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.
For the past year, the AmpLive team has been hard at work collecting feedback, re-imagining and building a new platform with exciting features and insights that help marketers make better decisions for live events. With AmpLive’s new platform, we’ve focused on making it easy for users to boost live content on their own with a more intuitive interface and self-service options. Expect more control over the distribution of your boosted content.
We built the platform from the ground up for and by marketers. It’s faster and easier to use than ever before. Promote an event in just minutes with our completely redesigned boost flow. One click changes to events. Break timing into multiple segments to drive more traffic towards key moments in your broadcast. No PhD necessary.
Drive Conversion with Actionable Audience Insights
You may have experienced email list fatigue or your attendance rate is dropping. Now with the AmpLive Pixel, you can engage your core audience and bring them back to your live event so that they can hear your message. And, when you log into AmpLive, you can expect to see rich, real-time audience insights that will provide you with a deep, more actionable understanding of viewers and of your event. We’ve expanded the platform to focus on the 3 core parts of setting up your distribution strategy for live video.
Target Over 30 Million Professionals by Company and Job Title
We have also optimized and have created a stronger distribution network so that we can continue to drive millions of engaged viewers to your live event. We are introducing Account Based Distribution so that you can target those companies with your live events and expand your reach to a targeted audience. Currently, we’ve identified over 8,000 companies and 22 job titles across over 100 industries so you can fine tune your distribution to over 30M professionals. Lastly, we added major improvements to our audience retargeting technology.
More importantly, we have made every segment, job title, company, engagement rate, and characteristic actionable. With this update, you can control every aspect of communication with those folks that tuned-in to your event through our retargeting tools.
Access On The Go
Also, to help you get answers quickly, we’ve launched a companion mobile app to the AmpLive platform for real-time analytics wherever you are.
We would like to invite you to be one of the first to learn more about our powerful new tools and request a demo before we go live in February.
These improvements are just the beginning. We’re excited about our 2018 roadmap with more core features to help you connect with a qualified audience. Check out the new platform and let us know if you have any feedback or product features you would like to see next. Grab a demo slot and let’s talk.
Do you know what CDN Network is used by your Online Video Platform (OVP)? If not, this may be an important issue to look into. A CDN can affect every performance indicator for online video operations. This article will examine the impacts of CDN choice on performance, and look at which CDNs are best for optimal video delivery performance.
Delivery: the central challenge of live streams
The average internet speed is trending up, and mobile networks are faster than ever. Despite this, delivery is still the central challenge for live streaming and online video. Major live events like the recent fight between Mayweather and McGregor have continued to be plagued by stream failure and other delivery issues.
Streamers of Super Bowl 51 also encountered some widespread and significant problems.
These stories illustrate the delivery challenges of live streaming. To a lesser extent, the same problems also occur with video-on-demand. Video, especially live video, is a bandwidth-intensive, technically-intensive process. Therefore, it is worth diving into the topic of the CDN network, how these systems work, and crucially, how to know if the CDN your OVP is working with is up to the task of streaming a demanding event.
Introduction to CDN network
Before we move further, let’s define some critical terms. First, CDN Network. The term CDN stands for “Content Delivery Network.” A CDN is, first and foremost, a network of computer servers. The job of a server is to “serve” (deliver) data to users.
Whenever you visit a website, watch a video, or take any action on the internet, a server is involved. Your computer sends a request to the server, which delivers the content to you.
A CDN network is made up of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers located around the world. This design means that any internet user is physically closer to some servers than others. A CDN will automatically link viewers to the closest, fastest available server. This reduces problems with buffering and lagging.
Additionally, a CDN network protects against common failures. Since there are so many nodes, the system is highly redundant. Even a hardware failure usually results in minimal or no disruption to service.
The basics of choosing an OVP
Video is a very powerful tool for communication. We live in a visual world, and young people especially are the online video generation. Any business or organization wanting to take advantage of this has to come up with a method for hosting and delivering video content.
Most turn to free live streaming services such as YouTube Live or Facebook Live. However, as free networks, these have some major drawbacks. For example, every YouTube video contains the YouTube logo and links to their website. This is a drawback for many professional users who prefer a clean look.
