Streaming video has transformed the way first world countries consume media content. From Spotify to TuneIn, and YouTube to Netflix, conventional broadcasting and sales models have been turned on their heads by the ability to distribute media files on demand. Modern audiences are increasingly expecting instant gratification, paying monthly subscriptions for unlimited access and shunning traditional platforms like DVDs and even television.
One-Second Download Times
The business model of securing a regular monthly income in exchange for unlimited content provision seems sound, until you consider the physical mechanisms currently being used to deliver that data. Until we can realize the one-second download times promised by 5G, or the 255TB laboratory speeds achievable through seven-core glass fibre cables, media streaming will remain dependent on relatively outmoded technologies like domestic broadband routers and copper cables.
The simple fact is that our available bandwidth is simultaneously filling up and slowing down. There are increasing complaints about slow provision of 4G services, even in city centres. A shortage of transmitter masts has been blamed for a huge drop in average download speeds across 4G networks, as unlimited data accounts encourage people to download (and upload) more video content. Today’s smartphones can record in full HD, with uncompressed video files uploadable onto social media within a couple of clicks.
Mushrooming Data Volumes Overload Speed
Things are not significantly better in the home, where consumer reports indicate increasing dissatisfaction with the broadband speeds being delivered by cable and phone companies. The UK’s average home download speed has increased by over 6Mbps in the last year to an average of 28.9Mbps after extensive investment by service providers, yet this still hasn’t been sufficient to keep pace with mushrooming data volumes. Despite impressive efforts by telco companies to improve regional and national infrastructure, the weak link continues to be the speed and dependability of connections between local exchanges and private homes. This is particularly true in rural areas, where high-speed connections are only rolled out after urban regions have been adequately serviced. Netflix Australia’s high-profile launch last year provoked numerous complaints about buffering and stuttering, due to a national average bandwidth of just 6.6Mbps. Decent city speeds were dragged down by sluggish access in more isolated regions, tarnishing the service’s reputation nationally.
On-Demand Provision Guaranteed Through Cloud Infrastructure
At least there are no problems from the supply side. To ensure their services are always available, content providers have invested huge sums in failsafe hardware such as Amazon Web Services. This cloud-hosted infrastructure can distribute video via thousands of global servers, ensuring on-demand provision anywhere at any time. The leading streaming providers will continue to aim for zero downtime, and it’s likely that two or three brands will come to dominate each individual streaming sector – esports, movies, etc.
In time, we may begin to see specialist streaming services focusing on particular niches, offering relatively obscure content that mainstream providers overlook. The market can support numerous streaming providers, in the same way we currently have thousands of retail websites and dozens of social media platforms to choose between. Once a superfast internet connection is established in every home, the streaming revolution can truly reach full speed. Only then will we see how many streaming video providers can survive and thrive.