Broadband creates new spot the ball contest
Anyone who has read the national press or listened to the radio in the last day or two will no doubt be aware that the Ukraine versus England match on Saturday 10th October is to only be made available online and in some cinemas, and not available via standard broadcast TV.
The website for the match coverage, lists the price as £4.99, with the price increasing to reach a peak of £11.99 on match day. Apparently, Perform Media Services Limited has set a limit of one million viewers in an attempt to ensure they can supply the match to all those who pay for it. The media coverage has focused on issues such as buffering, which is where the local computer creates a cache of a few seconds video in an attempt to smooth out the occasional frame drops that are almost inevitable with over the Internet streamed video. For live streaming though the buffering is a lot less than for a recorded event, which means a glitch created by someone else on your connection opening a webpage may mean you lose the picture or it goes grainy for a few seconds.
One million views of a stream that runs at 0.25, 0.5 or 1Mbps will be a big test of the UK Internet infrastructure. iPlayer is often seen as the big video bandwidth consumer, but the difference here is that people are viewing a live event, and have paid a minimum of £4.99 so expectations will be much higher.
The website for the stream does give some help and advice and informs people how to upgrade to Flash version 10 which the stream will use, and it should work on PC and Mac platform. The site does suggest a list of bad providers that use traffic management. There is some irony here as a provider using traffic management in a positive manner could cope better with the load and even if capacity was strained, ensure at least the lower bit rate video was available.
Usage warning: The 1Meg stream if running for two hours will use 1 GB (GigaBytes) of data, the 0.25Meg stream using around 0.25GB. So if you have a monthly usage allowance ensure you have enough spare allowance, or that any excess charges will not appear as a massive shock when you get the bill in a few weeks.
The Internet was never designed for live video broadcast events. It works very well for catch-up TV style systems where the load is spread out, but the spikes that live events can generate have the power to create problems for millions. Cooperation between content providers and broadband providers could alleviate some of this, e.g. if the stream was available via BT Vision, the capacity booking system associated with a video stream on BT Vision would mean people stood a good chance of an uninterrupted stream.
The situation for those who do subscribe but end up shouting at their computer and swearing at their broadband is covered in the terms and conditions for the match stream. The terms mean that if it is your broadband or the Internet as a whole that causes the problem then no refund will be forthcoming. At least there is a test stream so you can check that it should work before parting with hard earned cash.
(d)"Where the Site (or the Link, where applicable) is not accessible during the Match due to reasons within the Content Provider's control, the Content Provider shall use its reasonable endeavours to resolve such issues as soon as practicable to the extent that it is within its control to do so. If you fail to receive and view a substantial element of the Match due to any failure by the Content Provider to provide access to the Site (via the Link, where applicable) for reasons within the Content Provider's control, the Content Provider will acting reasonably refund such proportion of the Payment made by you as it decides is fair in the circumstances. This clause 3(d) sets out the full extent of your rights and remedies in respect of any failure by the Content Provider to provide access to the Site, which results in you not being able to view the Match."Extract from Ukraine v England streaming site conditions
If broadband (in any country) is to embrace live broadcast style coverage then the infrastructure needs to change, media caches need to move out of the data centre and much closer to the consumer, possibly right down to the exchange level for large exchanges. This requires joined up thinking, which unfortunately all too often does not happen, as media providers/right holders often see the Internet as the opposition.
Update 1.15pm: Corrected the maths for the amount the stream will use, forgot bits to Bytes conversion.