Overcoming the challenges of delivering live sport and building at scale
Traditional platforms are falling behind in the race for sports fans. Viewers enjoy being free of previous boundaries and are embracing the benefits of new functionality and interaction not previously possible. However, the kickoff doesn’t wait. With zero tolerance for rebuffering and streams that scale from zero to massive in no time, the stakes are unusually high, making live sport the most demanding content type to deliver, requiring both flexibility and resiliency.
During Streaming Summit 2022, Fastly’s Gonzalo de La Vega, VP of Strategic Projects, was joined on stage by DAZN’s Robin Oakley, VP of Distribution Engineering. With significant reach by almost any measure (geography, platforms, type of sport, etc.), DAZN is an authority on delivering live sports content – a segment that continues to see explosive growth.
Having a background in the traditional broadcast world, Robin appreciates Quality of Service and Resilience, both of which he takes great effort to replicate in the online streaming world. “Our industry is slightly unusual in that you do your job best when people don’t know you’ve done anything at all. Still, we have the same challenges as any sports broadcaster from acquiring content, bringing it back, and producing it, to adding graphics, and much more,” Robin said. “But because DAZN is online only, there’s an incredible amount of variables such as the number of devices, the countries – different countries come with different rights packages – and they’ve got to be careful that the right content is delivered to the right place.” Robin added, “One more thing unique to this sort of online delivery is the relationship with the ISPs and controlling last mile delivery – that in itself adds another layer of complexity and variables.”
With rights to important content such as the Spanish La Liga, DAZN deals with content of extraordinary value to both the content owner and highly engaged audiences. Adding to this, Robin said that such contracts don’t come easily. “You have to gain that trust and show that you can broadcast it reliably and at scale. Security is also a great concern for the content owners, but with six years to its name, DAZN is now in a position where more and more rightsholders approach us for distribution.”
Asked about how DAZN works with Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and why they work with them in the first place, Mr. Oakley answered that one of the biggest challenges facing his team is distribution planning. Getting the right content to the right place and at all times, having the capacity to do that is what it’s all about. Such requirements make it imperative to engage CDNs, of which DAZN currently works with four, to ensure capacity and resiliency at a global scale.
Sometimes, they work directly with the ISP if they have their own delivery network. DAZN has even gone as far as commissioning and developing edge caches where they need them. Robin added, “At the end of the day, it’s about having options and access to networks that are already optimized and with built-in logic along with the operation centers and 24/7 support.”
Why the need for multiple CDNs? Robin stated that in DAZN’s experience, from a global perspective, it’s quite rare that any single CDN can deliver the capacity needed during peak performance periods. He added that not all CDNs have the same footprint around the globe and that some have stronger relationships with certain ISPs. Resiliency is also a big factor in the decision. “Nothing is faultless. Things happen, and we, therefore, need to understand the capacity across different CDNs, so we have different routes to get traffic to viewers,” Robin said. “This involves quite a bit of planning and some magic from the global team. It requires taking viewer data and forecast data, doing capacity tests, and determining load-balancing policies.”
Asked about the advantages DAZN is seeing when it comes to content delivery via their app, Robin discussed using it on a global scale for control to ensure the right content catalog is in the right markets. With a custom player built from the ground up for live content delivery, buffer size and latency are easier to fine-tune compared to an off-the-shelf solution. Still, the biggest advantage might be the heartbeat that is sent back alongside a wealth of data that can be used to determine the quality of the viewer's experience. Responding to issues at a moment’s notice carries tremendous value for any online broadcaster – especially for content as engaging as live sports.
You can view the recording in its entirety and learn about topics like Fastly’s Compute@Edge, our serverless offering, and how DAZN navigates the complexity of dealing with individual markets.