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Media consumers’ standards for internet-delivered content grow higher all the time.

Viewers expect that live and on-demand content delivered from the cloud will have the same quality, reliability, and availability typical of linear broadcasts on their set-top boxes. As a result, cable operators must be confident that the content distribution network (CDN) supporting their services offers the resilience and performance that are essential to smooth streaming.

To ensure that end users enjoy an optimal viewing experience, the CDN must be engineered to address the specific challenges of media delivery. For a start, it must function as a seamless part of the overall media delivery workflow, not as an add-on. The CDN should be open and built on APIs, so that it can be integrated with in-house or within third-party systems without the need for professional services.

What’s more, the CDN should have both the intelligence and reach to ensure that the highest quality segments of video are cached near the viewer’s physical location. In a typical workflow, video is encoded and segments of it are uploaded to cloud storage until the user requests it for playback when it then moves to the edge of the CDN. Ideally, an optimized CDN path connects directly to the last mile so that each end user always gets the highest quality video available at any given time. To offer this content quickly, the network must push content closer to end users in advance.

Recognizing that a viewer’s video player is requesting the first half-dozen video segments of a particular program, the CDN can intelligently begin to gather each consecutive segment, bringing them as close as possible to that viewer without waiting for the request from the video player. By getting ahead of the game in this way, cable operators can reduce the buffering and load times that can cause a viewer to try a different piece of content — or a different source of video entirely — all while increasing the overall quality delivered to the end user.

When redundancy is built into the CDN, with multiple networks facilitating automated failover from one to one another, cable operators can be confident in the reliability and continuity of services. Responsibility for uptime falls not on the cable operator but on the CDN, which should be equipped to identify and route content over the optimal route always.

From a monitoring perspective, the CDN should provide insight into its own network and also help users to troubleshoot other issues, such as missing frames or audio, and to make sure that programming rules like blackouts and other policies are being addressed. In short, the CDN should enable monitoring for every business case that the cable operator must justify when delivering an OTT feed, and it should offer monitoring tools as part of a complete service backed by a 24-hour network operations center, not as a cost center.

Finally, the CDN and the company behind it must be forward-thinking. Although the primary job of a CDN is to deliver bits, delivering the best possible streaming content in the best possible way can require ongoing development and innovation. When the network and supporting technology are robust, continuously adapted to support new standards and formats, the cable operator can stay ahead of the game in meeting viewer expectations. When the CDN provider is involved in creating and testing new standards, the cable operator or other content owner benefits from the seamless rollout of those standards and the new services or capabilities they enable.

Media consumers today want to access and watch video instantly. If they are watching at home on a television, they might be willing to trade some time for video at a higher bit rate. Ultimately, however, their loyalty depends on both quality and speed of access. When the cable operator chooses the right CDN to support its cloud-delivered content and services, it can maintain the high quality of experience that keeps its viewers happy and loyal.

Jason Friedlander is director, marketing communications at Verizon Digital Media Services.

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