Twitch To Keynote Streaming Media East Show: Learn How They Broadcast Live To Millions

Twitch_Logo_ 6441a5I am pleased to announce that Matthew Szatmary, Senior Video Encoding Engineer at Twitch will kick off the Streaming Media East show, on Tuesday May 13th in NYC. Launched in 2011, Twitch is the world’s leading video platform and community for gamers where more than 45 million gamers gather every month to broadcast live video, watch and chat about gaming. In February 2014, the Wall Street Journal ranked Twitch as the 4th largest website in terms of peak internet traffic in the U.S. fortifying the brand as an entertainment industry leader and the epicenter of social video for gamers.

Live streams of video gaming championships are one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. Last year, the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship broadcast peaked at 8.5M simultaneous streams. Twitch, which is now on the Xbox One and PS4 has 1M people streaming live footage each month and some of the most popular gamers are doing 137,000 simultaneous streams just from their single account.

Come hear how Twitch is developing next generation encoding services and playback technologies to serve live video to one of the Internet’s largest audiences. Register online for an exhibits pass using the code DR100 and you’ll have FREE access to the keynotes.

Netflix’s Arguments Against The Proposed Comcast & TWC Merger Aren’t Valid

On Monday Netflix announced earnings and in their shareholder letter, said they oppose the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. While Netflix is entitled to that option, they should be arguing their point with facts, instead of making statements that aren’t accurate. Netflix says that “Comcast is already dominant enough to be able to capture unprecedented fees from transit providers and services such as Netflix“, but that’s not true. The definition of unprecedented is “never done or known before, novel, groundbreaking or revolutionary. There is nothing “unprecedented” about interconnection agreements. [If you want to know how the interconnection deal between Comcast and Netflix deal works, from a technical level, read my other post: Here’s How The Comcast & Netflix Deal Is Structured, With Data & Numbers]

As Comcast rightly points out in their rebuttal to Netflix’s statement, Akamai, Yahoo, Limelight, and Google have similar agreements with companies like Verizon, AT&T, Level 3, Sprint, and Comcast. Interconnection deals have been taking place between ISPs and content portals since the late 90′s. For Netflix to imply anything else is simply wrong, and it can’t be argued with. If Netflix wants to argue that there would be fewer options for high-speed broadband, fine, but that’s not what they are doing. They are intertwining the topic of customer choice for ISP providers with interconnection deals, when one has nothing to do with the other. This is about Netflix protecting their business and wanting to keep their costs down. In fact, in Netflix’s letter they even point this out saying the “long term threat” is from ISP driving up “costs for everyone else“. This is simply about what’s best for Netflix’s business, nothing else.

Netflix goes on to say that the “combined company would possess even more anticompetitive leverage to charge arbitrary interconnection tolls“. When Netflix signed a multi-year interconnection deal with Comcast, it wasn’t based on random choice or personal whim, which is the definition of arbitrary, it was based on metrics. All Netflix is looking to do is scare people by using words like “unprecedented” and “arbitrary”, even though they are not accurate. Netflix is quick to say paid interconnection deals are bad for large companies and small content owners, yet we don’t hear any of these other companies backing Netflix up in their argument. How come Netflix isn’t arguing their case with any other large companies? In Netflix’s original blog post on this topic, they mention Google and Skype as companies who would benefit from interconnection agreements being regulated, yet neither Google nor Microsoft, which owns Skype, have publicly backed Netflix with any kind of statement. If not having interconnect relationships regulated is such a big “threat” to the Internet as Netflix says it is, why are they the only content owner complaining?

Netflix also calls out AT&T in their shareholder letter, saying that Netflix streaming on U-verse is poor quality and that “it is free and easy for AT&T to interconnect directly with Netflix and quickly improve their customers’ experience, should AT&T so desire.” It’s also easy for Netflix to connect to AT&T, in a paid model, just like the deal Akamai did with AT&T. When Akamai wanted to get their servers inside AT&T’s network, they did a paid deal with them. Akamai didn’t use the media and public opinion to try to get free access to AT&T, they paid as is customary when you are in the CDN business, which Netflix is, and you want to get deeper into an ISPs network. You don’t see Akamai, the largest commercial CDN on the planet, who handles 20% of the world’s total Web traffic, out in the media complaining about costs associated with running their business.

If Netflix does not like the business model of being a content delivery network and the costs associated with it, then they should not be in the business of operating their own CDN. While they like to make it sound like they don’t have any choices and that Comcast has them in a corner, we know that’s not accurate. Remember, Netflix use to deliver 100% of their video via companies like Akamai and Limelight Networks, who already have the necessary interconnection deals in place. There are other options in the market, and when Akamai and other commercial CDNs were delivering Netflix’s content, you didn’t see many complaints about poor quality Netflix streaming. Netflix has multiple options in the market for delivering high-quality streaming with a good user experience.

