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Cost-effective streaming: Save money while maximising performance to survive & thrive

By Shirish Nadkarni

Demand for video is going through the roof, particularly in the wake of the worldwide shift from traditional broadcasting to streaming. Companies are facing increasing pressure to deliver more content to more viewers and accommodate live streaming, ultra-high definition (UHD) and low latency, while maintaining an exceptional quality of experience — and all these requirements mean burgeoning delivery costs.

“Our 1400+ media customer base has made us acutely aware of these rising costs,” John Wastcoat, Senior Vice-President, Business Development and Marketing, Zixi, told APB+. “Whether through traditional methods like satellite and dedicated fibre infrastructure, or with next-generation IP and cloud deployments, the expenses associated with compute and egress costs can quickly accumulate.”

Paul Calleja, CEO of software-defined video network GlobalM, remarked, “This is an industry trend we are noticing, and it is primarily due to the amount of GEO satellite capacity that will be available in the coming years.

“As satellite industry investments refocus on data and LEO networks, traditional capacities age. In some cases, they will not be replaced; therefore, this is increasing the total cost of the available capacity.” 

Moreover, the cost of human resources in video delivery is rising. With engineering resources becoming scarcer, it has become more expensive to manage and operate IP video delivery infrastructure.

So acute is the problem of spiraling delivery costs, which are projected to increase by as much as 42% over the next five years as video demand continues to soar, that more efficient and cost-effective delivery solutions have become essential to counter the rapid increase in traffic. 

“The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to mean investing in more infrastructure capacity or expansive upgrades,” said Elodie Levrel, Corporate Marketing & Communications Director, Broadpeak, which designs and manufactures video delivery components for content providers and network service providers.

“Thanks to cost-effective distribution strategies powered by smart technologies, businesses can limit the investments in infrastructure upgrades or avoid new deployments and keep up with the evolving landscape of video delivery without breaking the bank. And even save money along the way!”

It is axiomatic that cost reduction in video distribution is crucial for companies looking to remain competitive in the market. With the rising popularity of streaming services and the proliferation of video content, businesses must find ways to deliver high-quality video to retain end-users while keeping costs in check. By optimising their distribution networks and adopting more efficient technologies, companies can streamline operations, improve performance, and ultimately gain a competitive edge.

Decreasing the costs of video distribution can have a direct impact on the overall profitability of a business. As the demand for video content continues to grow, companies that are able to deliver video efficiently and cost-effectively can increase their margins and drive revenue growth. 

“By investing in solutions that cut distribution costs, businesses can improve their bottom line and allocate resources towards other areas of the business, such as content creation and customer acquisition,” said Levrel. “Ultimately, implementing cost-effective distribution strategies can help businesses achieve long-term sustainability and success in the rapidly evolving video delivery landscape.”

Broadpeak believes that there are four pillars to contain and reduce streaming costs:

  • Open CDN, which emphasises the importance of utilising existing infrastructure to deliver streaming services and sharing resources from ISPs. By mutualising existing CDN resources belonging to ISPs, video services providers can avoid the need to deploy and maintain their own streaming servers, resulting in cost savings. 
  • Streaming performance, which aims to optimise efficiency and therefore reduce the number of servers, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and power consumption. By streamlining operations and deploying advanced high-performing technologies, video service providers can achieve improvements in energy efficiency and cost savings for video streaming services. 
  • Cloud technology can also bring powerful tools to reduce further the cost of video delivery, in particular in the way caches are deployed in a video distribution system. These allow one-to-many connections — content is downloaded just once down to the cache level, and then replicated as many times as requested by users.
  • Multicast ABR (MABR, or multicast adaptive bit rate) revolutionises the delivery of live events to large audiences by providing the same physical stream to all users, even during massive events with millions of viewers. By leveraging MABR, companies can significantly reduce network dimensioning, and therefore the costs associated with delivering high-quality streaming content.

“By implementing these cost-effective solutions, companies can optimise streaming performance, resource allocation, and operational efficiency to provide high-quality content to a broad audience in a more environmentally friendly manner, and at lower costs,” said Levrel.

Other companies operating in this segment of the broadcast industry are employing different strategies to help their customers slash video delivery costs. Using compression algorithms with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), Harmonic, which provides video streaming and broadband solutions, looks to continuously improve encoding efficiency.

