Today's live-event viewers are increasingly shifting to online.
These surging online views increase the demands on OTT content providers. For example, viewers expect live streams even more than video-on-demand (VOD) to match the performance of traditional linear TV. It's not acceptable for online video to start buffering right before an athlete is about to make a game-winning play or an award show host is about to announce the winner of a statuette. Even smaller fluctuations in stream quality can cause viewers to tune out, which costs content providers valuable ad dollars.
Delivering live video can also be an order of magnitude more complex than delivering VOD. For example, sports leagues' blackout policies mean that many sports events can't be broadcast in certain geographical regions. To successfully stream live video at scale, content providers must be able to ensure that blackout policies are strictly adhered, even on mobile devices that users carry with them from location to location.
To meet these challenges, OTT content providers need a content delivery network (CDN) partners who understand how to deliver high-quality, reliable live video to mass audiences with minimal downtime. While advanced technology is an important piece of the puzzle, excellent customer service has an important role to play here, too. Behind every successful livestream is a team of experts troubleshooting issues and, ideally, anticipating problems before they even begin.
But how can a content provider tell whether their partner's customer service will be up to the task of supporting large-scale live streaming? Here are three signs to look for.
When a livestream has performance issues, the OTT content provider has a lot at stake. Every millisecond of buffering or blank screen represents lost revenue and reputational damage.
However, most CDNs aren't equipped to move quickly when a customer calls with a live streaming emergency. They route tech support calls through call centers where non-technical employees ask questions from a set script, wasting valuable minutes as they try to determine the category and urgency of the customer's request. Only after this process is over will the request be escalated to technical staff who can start actively working on the problem.
That's why best-in-class CDNs have technical staff pick up the phone to answer client requests as soon as they come in. When every "customer service representative" is an experienced engineer, problems get solved much more quickly, helping content providers maintain an uninterrupted, high-quality livestream.
The tech stack required for global video delivery is highly complex, and building a solution in-house is often prohibitively expensive. It's not surprising that many content providers have opted to build patchwork solutions from the services of many different vendors.
Unfortunately, that patchwork structure means that when there is an issue with a livestream, it's hard to find out quickly where the problem is in the pipeline. The content provider may have to call five or six different tech support numbers before they can identify whether the problem is in a point of presence (PoP) or at the last mile.
By contrast, a best-in-class CDN will provide an end-to-end solution for customers, bringing every stage of the video delivery process under one roof. That also means that their technical experts will have visibility into the entire pipeline so that whenever there is a problem, they can quickly identify its source.
Of course, some of the most important customer services happens behind the scenes, before the customer even makes a tech support call. In an ideal world, the vendor will notice a potential problem long before the viewer does and move quickly to correct the issue.
This kind of anticipatory response requires incredible visibility into the CDN's tech stack. A global CDN might have tens of thousands of servers spread out around the world, and each server might record hundreds of relevant performance metrics. No matter how large a customer service team a CDN has, it won't be possible for them to monitor the network manually.
A best-in-class CDN should have the tools and platforms in place to aggregate and analyze this data, surfacing only the data points that might be cause for concern. That way, engineers can focus on mitigating potential issues before they cause performance issues on the livestream.
Streaming live video can be a challenge, but it will go smoothly with a CDN partner that provides best-in-class customer support. If content providers look for the three marks of quality listed above, they will know they can rely on their CDN in a crisis – or to prevent the crisis before it even happens.