On multiple occasions, and in Netflix’s latest letter the say that there is a threat from the largest ISPs “driving up profits for themselves“. While ISPs like Comcast have a lot of profitable revenue, it’s not from interconnection deals. For my last post on this topic, Comcast went on record to point out that less than .1% of their revenue comes from such deals. In 2013, Comcast had revenue of $64.6B and of that, all of their interconnection deals accounted for between $30M-$60M in total. If you want to argue that ISPs raise rates for their services too often, I won’t argue with you, but that’s not the debate. The fact is that the revenue that Comcast and other ISPs get from interconnections deals is not what’s driving their business or contributing much to their bottom line. Netflix makes it sound like there is a lot of money at stake for the ISPs when it comes to interconnection deals, but let’s not debate it because, in the case of Comcast, we know what the real numbers are.

Netflix didn’t have to move away from third-party CDN providers, but they chose to based on business decisions including cost and control. When their strategy changed and they decided to build out their own CDN, Netflix then had costs associated with that business decision, which they are unhappy with. But that’s what this is about, a business decision made by Netflix for what’s best for their business. This argument between Netflix and Comcast about interconnection deals has nothing to do with net neutrality. This isn’t about “fighting for the Internet the world needs,” like Netflix has said, it’s about keeping their costs down. That’s all it comes down to and it really is that simple. Anything else added to the conversation is simply a distraction to the topic at hand.

New Chart Lets You Compare Today’s Streaming Media Boxes & OTT Platforms, All In One Place

Including game consoles, there are more than 20 streaming media devices in the market today. Trying to compare their technical specs and which content platforms they do or do not support can be quite challenging. To make it easier, I’ve updated last year’s chart to include recently released boxes from Amazon (Fire TV), Microsoft (Xbox One), Sony (PS4) and Google (Chromecast). I’ve also added content platforms from WWE, Showtime, Redbox and MLS.

You can download a copy of the chart by clicking on the image below and you can always find the latest version of the chart at www.StreamingMediaDevices.com. I will be updating the chart throughout the year, so look at the bottom right corner of the chart to find the date of the latest update. The most recent chart is dated April 22. If you want a really high-res copy of the chart, you can download it here. To get hands-on with all of these boxes and content platforms in-person, come to the Streaming Media East show, May 13-14 in NYC. More details here.

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The Vizio Co-Star, D-Link MovieNite Plus, Hisense Pulse, Boxee Box and ASUS Cube are now end of life or no longer being supported/produced, so they have been removed from the chart. While the chart includes gaming systems, I have not included the Wii or Wii U due to space constraints.

If you have questions on which box you should choose, send me an email and I’ll help you out. Chart corrections can also be left in the comments section below. Thanks to Roku, Western Digital, Netgear, Sony, Microsoft and TiVo for reviewing the data in the chart.

Review: Amazon’s Fire TV Falls Short, Voice Search Function Overhyped

It’s been two weeks since Amazon released their $99 streaming box Fire TV and after spending a good deal of time using it, I’m not impressed. Many reviewers have raved about the voice search functionality, but that only works across Amazon’s content service and Vevo. You can’t use it to find content on Netflix or Hulu Plus and the voice search results push you to Amazon to rent content, like House Of Cards, even though it’s free on Netflix. If content is available to stream free via another service, Amazon’s voice search won’t let you know that. The voice search also gets tricked up by words like Pokemon, instead returning results for “poop”. When the voice search works, it works well, but when it doesn’t, it’s useless.

Some might suggest that I should not be surprised that Amazon’s search results push users to content on Amazon’s streaming service, considering this is a box made by Amazon, but since the voice search works across Vevo, clearly the capability exists to bring it to more third party services. [Updated April 18th: Amazon has announced that support for voice search is coming to Hulu Plus, Crackle & Showtime services this summer.] I also don’t like how Amazon is marketing the box on their website with the phrase “say it. watch it” located above an image of all the content services on the box. Many consumers are going to think that Amazon is implying you can use the voice search function across all the content services listed, which you can’t.

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Another issue I have with the box is that Amazon made a point during their presentation to say how poor the search function is on a Roku, having to use their on-screen keyboard, but the non-voice search function on Amazon’s box is far worse. It’s as if no one at Amazon has actually used a Roku before. It takes far longer to use Amazon’s text based search function, having to first change the search default from voice to text. Then you have to do three steps just to get into the text search area and scroll through letters from A-Z, punching in each one manually. For ease of use, speed and simplicity, Roku’s text based search beats Amazon’s Fire TV hands down. So I find it odd for Amazon to try and tarnish Roku’s brand when in fact, Amazon’s box is the one that doesn’t do text search as well.

Amazon also demonstrated how quickly content starts up on their box, but that only happens for Amazon’s content service and even then, not all the time. Netflix and Hulu Plus don’t start up any faster on Amazon’s box than the Roku or Apple TV. Test results for me were nearly identical in startup times for Netflix content across Amazon, Roku and Apple’s streaming boxes. Amazon spent a lot of time during the unveiling of their box to focus on how quickly content starts up, but it’s really hit or miss. Amazon is guessing at what content most people may click on next and is pre-caching some of that content, but many times when I selected even popular movies from the menu, like Skyfall, it took 5-7 second to load.

