Time – the one thing we cannot afford to lose

Time. .  We spend it in a wide variety of ways – at work performing tasks and creating things we’ve been tasked with.  We also spend time in our vehicles or on our bikes, headed to and from work.  And – given the present pandemic we face here in the US, many of us are spending more time with our families and working all in the same place.  I once asked a billionaire to identify the one thing he couldn’t buy but that was the most valuable thing in his life.  His answer?  Time.  No matter how we look at it, time is one of the most important yet finite elements in our lives.  We generally end up wishing we had more.  

The pandemic we are all living with today has had a hand in changing many things about life – how and where we work, how often we venture out of our homes, and what we do when we are home and not working.  We all have stories (and likely opinions) about quarantines, and I won’t digress here – but rather make a compelling point that shows a collective 50% increase in streaming data usage by device since April 2020. 50%, that is significant!  So while we have had more free time during this pandemic, more and more of us have turned to streaming services to consume more content.  In fact, as many as one-quarter of us had so much time at hand, we subscribed to another service.  Bottom line – pandemic or not, we are streaming more content to our devices than ever, and the trend shows no signs of slowing.

But what happens when the train is late?

So the subheading might be a head scratcher.  But here’s the problem.  You have that extra free time, sports leagues are back in play and games and other coverage can be streamed, but the game is several seconds behind real time and you’ve catching goals, home runs, and soon to be touchdowns after they happen. 

As in this example, John Appleseed up top is watching a feed of the football match and sees the shot on goal.  His friend Tim is also watching, but appears roughly 6-7 seconds behind John in the stream he’s watching of the match. This offset has been

 measured recently at as much as 30 seconds, and we see 15 seconds on a regular basis.  So they are both enjoying their experience of the event, until the shot on goal.  

So, when John shoots Tim a text to celebrate the goal, Tim is perplexed.  He hasn’t yet seen the same shot John has.  In video streaming, this condition is called latency.  Latency is defined as the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. For purposes of this discussion latency is the delay between the live shot on goal and the time when the viewer can see the goal on their device.  When video is processed for streaming, often times the source is passed from the venue – in this case let’s say it is the stadium – and the stream ladder of renditions is created in the cloud somewhere.  So in essence, there is very little processing of these streams at the edge and nearly all that work is done via a transcode step in the cloud.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but it does create latency that can be visualized in the example above.  This condition is most notable in live applications like news and sports, when things change moment by moment.  So in short  – latency steals time.


Time travel – is this a thing?

In a word, no.  Science fiction nor special effects are needed to accelerate the delivery of streaming video to the device of your choice.  However, there is a lot that can be done to reduce the amount of time elapsed between that proverbial goal happening on the pitch and the time you actually see it on your device.  By processing the actual steams you’ll consume on a device and not in the cloud, we are able to deliver those to a content delivery network (CDN) and reduce latency to near 1 second.  This means you are seeing that goal roughly one second after it happened in the stadium.  That’s significant.  

If you’re watched the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, we’re not exactly not talking time manipulation and travel as their character  Number 5 is able to do, moving through time and changing global outcomes, but what I’ve just outlined represents a measurable improvement in how we consume live streaming video.  Again, this isn’t a cloud versus on-premise argument or endorsement, but a different approach to delivery when time matters most – usually in news and sports applications.

Time is important for many reasons, and this is just one.  Offering broadcasters and publishers the flexibility to deliver their content using contribution or distribution architecture is yet another element of flexibility that is at the core of what Videon is.  It’s about time.  


Authored by Matt Smith

Matt Smith is a recognized digital media industry evangelist and thought leader, having spoken at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, IBC, and various other shows.  He’s served in a variety of roles in the industry during his career, with stops at Comcast, Brightcove Anvato, Envivio and others