Online Video consumption is booming. The good news is that clearer demand patterns are beginning to emerge which should help in capacity planning and improving the user experience; the bad news is that an overall economic model which works for all players in the value chain is about as clear as mud.
We previously analysed the leffect of the launch of the BBC iPlayer on the ISP business model, but the truth is that, even in the UK, YouTube traffic still far outweighs the BBC iPlayer in the all important peak hour slot – even though the bitrate is far lower.
Looking at current usage data at a UK ISP we can see that the number of concurrent people using YouTube is roughly seven times that of the iPlayer. However, our analysis suggests that this situation is set to change quite dramatically as traditional broadcasters increase their presence online, with significant impact for all players. Here’s why:
Streaming Traffic Patterns
Our friends at Plusnet, a small UK ISP, have provided Telco 2.0 with their latest data on traffic patterns. The important measurement for ISPs is peak hour load as this determines variable-cost capacity requirements.
iPlayer accounts for around 7% of total bandwidth at peak hour. The peaks are quite variable and follows the hit shows: the availability of Dr Who episodes or the latest in a long string of British losers at Wimbledon increase traffics.
Included within the iPlayer 7% is the Flash-based streaming traffic. The Kontiki-P2P based free-rental-download iPlayer traffic is included within general streaming volumes. This accounts for 5% of total peak-hour traffic and includes such applications as Real Audio, iChat, Google Video, Joost, Squeezebox, Slingbox, Google Earth, Multicast, DAAP, Kontiki (4OD, SkyPlayer, iPlayer downloads), Quicktime, MS Streaming, Shoutcast, Coral Video, H.323 and IGMP.
The BBC are planning to introduce a “bookmarking��? feature to the iPlayer which will allow pre-ordering of content and hopefully time-of-day based delivery options. This is a win-win-win enhancement and we can’t see any serious objections to the implementation: for the consumers it is great because they can view higher-quality video and allow the download when traffic is not counted towards their allowance; for ISPs it is great because it encourages non-peak hour downloads; and for the BBC it is great as it will potentially reduce their CDN costs.
YouTube traffic accounts for 17% of peak-hour usage – this is despite YouTube streaming at around 200kbps compared to the iPlayer 500kbps. There are about seven times the amount of concurrent users using YouTube compared to the iPlayer at peak hour. Concurrent is important here: YouTubers watch short-length clips whereas iPlayers watch longer shows of broadcast length.
P2P is declining in importance
The real interesting part of the PlusNet data is that peak-hour streaming at around 30% far outweighs p2p and usenet traffic at around 10%. Admittedly the peakhour p2p/usenet traffic at Plusnet is probably far lower than at other ISPs, but it goes to show how ISPs can control their destiny and manage consumption through the use of open and transparent traffic shaping policies. Overall, p2p consumption is 26% of Plusnet traffic across a 24-hour window – the policies are obviously working and people are p2p and usenet downloading when the network is not busy.
Quality and therefore bandwidth bound to increase
Both YouTube and the iPlayer are relatively low-bandwidth solutions compared to broadcast quality shows either in SD (standard definition) or HD (high-definition), however applications are emerging which are real headache material for the ISPs.
The most interesting emerging application is the Move Networks media player. This player is already in use by Fox, ABC, ESPN, Discovery and Televisa — amongst others. In the UK, it is currently only used by ChannelBee, which is a new online channel launched by Tim Lovejoy of Soccer AM fame.
The interesting part of the Move Networks technology is dynamic adjustment of the bit-rate according to the quality of the connection. Also, it does not seem to suffer from the buffering “feature��? that unfortunately seems to be part of the YouTube experience. Move Networks achieve this by installing a client in the form of a browser plug-in which switches the video stream according to the connection much in the same way as the TCP protocol works. We have regularly streamed content at 1.5Mbps which is good enough to view on a big widescreen TV and is indistinguishable to the naked eye from broadcast TV.
Unlike Akamai there is no secret sauce in the Move Networks technology and we expect other Media Players to start to use similar features — after all every content owner wants the best possible experience for viewers.
Clearing the rights
The amount of iPlayer content is also increasing: Wimbledon coverage was available for the first time and upcoming is the Beijing Olympics and the British Golf Open. We also expect that the BBC will eventually get permission to make available content outside of the iPlayer 7-day window. The clearing of rights for the BBC’s vast archive will take many years, but slowly but surely more and more content will be available. This is true for all major broadcasters in the UK and the rest of the world.
YouTube to shrink in importance
It will be extremely interesting to see how YouTube responds to the challenge of the traditional broadcasters — personally we can’t see a future where YouTube market share is anywhere near its current level. We believe watching User Generated Content, free of copyright, will always be a niche market.
Online Video Distribution and the associated economics is a key area of study for the Telco 2.0 team.