TV-Scale Peak Concurrent Plays
By Ed Haslam, CMO, Conviva
One of the many issues that makes delivering video over the internet difficult is both predicting and then accommodating the maximum number of people who might connect and watch the stream at the exact same time; this is what we call peak concurrent plays (or, PCP). Historically, this has only been an issue for live events, mainly popular live sporting events where countless viewers all over want to “tune-in” in real-time in order to catch the action right as it happens and not be left behind. In the world of streaming video, you may have heard this issue posed in the form of this popular question: What would happen if everyone watched the Super Bowl on the Internet?
Conviva measures and provides analytics for over 200 global OTT brands that include both live and on-demand content across all genres, sports, and event types. Over the past ten years, we have seen video streaming traffic grow at an increasing annual rate, as well as watched the number of peak concurrent plays steadily rise. A few years back, the most popular events might have driven hundreds of thousands of concurrent plays at any given peak, and then would settle back down into maybe tens of thousands. Today we see millions of concurrent plays across our publisher base on any given day, but more importantly, spikes are happening with more and more frequency (see figure below of the last few months). This data shows the “spikiness” of OTT traffic and highlights the importance of planning for unexpected surges; we are no longer dealing with consistent traffic levels with predictable spikes. Publishers today must provision and be prepared at any given time for increases of least 2-3X in concurrent viewers.
What exactly is driving these spikes? Just this past weekend two major publishers “aired” both a popular sporting event on one “channel” and a very popular episodic show on another “channel” (given customer confidentiality, we are not at liberty to disclose the publishers). As seen in the figure below, on average we see approximately 2M concurrent plays at any given time. On this particular evening, the peak concurrent plays more than doubled to 4.73M across all of our customers, but driven mostly by these two publisher’s content pieces. This requires an enormous amount of extra internet delivery capacity to accommodate over the norms which are 4-5X lower.
There are a couple of things to note about this past weekend’s traffic peak. First, it was not driven exclusively by a traditional live sporting event. Instead, today’s most popular episodic TV shows can drive massive concurrent viewing greater than many sports. Second, as these single internet broadcast audiences are reaching into the millions — on par with some traditional TV — the game changes for OTT publishers because these mass scale audiences can also drive mass scale disappointment if their service cannot scale to meet audience expectations of seamless, high quality video viewing. OTT has left the days of niche audiences, and has entered the mainstream with TV-scale audiences.