CDNs changing the OTT industry

The concept of “content is king” is long gone, as viewers have taken to over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Referring to its "State of Online Video" report, Limelight Networks noted that South-east Asians view an average of over eight-and-half hours of online video each week, among the highest globally; and with a wide range of platforms available, the viewing experience has become of paramount importance.


Viewers today expect a high-quality streaming experience, and will not hesitate to switch to alternative platforms if there are frequent interruptions caused by content latency or re-buffering. In fact, 66% of viewers will stop watching a video if it is buffered twice. 

The underlying challenges in the OTT industry
In such a competitive industry, it is imperative for platforms to curate quality content that will keep viewers coming back for more. OTT platforms encounter considerable difficulty in terms of discovering content and maintaining the desired viewer experience.

Even if a platform offers a large library of content, it is nearly impossible to retain users if the experience is not appropriate. Moreover, viewers expect consistent experience across all devices, be it desktops or mobile devices. 

Content also has to be delivered without delay or latency. Data transfer experiences delays when the distance between the data centre and the user or data source is increased. Content needs to be hosted as close as possible to the end-user, and relayed from there to avoid latencies. The OTT services of a platform, however, are accessed by a global audience. This requires OTT service providers to scale their infrastructure, and establish data centres, proxy servers, and service integrators on a global scale. 

How CDNs are changing the game for OTT platforms
While complex, these issues can be easily addressed through the use of content distribution networks (CDNs) — a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide fast delivery of Web content and deliver reliable access to viewers.

Seamless Content Distribution: The mandate of content distribution is handed over to CDNs by OTT platforms for a seamless delivery. These CDNs have an extensive content distribution framework that helps disseminate the content in the most efficient, effective and personalised format to each and every viewer.

Global scalability: Using CDNs also addresses the issue of scalability for a regional OTT platform. CDNs have their data centres and proxy servers distributed all across the globe, thereby saving OTT platforms from experiencing enormous infrastructure-related expenditure in scaling operations.

This enables OTT players to cumulatively rope in a sizeable user base from different countries, something that is not possible without this infrastructure.

Quality of Experience: With the wide variety of content available online, failing to deliver in terms of quality parameters results in subscriber attrition. Leading OTT platforms are ascertaining a superlative user experience by leveraging CDNs and their sophisticated technologies.

A few innovation-driven CDN players have also developed interactive real-time streaming technologies. For example, Limelight Networks itself provides sub-second delivery of live content; live streaming broadcast feed otherwise takes 30 seconds or more. 

Looking ahead involves going beyond expectations
Recognising the challenges of a saturated market, OTT players must start developing an approach that goes beyond curating compelling content. This includes employing digital infrastructure such as CDNs to deliver the highlight quality viewing experience to their viewers, with their technological edge and an unmatched global reach. 

Jaheer Abbas is senior director, South-east Asia and India, at Limelight Networks

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