“The latest example is a dynamic frame rate change triggered by AI/ML technology that can save around 10% -15% additional bandwidth and is complementary to our Emmy Award-winning EyeQ technology, which can reduce bandwidth and storage expenses by up to 50%,” said Eric Gallier, Harmonic’s Vice-President of Video Solutions. 

“These AI-based compression algorithms apply to MPEG-4 advanced video coding (AVC), high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) and versatile video coding (VVC).”

At the 2024 NAB Show in April, Harmonic announced that its AI-based PURE compression engine now supports VVC, offering up to 40% – 45% bandwidth savings compared with HEVC, and more than 65% savings versus AVC. 

“Transitioning from one codec to the next can take service providers time, but we believe adopting these new codecs is an effective way to contain video delivery costs,” said Gallier.

“Our PURE Compression Engine and EyeQ technology address the rise in video delivery costs, leveraging AI. EyeQ technology empowers service providers to reduce storage and CDN requirements by up to 50%, cutting costs, minimising buffering times, and improving video quality, all powered by AI.”

AI and ML technologies are also employed at Zixi to develop features for monitoring, fault finding, and root-cause analysis, drastically reducing the time and money historically allocated by broadcasters for these functions. 

“These advancements reduce the operational costs of video delivery systems, enabling customers to allocate their budgets toward business growth or helping the bottom line,” said Zixi’s Wastcoat. “The industry average RCA (root-cause analysis) cost per channel is US$500,000 per year. Our solutions reduce RCA time and resource exposure, allowing focus on content creation and audience engagement.”

The Zixi Software-Defined Video Platform (SDVP) and Zixi ZEN Master both have a wide range of features and functionalities specifically developed to reduce the strain of video delivery cost on its consumers. 

“The SDVP with the Zixi Protocol is 14 times more compute efficient than alternatives, using only 7% of the compute power,” said Wastcoat. “Running on ARM Processors (like AWS Graviton 2/3) offers an additional 50% cost and energy savings over Intel, reducing infrastructure and the associated costs of compute, engineering, operations and energy consumption. 

“The bandwidth optimisation is realised by null packet compression and video payload awareness in the transport stream for cloud egress cost deduction. These efficiencies enable broadcasters to allocate resources more effectively, reducing the total cost of ownership for video streaming.”

As for GlobalM, its technology leverages low-cost public internet links for all forms of live content. The software-defined video network orchestrates resources for video transport services, and the network can scale to multiple endpoint locations around the world, geolocating network resources for each origin and destination and scaling to multiple takers with a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for each destination. 

“It can provide high quality of service, which is usually associated with traditional fibre and satellite networks,” said GlobalM’s Calleja. “Our technology can be used in a private, public or hybrid cloud arrangement and allows for internet-based IP services to be redundant and scale just like you would expect with satellite and/or a private leased line network. 

“The cost per service for a contribution or distribution is therefore much lower than traditional methods and uses open standards and IT-based hardware, which further lowers the overall expense of transporting content.” 

GlobalM claims that its software-defined video network products help companies of all sizes to set up, operate and manage video services for themselves or their clients in a cost-effective way. 

Developed for a diverse range of users, including network operators, broadcasters and event producers, GlobalM can be used with any secure reliable transport (SRT), reliable internet stream transport (RIST) or real time messaging protocol (RTMP) compliant encoder or decoder, as well as with the integrated SRT mobile app for iOS.

“From sport federations and leagues to news organisations, broadcasters and ProAV productions, GlobalM is used to provide high quality, low-latency links, point-to- multipoint, all over the world,” said Calleja. 

“As the costs rise for traditional video delivery, GlobalM can meet the needs of organisations feeling that pressure and continue business as usual with a robust and proven solution that meets all their technical and budgetary requirements.

“The right video networking solution is crucial for maintaining cost-effective operations, and network configurations should be fast and secure and keep all live and file-based transmissions in one place.”

The basic aim of the exercise to reduce costs in video delivery from the 42% increase level projected for 2029 would be to optimise operations, reduce energy consumption, and enhance the over-all user experience while staying competitive in the video streaming industry.

Indeed, utilising a cost-efficient video delivery eco-system is becoming a do or die matter as we enter the world of AI/ML solutions.

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