Image Source Pixabay
Live streaming is an alternative mode to traditional over-the-air, cable or satellite viewing, and one that, like all innovations, has some risk. With a web streaming platform, there is indeed a greater chance that something will happen to prevent or slow down the viewing of a match, causing frustration for the fans. In fact, streaming a live event, especially sports, mostly soccer, places even more stringent requirements than streaming pre-recorded material such as movies, TV series or social content.
Differences between watching a soccer game and watching a movie
When watching a movie, we can find ourselves fully satisfied with the experience if the viewing is uninterrupted and the image definition is always high, averting the infamous “square footage.” Using the same platform and the same connection, we might paradoxically find ourselves enjoying a very frustrating experience if we are watching a soccer match instead of a movie, on legitimate soccer streams, perhaps because we receive quality images but the neighbor’s shout at the “goal” (which he receives via digital terrestrial or listens on the old-fashioned radio) arrives a minute earlier than the images that scroll on our TV. And let’s not exaggerate: the delay introduced in the content distribution chain, from the manufacturer to our TV is typically on the order of a few seconds in the case of digital terrestrial, but it is in the tens of seconds when we rely on streaming for the connection. And if there is some underperforming component, the situation can get significantly worse. This may not be a big problem for those living in an isolated cottage, but it is frustrating if you live in an apartment building.
Live streaming and traditional streaming
In fact, with live streaming, the problems that need to be managed relate both to the amount of data needed to ensure a quality experience and to the timing of encoding, distribution, buffering, and decoding of the images, where it is important to ensure minimal delay. The delay introduced during encoding is fundamentally in the hands of the content producer, who must rely on fast, quality encoders capable of fast compression of digital video, while still generating streams that are not too bulky. And herein lies an important difference between live streaming and traditional streaming. In live streaming, digital content is compressed in real time and the operation must be done as fast as possible: every extra second lost to compress translates into just as much delay to viewing. In contrast, movies are compressed offline, well before distribution to the user, and the operation typically takes place in multiple encoder, passes to optimize quality and reduce bandwidth occupancy as much as possible. The result is that a quality live stream typically requires more broadcast bandwidth than similar pre-encoded content, compressed in multiple passes. Unlike broadcast television, then, in live streaming (as in streaming) it is necessary to produce multiple versions of the same content in order to be ready to offer the right experience based on the type of device employed by the user (2K TV, 4K, VR, Pc, smartphone etc). In streaming, live and not, by definition the connections are 1-to-1 and each user can use devices with different characteristics, as opposed to broadcast where the connection is 1-to-many and the same content is broadcast to all, identical and at the same time. In the case of live streaming, therefore, efficient encoders must be used to ensure minimum delay at the source on various types of devices.
The distribution chain
Then there is the distribution chain (CDN) that carries the compressed signal in “near” real time from the production control room to the servers closest to the access point of the data networks to which users connect. Between the CDN and the user are the data networks that take care of the actual connection of the device with the live streaming server from which the stream is transmitted to the user. This is one of the most delicate links in the chain, where inefficiencies and delays can be introduced caused by connections that are too slow, or by network congestion. Let’s see now what technological components to consider, both operator and OTT/broadcaster side.
In order to transmit with good quality video content, the end-to-end infrastructure needs to be able to provide the necessary capacity, access nodes will need to be 5G-enabled hopefully with the addition of dedicated 5G frequencies in mid-band (where more capacity is available and excellent coverage can be offered) or millimeter (where capacity is very high), the Core Network will need to have an on-board release to accommodate 5G contexts, and these will need to be managed with orchestration to allow the creation of dedicated “slice networks.” Each of the slices will be an E2E service that will be configured with a QoS (Quality of Service) designed for the specific application.
Staying up-to-date on soccer now is easy thanks to the various websites that offer livescore results and real-time soccer stats, among many others. But if we refer to matches, then, as mentioned, the situation is much more complex.