Senior Solution Architect

While high-quality video streaming is enjoyable to watch, Sergey’s message is clear, and we may see other countries joining the EU in requesting a reduction in video streaming quality to retain bandwidth for other purposes.

“The situation in the US is slightly different,” Sergey continued. “We hear many complaints about the quality of internet connections over the past few weeks, yet it seems that no one is pointing the finger at video streaming. In terms of technical aspects, the challenges are quite distinct and can be linked to scalability. Big video streaming platforms already know how to deal with spikes in traffic and active/new users, which usually occurs when a new season of a popular show is released. However, the current situation is different because the increased load is now relatively stable. Due to the rise in demand, platforms may face an increase in hardware and cloud requirements.”

So, how should video streaming platforms best manage the rise in usage while the coronavirus situation continues?

“It’s essential to find a sweet spot here,” Sergey recommended. “Maybe delay auto-switching from HD to 4K resolution, as there’s a much bigger chance that the network on the customer side is not in great shape and the stream will, either way, have to fall back to HD/SD in the next few minutes.”

While everyone wants to watch videos at the highest possible quality, it’s essential to retain bandwidth for work and other purposes, so a resolution reduction may be the best choice while the video streaming surge continues.

The increased load on networks resulting from the dramatic spike in video consumption creates a complex challenge for platforms with many different technical components to consider. I spoke to DataArt’s solution architect, Andrey Sorokin, to deepen my understanding of the technological obstacles that video streaming platforms must resolve in order to prosper during the lockdown.

Andrey pointed to the following potential breaking points that might be experienced by streaming platforms in the current situation:

  1. ISP bandwidth and other connectivity issues.
  2. The capabilities and compatibilities of video clients (e.g., supported codecs, VP8 versus H264, etc.).
  3. Media delivery related issues. P2P is undesirable for large numbers of participants because everyone will receive everyone else’s traffic, while the client-server is unable to scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous connections.
  4. In cases where video recording is required, several questions arise, including whether it should be resilient, should video codecs be enforced, and whether or not the server-side can store the data in real-time.
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To handle this situation optimally to avoid any technical difficulties, video providers must utilize an adaptive selection of points of presence with video traffic forwarding between backend servers. Furthermore, for platforms that have users from different geo areas, it’s a good idea to use multi-layered video encoding where possible, such as encoding the same video in different bandwidths and resolutions on the client-side.

Andrey Sorokin Senior Solution Architect

Lockdown Hits the Industry Hard

The current lockdown is hitting the film and video industries hard, forcing the reexamination of our business practices and future plans. Reports indicate that the global film industry is facing a loss of $5 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hot on the heels of 2019’s all-time global box office high of $31.1 billion, the international film industry now faces an unprecedented challenge. People can’t go to movie theaters, while actors and crews can’t join together to shoot new films.

The lockdown is causing industry concerns around the world, as theaters, actors, directors, and the rest of the film industry struggles to remain productive while the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to our health. Hollywood and the rest of the global film industry are already suffering, and some streaming services may find themselves in a similar situation soon if they’re unable to deliver new content. Of all the video streaming platforms, Netflix appears to have a distinct advantage with the largest number of projects in its pipeline, but only time will tell exactly how this will play out in the coming period.

Advertising Challenges, Subscriber Decline

People are spending more time than usual streaming video due to stay-at-home orders. This should be good news for ad revenue, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Not yet, at least.

The dramatic growth of video streaming results in additional available advertising time. However, while viewing consumption rises, the demand for ad space is declining due to the major slowdown of overall economic activity.

“We have had straight cancellations; we’ve had clients postponing campaigns,” explained Mike Evans, senior vice president of demand facilitation for SpotX, which works with more than 600 media companies with a wide reach of 42 million internet-connected TV households. “The volatility first and foremost—and the obvious one—is in travel. That’s taken a massive hit. I don’t know how that’s going to continue.”

At the same time, the increased ad space provides an opportunity for marketers to capitalize on the expansive viewership to spread their message widely. If the lockdown continues for much longer, I expect we’ll see new ad campaigns coming forward with innovative strategies that take advantage of the unusual situation people are currently facing around the world.

As the global economy sits idle, unemployment in the United States and elsewhere is skyrocketing. With business largely on hold, many people are expected to cancel their video streaming subscriptions until their income returns to normal. Sports streaming is taking the biggest hit as events continue to be canceled. ESPN is taking advantage of esports in an attempt to keep viewers entertained, and I expect to see various new initiatives popping up to fill the void until regular sporting events can be held again.

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for us all. Many streaming platforms and other companies are offering free content during this time to illustrate their generosity and good faith. Although the coronavirus situation continues to present serious challenges for our industry, there is still great hope that we’ll come out of this difficult period to enjoy a prosperous landscape for us all.

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