Two Year’s Later, Google Still Can’t Deliver YouTube Without Stuttering & Buffering

It's been just over two year's now since Google acquired YouTube and while the debate rages on in the industry about how YouTube will make money, few people are discussing the quality problem Google continues to have with delivering YouTube videos. While we know the sheer volume of bits that Google is delivering for YouTube content is massive, you would think that by now they would have figured out how to do it without all the buffering, stuttering and terrible user experience.

And I'm not talking about the quality of the video in terms of the production value of how the video was shot. I'm talking about simply being able to deliver a video without having to wait 15, 20 or 30 seconds for it to start up. Most of the videos on YouTube are short-form and only a few minutes in length. Yet regularly, I have to wait 20-30 seconds for a clip to buffer, even though the clip itself might only be 30 seconds in length. And to make matters worse, for all the people that say "YouTube streaming", YouTube is not streaming. All YouTube content is delivered progressive download, via HTTP, and is not being delivered from a Flash Media Server (FMS). Delivering and scaling video via HTTP is much easier and cheaper than using a streaming media server and streaming protocol. So what's Google's excuse?

It's not as if I am the only one who has this problem. So many people do Google searches regarding the topic of YouTube buffering issues that a short little post I did on my blog a year and nine months ago entitled "Is Google Having Problems Delivering YouTube Videos?", continues to be the number one post on my blog in terms of traffic. As you can see from the comments with that post, this is a constant problem for YouTube viewers.

For all the talk of how YouTube is going to monetize publishers content or what ad model will work best, Google seems to be forgetting that none of those questions matter if you can't even deliver the content with reliability. With such a terrible reputation for video delivery, how does Google think YouTube will ever make money? Viewers only watch so much YouTube content and put up with the poor experience because the content is free and has no ads. Try getting someone to watch a video that takes 15 seconds to buffer and then delivers them an ad before the content. It won't happen.

While I don't know all the details surrounding how Google delivers YouTube content, I know that the vast majority of it is delivered by Google themselves, without the use of any content delivery network. Based on the size and scale of what Google is already delivering, it would make sense that done correctly, Google could deliver the video cheaper than a CDN could offer. But when does Google take into account the quality factor? Why don't they care about the user experience at a time when they are trying to figure out how to make money? YouTube is the quintessential example of how simply having tons of traffic and eyeballs does not guarantee you a business model or sustainable revenue. Quality also plays a role.

While I asked Google for details on why YouTube videos buffer so much and why video delivery is still such a problem, no one from Google would comment. The same way no one from Google ever comments when asked about their bandwidth or delivery costs. And why Google is under no obligation to say how much it costs to deliver YouTube videos, Google should feel an obligation to explain to their users why they have such a bad user experience. YouTube would be nothing without all the people who supported it and made their traffic go through the roof and as a result, enabled YouTube to get bought by Google in one of the worst deals, in my eyes, the online video industry has ever seen.

  • Maybe you need to upgrade your broadband package? Or maybe you have some sort of packet inspection slowing you down. I don’t have any problems with ‘regular’ YouTube or the higher quality uploads. It quickly buffers on both my laptop and my iPhone.

  • I have a 20MB Verizon FiOS connection. No problem with my connection, nor many others as is evidenced by all of the traffic to a post about poor quality. Do a simple Google search on “youtube buffering problems” and you’ll get more articles and posts than you can ever read.

  • Doug

    What timing! I couldn’t for the life of me watch several YouTube clips today – I ended up trying to just grab the asset directly and got a 404. Refreshed and tried later and it worked fine. Not sure what’s going on…

  • TMD

    Does Google and Youtube still use the H.263 codec to compress their videos?

  • John

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about. But certainly, Flash 10 has fixed some funky Youtube problems.
    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/flash_10_released_finally_flash_works_in_firefox_again.php

  • Maybe all the people asking `fios-for-all’ will realise now the increasing edge bandwidth to the customer has no effect on overall qos. Customer bandwidth is a sales tool and nothing else, Focus needs to be on increasing quality end-to-end and right now, the only economicaly sound way for isps to do it is by implementing pay-per-byte systems rather than the always-wrong all-you-can-eat system. Quality costs.

  • I’m pretty sure YouTube does use Content Delivery Networks. I see the same buffering problem on many other video sharing sites like LiveVideo and Ning.

  • Susa J.

