Live streaming is breaking all sorts of records. Tens of millions now regularly tune into major live video stream broadcasts. That’s a huge audience. But with huge audiences can come technical issues. Major live streams have been plagued in the past by all sorts of quality problems.
Any broadcaster wants to avoid these issues. This blog will look at quality problems and how to prevent them. Specifically, we’re going to look at how to scale a live video stream to hundreds of thousands, millions, or tens of millions of users.
This entails a number of different factors. Quality when streaming to a large audience involves a big technology stack. There are multiple points of potential failure. Luckily, live streaming has been going through a trial by fire as it becomes increasingly popular. This blog will teach you the important steps to ensure quality—no matter what.
Why is live video streaming to a large audience difficult?
Non-technical readers should read this to understand why streaming to a large audience is difficult. When data is sent across the internet, it travels a convoluted path. A live stream typically flows from a video cameras, to a live stream encoding software or hardware, to a local network, to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), to a live streaming CDN (Content Delivery Network), and then finally to viewers (via their ISPs).
This data typically travels via cable (although WiFi may play a role in the early stages, depending on your streaming setup). There are many areas of this process where bottlenecks can occur. Cables have limited bandwidth. Encoders can be overloaded. Local networks can be slow.
The higher quality your broadcast, and the larger your audience, the more total data you need to send. The more data you send, the longer it may take to arrive.
What you need to know to reach audiences of 1 million+
These problems can be bypassed, with the right approach.Huge audiences can be found for live sports, business streaming, non-profits, and more. But how exactly can you scale your live video stream to reach a huge audience? Let’s move on now to these details. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the following topics:
Let’s get to it.
Make sure you have enough bandwidth
The first key to reaching a huge audience with your live video stream is making sure you have enough bandwidth. For broadcasters, this means specifically looking at upload speed.
The speed of any internet connection is measured in two different ways. Download measures how fast you can retrieve content from the internet. Upload measures how fast you can send content out.
Typically, upload speeds are much slower than download speeds. However, most modern connections are capable of 25 Mbps upload speed or so. This is more than capable for a High Definition live video stream in multiple bitrates.
To check your internet speeds, visit testmy.net. I recommend running at least three tests over a period of time, then averaging the results to determine your upload speed.
Maximize the speed of your internet connection
The next essential step is making sure that you can actually take advantage of all that upload speed. There are a few specific recommendations we have here.
First, use a wired internet connection (Ethernet cable) whenever possible. Ethernet is simply faster and more reliable than WiFi. Even modern WiFi, which can match Ethernet speeds in some instances, isn’t as steady as a wired connection.
Second, if you must use WiFi, get the best signal possible. This may mean moving closer to your router. There are a number of factors that play into the strength of a WiFi signal. Check out this guide to improving WiFi connection speeds if you must stream via wireless signal.
Third, remove other internet-connected devices from the network. If you’re trying to live stream, and a colleague is simultaneously watching an HD video stream in their office, it may cause problems. Whenever possible, try to use a dedicated line for live streaming.
Fourth, close other internet-connected apps on your computer. If you’re using a computer-based software encoder (as most broadcasters do), make sure that any extraneous apps aren’t clogging up your internet connection. Close unnecessary email clients, chat apps, web browsers, downloads, and so on.
Stream in multiple bitrates to reach your entire audience
If you’re trying to reach a million people, you’re likely reaching a diverse audience. It may include users on a wide variety of device types and connection speeds. Some may be watching on an antique smartphone via a 3G cell connection. Others may be watching via the latest 4G LTE. Some may be on a fiber optic connection, while other may be on rural DSL lines.
The point is, you have to provide a good experience to all of them if you expect them to keep watching.
The best way to do this is by providing your live video stream in multiple bitrates. Bitrate corresponds with quality, as well as with connection speed. When used with an adaptive video player, this strategy means that viewers with fast internet will be delivered a high-bitrate, high-quality version of the stream. Those with slow internet will be delivered a lower-bitrate, lower-quality version of the stream.
While the quality may be lower, this approach minimizes or eliminates buffering issues. This is essential, since viewers begin to abandon a video as soon as buffering begins. Around 6 percent leave per second of buffering.
Choose a robust encoder
If you’re streaming to a very large audience, you need a robust encoder. An encoder is what transcodes video from your cameras into a format suitable for a live video stream. They come in two varieties: hardware or software.
Video streaming software is generally more popular. They run on computers. If you’re using a software encoder, the best way to ensure robust operation is to run it on a powerful computer. Make sure you have plenty of processing power, RAM, and so on.
Hardware encoder selection is beyond the scope of this article, but most hardware encoders are high-quality equipment capable of streaming to a huge audience.
Use the right encoder settings
We recommend the following settings for almost every live video stream.
- Video codec: h.264
- Keyframe interval: 2 seconds
Standard video resolution settings
- 426 x 240 pixels (240p)
- 640 x 360 (360p, Low Definition)
- 854 x 480 (480p, Standard Definition)
- 1280 x 720 (720p HD)
- 1920 x 1080 (1080p, or Full HD)
- 3840 x 2160 (4K or Ultra HD)
Many different bitrates are acceptable for a live video stream. In fact, you may wish to stream in multiple bitrates, as we’ve mentioned. These settings should be matched with the resolutions listed above.
- 500 Kbps (lowest required bitrate for streaming, for 240p)
- 1.5 Mbps (recommended for quality viewing, for 360p)
- 3 Mbps (for 480p Standard Definition)
- 5-8 Mbps (for 720p and 1080p High Definition)
- 25 Mbps (for 4K Ultra High Definition)
- Audio codec: AAC
- Audio bitrate: 64 Kbps for 240p and 360p video. 128 Kbps for 480p and 720p video. 256 Kbps for 1080p video and up.
Using a powerful CDN to deliver your live video stream
A CDN, or Content Delivery Network, is very important for streaming to a large audience. A CDN network is composed of servers located around the world. This network will deliver live streams to viewers based on the fastest possible server (generally, one that is geographically close to them) at any given time.
This “edge routing” reduces bottlenecks and delivers the best possible experiences to viewers.
Generally, we recommend using a video streaming service that partners with a global CDN like Akamai. This will give you the best of both worlds. From the CDN, you’ll get world-class content delivery. And from the video streaming service, you’ll get a set of video-specific features to ease all your live streaming needs.
Click here to check out our comparison of video streaming platforms.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the challenges of live streaming to huge audiences. While they are significant, the rewards can be even bigger. The tips we’ve provided here should help you to successfully stream to a million viewers or more, all at once.
Best of luck with your live video stream, and thanks for reading!
Max Wilbert is an author for DaCast. DaCast Streaming as a Service™ is a self-service, white-label, online video platform delivering live streaming and VOD over the Akamai CDN at affordable prices. A comprehensive set of content management and paywall tools allow one-stop streaming and monetization totally under the control of the broadcaster. Video APIs and SDKs are available for a quick and easy integration of all DaCast features into a wide variety of digital media workflows and for resellers.