Matthew Shapiro

Matthew Shapiro on

Why Open Caching and Streaming from the Edge are the Real Winners in Live Sports

Last week, Qwilt shared the findings of our 2024 Live Streaming Industry Survey, which offers insights into the challenges content publishers face when delivering mass live-streamed events. The key takeaway? When it comes to video delivery, a majority of content publishers (53%) view CDN performance and capacity as primary concerns – and this has increased since Qwilt’s last survey in 2022. The survey was conducted in light of a growing trend of streaming-only sporting events, which are rapidly increasing in frequency as streaming services have secured rights to major live sports assets.

One example of this trend took place on Saturday, January 13th, when the NFL broke new ground and set a new record for viewership. During the first ever ‘streaming-exclusive’ NFL playoff game (plus local markets), according to NBC Sports, the event set a record as the most streamed live event ever in the US.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Miami Dolphins in the NFL wildcard round drew 16.3 million streaming viewers at peak across various streaming platforms, including Peacock, local NBC affiliates, and the NFL+ mobile app. According to NBC Sports, this live-streamed game also accounted for a significant portion of traffic – as much as 30% of US internet traffic at peak. Despite initial skepticism, the streaming-only game attracted more viewers than the previous year’s broadcast and sheds light on how major live sporting events are increasingly likely to be viewed going forward.

Open Caching – A Standout Delivery Performance for the Event

While the Chiefs’ dominated the Dolphins 26-7 at Arrowhead Stadium on a very cold winter’s day in Kansas City, another outstanding performance happened outside the stadium where millions across the US were streaming the game. I’m referring to the role of Qwilt’s Open Caching as one of the Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) delivering live streams of the event and the only CDN with Open Caching-compliant edge caches deeply embedded in service provider networks across the country.

Multiple CDNs supported the event and delivered the needed capacity, reliability, and quality of experience to offer each viewer an excellent digital experience. However, not all CDNs are the same, and in the case of Open Caching, the differences in architecture, operational model, and quality of streams delivered are profound and worth a closer look. Qwilt, the commercial leader, has established a better model for content delivery that enables seamless collaboration between service providers and content publishers to overcome bandwidth challenges and better serve global audiences.

Four key benefits for content delivery enabled by Open Caching

This NFL game was another streaming success. In terms of Open Caching, the achievement of this innovative content delivery model can be explained by the convergence of four benefits of the commercial service into a single live event on scale.  Namely:

  1. Open Caching – The Outcome of Industry Collaboration/Open Standards: A sizable number of this event’s streams were delivered by Open Caching, a set of open specifications developed by the Streaming Video Technology Alliance (SVTA) through an extensive, nine-year collaboration across the entire streaming value chain. Open Caching is the culmination of years of deep collaboration by the industry to create a better way to deliver content.
  2. Open Caching Delivers Superior Quality of Experience: This open approach allows full value chain collaboration that wasn’t possible before and simultaneously sets a new bar for streaming scale, efficiency, and quality. Streams delivered from the network edge via Open Caching consistently offer higher quality with lower latency than streams of the same live event delivered by traditional CDNs that operate only at peering points. 
  3. Open Caching is Helping Bridge the Digital Divide: Open Caching was also used to deliver high-quality streams of this event to millions of rural broadband viewers via the adoption by 100s of ISP (Internet Service Provider) members of the NCTC. The partnership between Qwilt and NCTC helps bring modern CDN technology to rural ISPs throughout the US, giving their subscribers access to high-quality streaming and great digital experiences.
  4. Open Caching Offers Massive Traffic Offload Benefits to Service Providers: When operating edge-based origin servers, Open Caching can offload up to ~99% of core and metro video streaming traffic – which is significant in high-demand live events. For instance, Verizon, a long-time Qwilt partner, often reports its network has an impressive ability to manage traffic peaks during massive live events, all thanks to Open Caching.

Qwilt’s unique proposition among CDNs

Qwilt’s approach significantly enhances content streaming by decentralizing the delivery process. Its open APIs leverage Open Caching through an extensive nine-year collaboration across the entire streaming value chain. It employs edge computing, where content is cached and delivered from the network edge, closer to the end-users than traditional content delivery. This unmatched proximity reduces latency, improves streaming quality, and decreases buffering. Moreover, leveraging local ISP infrastructure offers a more scalable and efficient solution, handling high traffic volumes more effectively. This approach enhances user experience and reduces the load on central servers and overall network congestion, benefiting content providers and consumers.  CDNs and ISPs are both heading to the edge as streaming video traffic starts to balloon.

While a new record was set back in January, it will undoubtedly be temporary. The Wild Card game was deemed a great streaming success, which suggests that other potentially higher-profile games will start to embrace a streamed future. It might sound like sacrilege, but an all-streamed Super Bowl is technically possible, although probably unlikely due to the accessibility that TV still commands. However, what is clear is that as video starts to eat up a higher percentage of available ISP bandwidth, the need to move content closer to viewers will become a necessity for all rather than a convenient option for some.

Addressing the challenges of mass live streaming

Qwilt’s 2024 Live Streaming Survey highlights the critical challenges and evolving landscape of live sports streaming, emphasizing the importance of CDN performance and capacity. As streaming-only events become the new norm with leaders like Peacock paving the way, Open Caching and streaming at the edge address head-on the complexities in delivering these events in the quality they were imagined, ensuring content rights holders and publishers have the CDN capacity and delivery performance needed to meet the expectations of sports streamers. To learn more about how open caching architecture and its innovative business model can help you deliver streaming success, please contact me via LinkedIn!

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