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Who pays for streaming video?

As streaming video services expand and build audience, who pays for the costs of streaming video to the audience? Most communication networks are built on the assumption that only a subset of users are active at any time but with increasing amounts of time being spend "online", we're seeing network design assumptions breakdown with the emergence of new services such as streaming TV over the Internet.

There's an interesting article on this issue on the UK site "The Independent" covering the reactions of UK based broadband providers to the BBC iPlayer streaming video service. The core of the issue is covered in the first couple of paragraphs of the article:

"Some of the largest broadband providers in the UK are threatening to "pull the plug" from the BBC's new iPlayer unless the corporation contributes to the cost of streaming its videos over the internet.

The likes of Tiscali, BT and Carphone Warehouse are all growing concerned that the impact of hundreds of thousands of consumers watching BBC programmes on its iPlayer – which allows viewers to watch shows over the internet – will place an intolerable strain on their networks."

Broadband access networks such as DSL, Cable etc. rely heavily on "over-subscription" – the system is designed to give good service when a subset of the users are active at any one time – this design principle factors into the sizing of the provider's link to the Internet core, router and switch capacity etc. Too many simultaneous users or higher average bandwidth per user can quickly invalidate these design assumptions and service declines for everyone.

Unfortunately, the answer isn't simply increasing the size and capacity of the network links – you have to apply more intelligent design and caching to the network so that you don't keep dragging the same content multiple times across the entire network. I wrote about this over a year ago but there hasn't been much in the way of new developments in the caching area.

Ultimately, these kinds of services can only be sensibly scaled by caching and serving content from the edges of the network. We're going to hear a lot more on this topic as services like Joost, iPlayer etc. grow their audience base.

 

Comments

Steve Alg

Stu,

Caching may help for places like YouTube (where there's no DRM), but how could you cache something like the iPlayer when the stream is encoded (at the source end) for the individual user?

DRM at the edge network?

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STU PHILLIPS
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA

Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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