Unless you’ve live streamed an event before, you won’t understand how difficult it is to do live streaming. I’m not talking about simply turning on your webcam and bam, you got the live stream going. I’m talking about actually setting up a camera (or more) and going through the whole encoding and transcoding process and delivering the live stream through a media server network and CDN like ours.
So, when I heard about ESPN’s recent challenge in live streaming the World Cup game between the U.S. and Germany, I could almost feel the pain of their digital team. To most people, taking the main live broadcasting feed from the stadium and sending it into the world of Internet seems simple enough; but there’s so much more going on behind the scenes.
Just to send the live feed out to the Internet, it needs to be encoded into an Internet friendly format, such as H.264. Then, once the live feed reaches the main media server, aka the ingest server, it needs to be transcoded and converted in various ways to be compatible with all those digital media devices out there – PCs, Macs, iOS devices, Android devices, Windows devices, Xbox, Playstation, set-top-boxes, and everything in between. And because the people are watching the live feed from all over the world, the server network has to be intelligently set up to handle the millions of views all at the same time, usually involving hundreds or even thousands of edge servers strategically located globally. And if you mix the various individual local Internet connection speeds into this complex set up, we have one monster of a live streaming event at hand.
The Internet is huge to say the least, and there are so many variables involved in traversing this virtual world. So, the next time when you’re watching the World Cup, remember that it’s almost a miracle to have it run smoothly in all its 1080p High Definition splendor, and thank the gods of the Internet and all their hardworking minions!