The Ecosystem Behind the Screen

At every step in the video-streaming ecosystem, from the provider’s origin server, to the commercial Content Delivery Network (CDN), to transit and peering exchange points, to the network operator and finally to your home, the online video stream must navigate a diverse group of commercial businesses, business models and gateways. If we were talking about two-day delivery from UPS, there would be little cause for concern. Given we want to use this model to support live event streaming, this topic deserves more attention.

Addressing this concern, cable operators have placed an increased focus on scale, optimization and quality of experience (QoE), and have started to respond to rising expectations about quality with more infrastructure investments. As a result, consumers have started to get better service.

Fortunately, the long-term solution for online video is not just about building bigger networks, but building an intelligent network that leverages optimization technology like transparent caching, which pushes content out to the neighborhood where it can be delivered more cost-effectively to consumers.

With all that said, the online video situation is dynamic, and there is some cause for concern. Given recent events such as the revelations of vast NSA surveillance programs, there are some new scenarios that may emerge, such as encryption or related actions by the content providers that would obscure the video stream running across the operator network.

To be clear, full encryption of all streaming video via HTTPs would be an extreme step by any content provider and is thought to be a rather unlikely outcome. But any step that obscures over-the-top video and, therefore, undermines the network operator’s optimization initiatives should be viewed as a retreat from the open ecosystem needed to allow online video to flourish. Such a move should be proactively discouraged.

We may have, until now, looked at the streaming video ecosystem in a conventional way: namely, the innovators are the new content providers, and the incumbent network operators are only protecting the status quo and, if given the chance, will act in their own self-interest, inevitably harming the consumer. Given this, we need to look at the video streaming ecosystem with a fresh perspective and keep in mind that each member is faced with choices that impact the whole.

To this end, an industry forum may be a suitable vehicle to allow all members of the ecosystem to have a seat at the table. A video streaming alliance would be charged with creating an open architecture for interconnection so members couldn’t know what to expect from each other in terms of operations, quality, security and privacy. Mutual goals of transparency, open architectures and quality of service could potentially emerge as themes to get the industry alliance off the ground. Together, as members of the ecosystem, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to chart the course for the streaming industry that will allow online video to flourish.

Alon Maor is CEO and co-founder of Qwilt, a Redwood City, Calif.-based video-caching equipment vendor.