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.