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'Insatiable demand' for streaming video puts pressure on providers

As consumers' expectations for live streaming video rise, "everyone just has to get better."

By , Network World
March 15, 2012 01:54 PM ET

Network World - Just as enterprise network managers brace for the flood of bandwidth-consuming content stemming from the NCAA men's basketball tournament, content delivery providers put in a significant amount of time preparing to meet the meteoric rise in demand.

This kind of preparation is something that many believe content delivery providers will need to get used to, as demand for live streaming of major events is growing far beyond the confides of March Madness.

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Scott Boyarsky, vice president of technology for Turner Sports Media, whose jointly sponsored NCAA March Madness Live online streaming service saw 26.7 million unique visits and 10.3 million hours of streaming video in the first three rounds of the 2011 tournament, says initial preparations for this year's tournament began in late November. As much work goes into supporting this two-week event as does for the launch of the entire regular season, Boyarski says.

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"With the complexity with an event like this, you have a short window where you're delivering [for] high expectation on a very finite amount of time, and on top of that, fast-motion sports is not like news or canned entertainment," Boyarsky says. "This is live sports. It takes a lot prep to get it right."

Boyarsky, as well as Turner Sports vice president of new products and services Michael Adamson, has spent much of his time lately in Turner's digital control room, which he says is comparable to that of a broadcast television operations center. There, Adamson says about two dozen professionals are on-hand "to monitor every aspect of the live product," which goes beyond maintaining the streaming broadcast and entails monitoring analytics, server loads, CDN loads and performance across the board.

"The way we prepare for it is we're constantly hardening our infrastructure platforms," Boyarsky says. "We're constantly fine-tuning and dialing our different tiers to ensure smooth delivery no matter the load."

However, the crowning of a tournament champion hardly means champagne and celebrations for Turner's content delivery team, which will have to quickly prepare for the next big thing.

Bill Wheaton, senior vice president and general manager for Akamai's media division, which worked with Turner to help maintain the online streaming service, says March Madness' inconvenient schedule for consumers makes it seem like the pinnacle for online streaming. In reality, it's just the latest in a long-running calendar of individual events that generate consistent growth in demand for constant access.

"It's more of a wave that's coming up that you just see building and building," Wheaton says. "People are getting used to access to that. And then on top of that, add more broadband, add more connectivity through the wireless networks, add more devices like the iPhone and the iPad, and all of a sudden you just see more and more people beginning to watch it on screens [of all types]."

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