Can OTT platforms survive without content distribution networks?

Gaurav Malik

To think that content providers like Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, were unknown until a few years ago is unimaginable, especially since the landscape in India is entirely different today. The fast-digitising nation is adopting the ‘on-the-go entertainment’ format with a great fervour, with several over-the-top (OTT) platforms providing Video-on-Demand (VoD) services to consumers. Thus, it’s not surprising that PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forecasts that India will emerge as one of the top 10 OTT markets globally in the next four years.

But as the Indian OTT market looks towards a bright future, another question arises – can OTT platforms survive without a Content Distribution Network (CDN)? Bringing an OTT service to market isn’t as simple as having video content and a server to deliver it. Before addressing this, we should first consider the industry challenges of Indian OTT players.

Challenges in the OTT Industry

OTT platforms have the important task of curating quality content that customers would continually return to consume. They have to simultaneously generate awareness of their platform, ensure the viability of their content, the usability of the platform by a user, certify quality, and maintain relevance with their target audiences. These processes by themselves are very complex and demanding. They require the undivided attention of the OTT platform provider. But the true challenge lies in the content delivery.

OTT customers are often mobile viewers and consuming content from a variety of places – at work, while on vacation, and waiting in line. As a result, the OTT platform provider also has to ensure that content can be delivered to users across different geographical locations, network conditions and dissimilar devices (for example desktops, laptops, smartphones, tabs, feature phone, and so on. These factors affect content delivery, network congestions on the public internet contribute to the delays. The geographical location of a web server (where a particular content is stored) to the end-user, for instance, has to be kept optimal to prevent lags and latency in content delivery. Similarly, different devices and web browsers support different video formats. The prevailing network conditions can, moreover, affect a video browsing experience and cause attrition.

According to Limelight Networks’ State of The User Experience report, the number of people who do not return to a website after a slow experience more than doubled within the last year. This figure continues to increase as content consumers today assume superlative speed and high-quality media as a basic element of media streaming.

Understanding this context, the question stands: can OTT platforms survive without a CDN?

Since content is the proverbial king and has the most dominant role in the overall arithmetic, OTT platforms are largely involved in assuming responsibility for this important component. The delivery of this content to its users is outsourced to CDNs. CDNs have a globally distributed system of data centres and proxy servers that store a particular content for OTT platforms. These players leverage the most advanced systems and technologies to deliver highly-personalized content with incomparable precision to all end-users.

Here are some of the advantages of CDNs that make the role essential to OTT platforms:

Seamless Content Delivery

Because the geographical distance of a content consumer and format supported by the user’s device directly affect media streaming, CDNs ensure content availability at both source and destination, while simultaneously detecting the device, platform, and prevailing network conditions to customise broadcast settings and content formats. This approach enables them to deliver an optimal viewing experience across all environments, platforms, and devices.

Private Optical Fibre Framework

CDNs have their own global private network comprising optical fibre framework. This ensures that their content delivery is free from congestions that are otherwise common within the public internet. They also detect the prevailing network condition of a user and adapt the video to ensure an uninterrupted media browsing experience.

Global Scalability

The global infrastructure of CDNs ensures that the viewing experience of a viewer within the target geography of an OTT platform can also be experienced by a viewer that is accessing its services from another continent. This also enables the platform to scale its services globally with greater ease without experiencing infrastructural bottlenecks. CDNs can handle bandwidth spikes, provide stable service, and deliver high-quality video to even the most remote areas around the globe.

Dynamic and User-centric Service Enhancements

The convergence of CDNs and OTT platforms also paves the way for dynamic service enhancements through the user-centric consumption data reports generated by CDNs. This access to critical information helps OTT platforms derive actionable insights and make positive business decisions, while at the same time identifying unmet needs emerging within the market. Cutting-edge CDNs also help in eliminating cybersecurity-related challenges and ensure security of data at source, in transit, and in use – thereby extending all-inclusive, end-to-end services to OTT platforms.

In conclusion, all these factors help OTT platforms effect a significant difference to the quality of user experiences and are making CDNs a core element within their success. So, as the names of various OTT platforms and their exclusive shows start coming up in the day-to-day conversations, we now know how CDNs are contributing to this development.

(The writer is Country Director – India of Limelight Networks. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of TelevisionPost.com)