In many instances, it feels like Amazon’s box was rushed out before it was really ready. The $40 game controller that goes with the box was available for purchase when the box was released, but it didn’t get delivered until a week after the box showed up. If you want one now, be prepared to wait a month. New orders for the game controller are now estimated to ship May 11th. Casual gaming is one of the biggest differentiators of this box compared to the other $99 streamers, but if you can’t get the game controller when you get the box, it defeats the purpose.

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When it comes to any box, content is king and right now, Amazon’s box sorely lacks content. The only content on the box, that matters, is from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, ESPN, Showtime and YouTube. Missing is HBO Go, MLB.TV, NHL GameCenter, NBA League Pass, Epix, Vudu, SlingPlayer, Major League Soccer, Redbox, WWE Network – all content services that Roku’s boxes currently have. Amazon did say that MLB.TV and the WWE Network are coming to the box, but didn’t say when. No doubt Amazon’s box will get much more content over time, but right out of the gate, the box lacks major content offerings. Also, some of the content apps, like YouTube, are simply ported from Google TV and it shows. The YouTube app has shortcuts for a keyboard, something you can’t use with Amazon’s Fire TV. So some apps aren’t specifically built just for Amazon’s box and have an old and outdated user interface.

We all know that Amazon has tremendous marketing power and the ability to sell a lot of these boxes very quickly simply due to all the eyeballs they have to their website. But Amazon is still going to have to convince consumers to buy their box when so many already have streaming capabilities on their TV, game console, Blu-ray player, Apple TV and/or other dedicated streaming media boxes. While Amazon’s box will improve over time, right now, it has no real selling point and advantage over the Roku.

I’m not sure why the media has gotten so excited over a voice search feature that only partially works, over only one major content service. If the Amazon Fire TV box didn’t have voice search functionality, there would be nothing about the box that isn’t already being done by Roku, at a much better level. Right now the Amazon Fire TV is clunky, un-polished and missing tons of content. If all you have is a subscription to Amazon Prime, then this box might suit you just fine. But if you want to do more than just stream content from Amazon and want a box that doesn’t feel like it’s in beta, don’t pick the Amazon Fire TV, get a Roku 3 instead.

Blue Coat Releases Data On The Impact Of Web & Video Caching Inside Operator Networks

Transparent caching plays a very important role in the content delivery market and is a segment of the content delivery industry that is seeing rapid growth ($350M by 2016). To showcase just how much content these caches deliver, industry vendor Blue Coat recently gave me an insight into the data that’s collected by their CachePulse technology.

Blue Coat gets tremendous visibility on the web and how it is changing through its hundreds of collection points and prominent position in some of the world’s largest enterprise and telco networks. In 2013 for example, all the deployed Blue Coat CacheFlow appliances processed over 850 petabytes of data and handled over 13.5 trillion requests. To put this roughly 35 billion requests each day into context, Google in comparison does about six billion searches and Facebook has about 5 billion likes each day.

Digging into Blue Coat’s findings from CachePulse for 2013 there are some expected trends, but also some surprises. To no surprise, video traffic dominated representing more than half (or roughly 55%) of all traffic. And while readers in the US immediately think of Netflix, in reality Netflix is a small player globally. YouTube (including Google Video) remains as the number one traffic driver with DailyMotion a close second. A bit more surprising was the prominent role file sharing and large file updates are playing in shaping traffic patterns. This includes the common Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows updates that regularly clog networks, as well as P2P-based sharing getting replaced with web-based direct download alternatives such as 4Shared, MediaFire and FileFactory.

Driving only a few percentage points of traffic today, gaming has shown big gains increasing 33% over last six months. Sites like Steam, Playstation and Xbox are at the forefront of this shift. Popular downloads like the supersized-18GB Grand Theft Auto V release serve as a great example of the content driving this growth as packaged games shift to 100% digital downloads. And with the recent, frothy acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, who can forget about social networks. No surprise Facebook continues to be the leader, followed by Tumblr and Keek respectively. Ranked in the top 30 sites globally, the Russian social network VK (or VKontakte) is also an up and coming player to keep an eye on.

Since Blue Coat has a significant portion of its business deeply entrenched in web security through CachePulse they also gain visibility on security trends on the web at large. In the 2013 findings, Blue Coat found that each day 150,000 GB of the traffic they processed was categorized as ‘suspicious’ while more than 25,000 GB was confirmed as ‘officially’ malware.

So what does this all mean? While the general content mix and the dominance of video is not surprising, smaller shifts around the traffic mix (from P2P to web or with the uptick of gaming), the key players (such as Netflix or VK), or the prominence of suspicious or malicious content is noteworthy. And considering that for 2013 Blue Coat on average saw roughly 80% of this traffic being fully cacheable, there’s a clear role that transparent caching technology – whether with Blue Coat CacheFlow or other solutions – can provide in optimizing this content – whatever it may be – to speed the user experience or provider operational or cost efficiencies, as well as potentially providing an overlay of security and malware protection.