    Dan, I could not agree with you more. The video buffering problems on YouTube are a joke. Non-stop frusteration with the long start-up times. Enough already. Video is not new, others can get this to work with no problems, why can’t Google.

  • Edu

    I am based in Ireland, with a relatively slow connection (3MB) but YouTube has been flawless for the last 6 months or so. About a year ago I had problems with buffering, but nowadays I had to wait between 0 and 2 seconds before I can see the video, without any further buffering.

  • Todd Loewenstein

    Dan, I too have FIOS and experience the exact same issues. Not only am I having issues with buffering at the beginning of the video, but also in the middle of the progressive download AFTER it has been downloaded, which is wacky.
    You would think the world’s premiere search engine and online media company could get something so simple right.

  • Josh Carter

    I have no idea what you are talking about. Youtube is really quick for me. Is your connection bad or maybe it your computer, but don’t talk about stuff you don’t know. Btw, Do a search for anything on Google and you will get tons of results on anything.

  • Josh, all it takes is reading other comments in this single post to see that other people are clearly having problems as well. Not to mention all the other people who have written about this problem and have experienced it first hand. Just because you say YouTube is “really quick” for you, does not mean others don’t have problems. And no, there is nothing wrong with my 20MB FiOS connection or either of my Macbook Pro computers, both under a year old, with 4GB of memory. The hardware and Internet connection is NOT the problem and is not the thing to point the finger at.

  • Sarah Medford

    I have Comcast DSL and YouTube buffers clips for a long period of time often. Not every time, but probably 40% of the time. I’ve had clips buffer for 1-2 minutes even though the clip was less than that in length. No question, it is a problem.

  • Rob

    There’s a couple of problems. 1, mostly progressive download which was used by Flash because originally they didn’t have a streaming server and 2, poor i.e. none video centric, network architecture.
    It isn’t more complicated than that but when you use Flash users are used to a crappy experience. It is expected!

  • Maybe the goal of google is not to provide quick easy streaming. They had the ad based model for search, maybe they are actually using youtube as a test bed for trying out a different model. I agree, adding a commercial at the beginning won’t fly. More and more sites are looking at a pay as you go model, or even a tiered model. May the user pay a bit to be able to provide good download speeds.

  • Charlie

    Here is a company that recognizes the problem and appears to have a solution. Since I don’t frequent Youtube, I have not used the video accelerator product mentioned in the link.
    http://www.videoaccelerator.com/

  • This isn’t the only problem Google has. Google Video statistics have been flaky for the past year. Check out the discussions on the Google Video Help Forum:
    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/video?hl=en

  • It’s always interesting to watch a discussion of web video. It’s a challenge trying to deliver video – a circuit based signal, over a packet based network (like the internet). To be successful, you have to have very good engineering / capacity planning and control over the entire solution. You just don’t get that in a public internet.

  • trancer man

    I have this annoying Youtube buffering. It’s not a connection problem either. Other video sites work perfectly for me. Not only can the video buffer, the whole site without watching any video buffers to load when navigating through youtube pages, sometimes it hangs completely, even crash my browser, both IE or Firefox. Overall, I’m tending to visit other video sites now due to this bizarre glitch that’s only just recently occured, strangley like loads of other people too.

  • guy lafleur

    Im looking around the web because of this problem and I see Im not the only one.
    My youngest loves Winnie the Pooh songs and Numa Numa (both Gary and the romanian guys) and weve been listening to them for over 1 year. (yeah, I know.)
    The past few months, its been painful. Even by pausing and letting it buffer a bit, very often it wont go all the way and stop in the middle.
    And no, its not the connection or anything like that.
    All I have to do to confirm this is go on http://live.twit.tv/ and watch the video feed (which is of stunning quality) of Leo Laporte’s shows. I cant remember when the last time I saw a buffering there. If ever.
    But, Ive also noticed the same problem with Yahoo video too.

  • SONI

    Yes, this is 2009 and the problem still exists. I have a decent HP Pavilion and everthing is fine EXCEPT for the buffering on YOUtube. I have to go do a chore or something come back 15 minutes later, then hit play. Then I can watch the video without the skipping@!!

  • Whatever

    2010 still exists

  • Richard

    2012, and if anything, it’s worse than ever. Totally unusable.

  • I would suggest that Google should use an alternate for flash player. They should introduce something new for YouTube videos.

  • Chris

    Still an issue folks. Unbelievable. And any “positive” comment is probably delivered by government agents (robots).