Streaming Scalability Tips from Identity Management’s Trenches

The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our high expectations … We appreciate your patience,” said a Disney spokesperson following reports of technical issues, as 10 million day-one subscribers temporarily overwhelmed the new streaming service.

Himesh Bhise

Himesh Bhise

With the entry of brands such as Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Peacock, Statista projects there will be 198 million over-the-top video subscribers in the next three years. That’s basically everyone, and it’s growing rapidly.

Our five-plus hours of average daily video viewing is filling with incredible diversity, quality and volume of content. It follows you from device to device as you go about your day. And it presents itself to you at the top of your screen and says, “You should watch me!”

Video has become personal.

This scale, rapid growth and personalization puts incredible pressure on a platform, especially around high-profile launches, major live events or series premieres and finales.

Scale and Identity

As a veteran of several video service launches, I know that subscription-based streaming at large scale is hard. And it’s getting harder, despite better technology, because consumer expectations are higher — in short, we want an easy, TV-like experience with the flexibility of digital. A motley crew of encoders, transcoders, video servers, content management and digital rights management systems, delivery networks and apps attempt to work in unison to satisfy the end user. The result isn’t always pretty.

Often, the seemingly innocuous login screen is where consumers run into problems with their streaming service. Once the subscriber enters his or her login info and hits submit, a flurry of activity kicks off behind the scenes. Requests are initiated to directories, billing systems, rights management platforms, third parties that may be authorizing access and various middleware technologies — no weak links allowed. Too often, this critical part of the planning process is overlooked in favor of big iron and fat pipes.

Synacor has been in the trenches with some of the major providers of streaming video, supporting them with our identity and access management platform. For example, we recently worked with a client who was anticipating record viewership for a hit show. We load-tested extreme traffic volumes, spent months optimizing code-level performance for authentication requests, and assembled a new regional high-performance cluster for identity management.

The result? When fans took to social, they were raving about the show, not access nightmares.

As more entrants join the space, they must pay close attention to four critical areas. They are related to identity and access management but are applicable to many systems that are at high risk for failure:

Platform scalability: Scaling under surge traffic loads for millions of active users doesn’t happen by chance, and it’s hard to bolt it on to your platform after the fact. High service availability and fluid responsiveness needs to be a primary design principle that is integrated into your identity and access management software at inception.

Capacity planning: How many registrations are expected and what kind of service levels are you targeting? Working backwards from this answer, streaming services will stand up redundant data centers and load-test API [application programming interface]-level and data storage-level technologies to ensure the service remains available under even higher than expected loads.

Failovers: There needs to be a plan for how failures (they happen!) will be contained, such as forcing the process into a “temporary mode” that can catch up once all systems are available versus just crashing if hit too hard. If consumers see systems working, they will be patient. But if the process continually times out or serves up errors, they will try again and again, further stressing the system. Third parties need to be ready to support the same load levels the rest of the service is built to handle. In short, every potential failure needs to be analyzed, as it will impact other dependent processes.

Early registration tactics: A rush to register for a service in the minutes leading up to a major event, and the resulting platform pressure, can be alleviated by encouraging early registration, with exclusive or teaser content, for example.

Making Life Easier

Identity and access management can make life easier for your subscribers. It can also help drive customer lifetime value, the lifeblood of a direct-to-consumer service, in a pair of key areas.

Customer engagement: Single sign-on and low-friction access to content across your distribution partners leverages customer information to reduce registration challenges across a range of services. We have seen penetration as high as 95% for Apple Single Sign-on, resulting in decreases of up to 80% in login abandonment for some customers.

Lifetime value: Your identity platform should also serve as a utility that helps you manage the full customer lifecycle. Integrated with the right reporting and CRM systems, it should tell you who is engaged, who is likely to churn and who needs a login reminder.

If operators and networks are to deliver great streaming video experiences and build thriving businesses, subscribers must be able to trust that their favorite content will be accessible when it matters most. Whether a media behemoth or network upstart, when it comes to a great experience, consumers will be holding all services to the same high bar.

How do you plan to consistently meet subscriber expectations?