Football fever - broadcasters: How they can prepare ahead-of-time to meet viewer demand
Football fever is rife amongst fans around the globe, and major tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Football Championships can evoke such significant national interest that public broadcasters in many countries are under regulatory obligations to show matches. With Euro 2020 having taken place this summer following a year-long delay due to the pandemic, viewers have switched on in their droves to catch a glimpse of star players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe and Raheem Sterling as they showcase their talents to a global audience, placing pressure on broadcasters to handle spikes in demand.
What such events mean for broadcasters is a requirement to prepare and scale accordingly. At VUALTO in line with our expectations, we witnessed a significant 73% increase in viewing figures in June compared to May due to Euro 2020, despite the tournament only starting on the 11th, with our customers experiencing 4x higher volumes than at any other time. Match viewings tends to follow typical spikes in demand, peaking at kick off and then again at the start of the second half, although this peak is often smaller than the first. A look back at the Belgium vs Portugal game on the 27th June mirrors this pattern, showing a spike at kick off at 8pm BST and a second, smaller peak around the start of the second half just after 9pm:
To help our customers prepare for these spikes during Euro 2020, we analysed trends from the 2018 World Cup to devise how volumes would be expected to increase, deciphered where spikes in playback requests would take place, and took note of traffic patterns during a match, such as kick off, commencement of the second half and penalty shootouts. Over a period of several weeks, we load tested our entire platform to ensure that it could comfortably deal with the largest spikes in demand, using the Sweden v Switzerland match from the 2018 World Cup as a benchmark for comparison:
With sporting content so valuable to broadcasters, it’s paramount that DRM protection is robust and reliable, and can cope with peaks in demand. With this in mind, we also completed pre-scaling on each DRM cluster as well as the live streaming infrastructure, on top of adding a new European DRM cluster. Below are some of the results from stress testing at the Singapore cluster using VUALTO’s VUDRM, with the impact on latency also analysed to ensure that any delay in broadcast was kept to an absolute minimum:
Busting the myth: Auto-scaling versus pre-scaling
What these results show is the importance for broadcasters to be effectively planning ahead of the big events by utilising these technologies, particularly via the use of load testing and pre-scaling. Auto-scaling, where infrastructure requirements are scaled up automatically in response to demand spikes, is an option for broadcasters across a range of events, but its failure to scale quickly enough to meet steep spikes to coincide with kick-off times make it unsuitable for the sector.
Whilst auto-scaling is built into VUALTO’s platform, providing hassle-free benefits in certain circumstances, taking a manual pre-scaling approach to significant sporting events enables broadcasters the flexibility and robustness to manage rapid changes in demand, ensuring that overload is avoided and critical matches don’t suffer from disruption.
Support beyond technology
Complementary to our capabilities in pre-scaling has been our efforts to further ensure the robustness of our infrastructure for our clients. We have expanded our points of presence in popular viewer locations, while also ensuring automatic failover was in place in each cluster, meaning traffic could be diverted when needed, with load balancers enabling traffic to be divided equally between different clusters. For the Euro 2020 tournament, this saw the opening of a new PoP in Milan, strengthening our existing European PoP network.
At VUALTO we ensured that our 24/7 NOC and both 2nd and 3rd line support teams were available to support our clients as Euro 2020 began, with our professionals to monitor matches from approximately half an hour before the start time. As they knew what to look for in terms of viewing patterns, any unusual activity, such as large spikes in DRM licence requests from countries not covered by our clients, could be flagged, enabling them to prevent pirates from targeting streams. With all matches entered into the NOC’s monitoring diary, our team had comprehensive insight into the matches that our clients were covering, with 3rd line support on hand to help with any issues.
The popularity of major sporting events such as Euro 2020 have no doubt presented a unique challenge to broadcasters due to their global popularity. By utilising the right technologies to effectively plan for the biggest spikes in demand, such as manual pre-scaling, broadcasters and content providers can efficiently bring crucial sports events to the devices of faithful fans.