Operators beware, live video is only going to make your lives more stressful

After a bit of frantic catch-up, it would appear Facebook is heading in the right direction in the live video arena.

Over the last twelve months, the number of live video broadcasts have increased more than four times, with the team now claiming the format accounts for 20% of total video over the same period. Facebook was late to the live video game, seemingly unsure about live user generated content, however Snapchat took the risk and claimed the reward with its Stories feature. Since then we’ve seen a number of new Facebook features which are remarkably similar to Snapchat’s…

“We’ve focused on making the Facebook Live experience more engaging, more fun, and more social,” said Fidji Simo, VP for Product and Engineering for Video, News and Advertising in News Feed.

“We’ve added live masks and new creative effects, built features that give publishers more control and flexibility over their broadcasts, and rolled out exciting new formats like Live 360 or Live Audio. And now, one in every five Facebook videos is a live broadcast.”

While the increased engagement from users will be a slap on the back for Facebook executives, the growing trend of live or on-demand user generated video will place another burden on an already struggling network. And if network owners are sweating now, the emphasis on new media (video and VR) in particular, is only going to gather momentum over the next couple of years.

To get a better grasp on trends, we got in touch with our colleague Aditya Kishore, who oversees video transformation content at Heavy Reading. Kishore told us the primary issue for network impact is video bit-rate. In theory, a live video streamed at 1 Mbps will have the same impact as an on-demand video streamed at 1 Mbps, though with on-demand content there is the opportunity to compress content more efficiently as it is less time sensitive.

Bearing this in mind, user generated content on Facebook or Twitter would mostly be on-demand, and therefore will not place as great a demand on the network, though additional media content obviously will. The big challenge for video will come with partnerships between rights holders and the online platforms.

Over the last couple of months, there have been a couple of partnerships announced which has seen the content platforms muscle more into live streaming, offering alternative competition to traditional broadcasters. A good example is a recently announced partnership between Amazon Prime and the National Football League, to deliver a live OTT digital stream of Thursday Night Football to a global audience across devices during the 2017 NFL season.

While the network will be under strain due to the volume of video which will be transmitted across the network, latency also becomes an issue. Kishore highlighted that for these platforms to succeed in live video streaming, the experience on a mobile device (for example) has to at least match what a user would get on a TV in the living room. If the rest of the city is celebrating a goal, while you are still watching the build-up play, it won’t be long before you ditch the streaming for more traditional means.

This is a major challenge for companies like Facebook or Amazon. Sports are the toughest form of video to compress, because there’s lots of detail, fast movement and constant activity. And above all else, sports fans are demanding; high quality performance and definition is very important.

For social streaming, this is less of an issue. Videos are usually shorter and lower in quality due to the devices which the content is being filmed on. That said, Kishore highlighted there’s the danger of something going viral and resulting in sudden, unpredictable traffic spikes.

Live streaming and user generating content are two areas which are certainly gaining traction for two different reasons. On the live streaming front, there are a notable number of cash conscious cord-cutters, moving towards platforms such as Amazon Prime or Netflix as opposed to traditional content channels. For user generated content, the growing demographic of digitally native millennials are becoming increasing confident and attention seeking, which will most likely result in more narcissistic content flooding our social media platforms.

The OTTs might not have figured out the business model completely, and the network operators still need to figure out the bandwidth conundrum, but it looks like it isn’t going to get any easier.

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