Live From PyeongChang: Akamai Supports a Parade of Nations in Their Streaming Efforts
Media-business–development head Joachim Hengge discusses the unique use case of the Olympics
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics are streaming live in numerous nations across the world and through 30 international broadcasters based in the IBC here. Their efforts are being supported technologically by global CDN (content-delivery–network) powerhouse Akamai.
The company provides backend tech to bolster live streaming, while also delivering VOD clips and even virtual-reality products. A small group of reps is in South Korea for the Games to support their partners. Among them is Joachim Hengge, who heads media-business development for Akamai. We caught up with him at the IBC to chat about the company’s work.
How are you supporting your broadcast partners at these Winter Olympics?
Basically, the Olympics is like any other stream on our platform. It’s the size of the event, the importance, and the visibility of it globally that gives it a special treatment within Akamai.
Here in PyeongChang, there are special-operations teams for NBC in place. It always depends on what the customer is expecting and how the customer wants to be supported. For example, a Spanish broadcaster doesn’t care at all about the Olympics, but, in a place like Germany or the Nordic countries, it’s more important than the Summer Olympics. It’s all very regional. It depends on the region, on what the broadcaster expects from us in terms of support.
Usually, we would not necessarily have to be here in Pyeongchang due to the distributed nature of our platform, but it makes sense for our key customers, who are requesting us to be onsite, to be sitting in one room together. It’s helpful when handling possible escalations and things of that nature.
Have there been any challenges unique to these Games?
We’re getting to a place where we get used to what we’re doing because the largest Olympics broadcasters are roughly always the same. In the States, it has been NBC for a while. In Europe, it’s mostly the public-service broadcasters owning rights or sublicensing from Discovery now. So there are established relationships.
In general, when we look at Olympics, it is a perfect use case for online video, I would say: there’s so much going on at the same time, and, on your linear TV feed, you always have just that one sport that’s most popular. I always use curling. If you are totally into curling, you can watch curling the whole day on the internet delivered via OTT. And that’s a unique case. They’re playing in parallel so you have a second- and third-stream alternative if you have enough iPads and laptops. That’s a neat thing, right? You’re not depending on the director of your local broadcaster; you can be own director. [With the] World Cup or Super Bowl, everybody is watching the same stream at the same time. That’s the nice thing about Olympics.
Also, you can see the traffic pattern throughout the day. There might be a peak in the Nordic countries because there’s cross-country skiing in the morning, and then there is figure skating in the evening, where the U.S. is heavily watching. It’s very interesting: there’s not this one lighthouse event. The Summer Olympics kind of does have this with the men’s 100-meter final. But the Winter Olympics doesn’t really have this, unless the schedule creates one. For Sochi, it was the hockey semifinal between the U.S. and Canada. That was the peak event. But it just happened to be.
We’re in this stretch now where every major event sets streaming records. The numbers from these Olympics won’t hold even through this summer’s World Cup, I’m sure. So what does that mean for Akamai? Is this just incremental growth, and how much more can you scale up? Some people still believe that the internet isn’t capable of handling a bigtime live broadcast on its own yet.
We’re there to prove them wrong, that’s for sure. At these Olympics, we’re way beyond [the record] in terms of total traffic delivered, way beyond what we did for all of Sochi. We have the numbers to compare this, and it is heavily growing. We also see it in average bitrates. We always like to report on peak bandwidth and peak concurrents, which is not so much important for the Olympics due to the traffic pattern, like I said. In terms of overall traffic, we are way ahead of Sochi, and we’re feeling great.