Additional drawbacks of YouTube and Facebook include:
- Indiscriminate advertising, which can distract from your message
- Often blocked in schools, workplaces, and universities
- Advanced features, such as monetization, are missing or limited
More discerning professional users will want a professional OVP. A professional OVP platform differs from a free platform in a number of key ways.
Advertising – a professional OVP won’t include any advertising, except that which you choose to include.
Branding – a professional OVP will allow you to insert your own branding. This is often called a “white label” service.
Monetization – a professional OVP may contain features to help you monetize your OTT video via pay-per-view, advertising, or subscriptions.
Management – a professional OVP should include a powerful yet easy-to-use management console or dashboard for organizing content.
Integration – a professional OVP should provide APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow you to integrate with existing workflows and create new apps easily.
CDN – finally, a professional OVP should use a high-performance CDN network. We’ll explore what that means in more detail now.
To learn more about choosing an OVP, check out our detailed essay on this subject.
Why CDN network matters
Different CDNs provide different features and levels of performance. They are also optimized for different forms of content. For example, some CDNs focus on images, others on video content, others on downloads. Still other will deliver all types of content.
So how do these differences between CDNs play out?
Point of Presence
One example is what’s called “point of presence,” or POP. POP refers to the geographical distribution of the servers used by a given OVP network. The closer servers are located to viewers, the better your stream will perform. More POP is better.
That’s why we recommended looking for a CDN with a large and widely distributed POP. If your audience is concentrated in certain countries or regions, look for a CDN with plenty of servers nearby.
Speed and Latency
When it comes to live streaming, speed is always a concern. However, it’s difficult to compare one CDN to another on a pure-speed (or latency) basis. Besides this, the internet speed of the broadcaster and the viewers is often more important.
Instead, we recommend looking at the speed with which a CDN can operate. One measure of this is the provisioning of new live channels. For example our own OVP, DaCast, works with Akamai—the largest and one of the most respected CDNs in the world.
This partnership allows us to provide all DaCast users with unlimited streaming channels. You can create a new channel and begin streaming instantly. Many other OVP / CDN partnerships are only able to offer one of a few live channels. On top of this, new channels must be requested days or weeks in advance.
CDNs distribute load across a wide variety of servers. In the event that your main website goes down, content can still be accessible via the content delivery network.
For live streamers, this manifests via the “backup URL.” This Akamai URL means that your stream will fall-back on a secondary stream if failures occur. This minimizes disruption for viewers.
Most CDN’s are highly reliable. However, sometimes problems can arise. In this case, it’s worth looking into customer support. Most often, you’ll be contacting customer support at your OVP, rather than at the CDN.
Some OVPs offer much better customer support than others (DaCast offers 24/7 support).
A CDN can contribute greatly to security.
This distributed network has a secondary benefit. The broad surface area provided by spreading content across the network can mitigate common hacking attacks such as DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service).
On top of this, top CDNs like Akamai are constantly researching, mitigating, and responding to emerging security threats.
Cost is always a factor in business decisions. A CDN allows you to gain access to a scalable system to meet any major spike in demand for your content. If you built your own servers, you’d need to vastly overbuild in order to meet peak demand. A CDN is a smart alternative.
Some CDNs deliver better price-to-performance ratios. Additionally, working with a company like DaCast gives you access to a powerful top-tier CDN at a very competitive price. The alternative—seeking a contract directly—would have significant pricing barriers.
Which CDN does your OVP use?
Anyone who is involved or getting involved in live streaming or online video should research content delivery networks. Learn about the difference between various platforms, and how various OVPs use CDNs. This will help you make a better informed decision about which platform to use.
It’s also important to know that many OVPs don’t include a CDN by default, like DaCast does. Instead, adding CDN delivery is an additional payment option. You can use an external CDN service, however this adds more expense and the hassle of managing multiple service contracts.
Here are the CDNs used by a few popular OVPs.
|Brightcove||Internal CDN / Bring Your Own|
|Kaltura||Internal CDN / Bring Your Own|
CDNs are an important topic to understand for anyone in the video industry. Hopefully this article has educated you about how CDNs work and why they are important. Do you know which CDN your OVP uses? If not, now’s the time to learn.
Thanks for reading, and as always—best of luck with your live streams!