Defining the stream optimization vertical - where do P2P solutions belong

Jan. 29, 2015

Streaming Media’s Dan Rayburn published an insightful commentary this week about the somewhat controversial streaming optimization product vertical. He summarized solutions in this vertical thus: “While many of them have very different solutions, the goal of all of them is the same. To reduce the size of video bitrates, without reducing quality.”

This provoked us to think about how our service is perceived by the industry because, so far, we have always described Viblast as a video optimization technology that uses P2P. Viblast brings to the table three main benefits: 1. Helps deliver higher video quality, 2. Handles viewership spikes and 3. Reduces OTT providers’ bandwidth consumption. However, we have nothing to do with encoding and changing bitrates - we look at the process of live streaming from a whole other vantage point. 

Reducing bitrates is just one way of optimizing video streaming, and it may address some of the associated problems. However, we do a whole other kind of optimization - not of the content, but of the way it is transported. Peer-to-peer solutions in general reduce the bandwidth required to stream video (optimizing bandwidth consumption) by offloading centralized streaming infrastructure and redistributing this load among the viewers.

In his excellent article, Dan Rayburn lists a number of issues OTT providers have encountered with current video optimization solutions. we'd venture that if you look at video optimization solutions that tackle the problems on the transportation front (delivery), a number of these concerns would either not be applicable or be negligible.

So here we would attempt to redeem the video optimization vertical by expanding its definition to include peer-to-peer solutions. To this end, we will draw upon Mr. Rayburn’s list of negative feedback by content providers regarding video optimization solutions in the encoding field. We’d like to explore what a transport solution such as Viblast adds to the equation and how it addresses some of the abovementioned concerns, plus a few more, typical for our peer-assisted segment.

  • Concern: The solution adds latency for live streaming

Our research has demonstrated that Viblast does not affect the latency of delivery. All HTTP delivery formats have a predefined latency in their specification and Viblast functions entirely within this range. You can also request our whitepaper covering this topic.

  • Concern: The solution doesn’t neatly fit into a production workflow

Viblast is designed to cooperate with existing streaming infrastructures, however complex they may be. What is more, should peer connectivity be limited for any reason, for example aggressive firewalls, the content would be served from the original streaming source only and playback will not be interrupted.

  • Concern: The solution pitches bandwidth savings that don’t really exist

From the point of view of an OTT provider, the bandwidth savings you would get with Viblast are very real - usually between 20 and 60%, though depending on the conditions. This is what one of the first companies that gave Viblast a try witnessed themselves: The Bulgarian National Television’s online channel peaked at 68% traffic optimization during one of its more popular programs.

  • Concern: Cost vs. ROI are not clear

Viblast’s main benefits address viewer quality of experience. We have decided to charge based on concurrent viewership brackets, which is where we believe the key proposition of our technology lies and where content providers experience the biggest problem. As our CEO Stefan Dimov likes to say, “For a live stream, buffering means no stream at all.” In that, we believe Viblast is definitely worth it, as it serves as a stream insurance policy and at the same time improves QoE. 

  • Concern: Peer-delivery solutions flood networks

This really depends on the way a technology is executed. In Viblast’s case, since the CDN is always available to serve the stream should a peer have difficulties connecting to the swarm, there is no need to send a video package multiple times, which would cause the flooding. So by always relying on the CDN as backup, we have eliminated the preconditions for flooding by design.

  • Concern: Viewers are required to download plugins

One of our distinguishing features, Viblast works entirely plugin-free.

  • Concern: Technology not compatible with DRM solutions

We always underline that Viblast is purely a transport solution. As such, it takes whatever the source has to give and delivers it unchanged. Should the content be DRMed, it will remain this way while Viblast duly delivers it to its destination.

  • Concern: Such solutions use their own, or obscure, streaming formats

In fact, Viblast uses the most popular adaptive streaming format, HLS. DASH support is coming up very soon.

  • Concern: Delivery depends on peer connectivity, so it is unreliable

Viblast does not replace the main streaming infrastructure, be it a CDN or an in-house solution. It is always there to handle peers who cannot connect to others. This is also why optimization is not 100%.

Plenty of room still open for discussion what qualifies as a video optimization solution and where does peer-assisted delivery technology fall. These were our five cents, let us know what you think on Twitter or by getting in touch directly.

 

Clarification note: The concerns that only apply to encoding solutions and not delivery ones are (in the wording of Mr. Rayburn): lack of real time processing; forces the client device to work harder; didn’t see any compression decreases that we couldn’t reproduce with our own transcoding system; affects the battery life of mobile phones; makes the encode less desirable for encapsulated streaming; solution is simply too slow; inconsistent reduction in file size; impacts other pieces of my workflow in a negative way.

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