CenturyLink on moving ahead with Level 3

CenturyLink completed its acquisition of Level 3 Communications on 2 November 2017, creating a company with one of the largest global networks. It now serves customers in more than 60 countries and connects more than 350 metropolitan areas with approximately 100,000 on-net buildings. Here we talk to Rory McVicar, head of internet and content delivery services, EMEA at CenturyLink, about how CenturyLink is absorbing Level 3, and where he sees the biggest issues in sports broadcast today.

How is CenturyLink absorbing Level 3, in terms of its portfolio and staff resources?

The combined expertise of both companies coupled with a wide portfolio of adaptive networking solutions creates a compelling choice for enterprise, government, and wholesale customers globally. In EMEA our portfolio comprises of: Networking, Voice & Unified Communications, Content Delivery, Security, Managed & IT Services, Hybrid IT & Cloud.

The new CenturyLink consists of a talented team of knowledgeable professionals with deep technology and business expertise in addressing networking challenges and IT objectives of our customers. Our integration efforts to date are leading to the synergies we expected, aided by the fact that the former Level 3 and CenturyLink’s cultures are complementary. We’re constantly looking to improve the employee experience for the newly combined workforce which will, in turn, improve customer experience.

What is the goal of the combined business, and how are you moving ahead against your competitors?

Now positioned as one of the world’s leading network providers, our goal is to seize the significant opportunities we have to grow our business, and enable our customers to create stronger connections with their own customers and help improve their business performance.

The new CenturyLink allows us to move ahead against our competitors by offering even more sophisticated, innovative and scalable local to global solutions, from Adaptive Networking to Hybrid Cloud & IT. Our customer experience differentiates us. We can deliver a more consistent, reliable and efficient service experience as solutions are based on a wholly owned, 24/7 monitored network and end-to end solutions, all from one company.

With a stronger focus on improving our customers’ experience, we are more than a provider; we are a trusted partner in an increasingly complex digital world and we continue to leverage our collaborative expertise to drive results for customers.

What are your key aims in sports broadcast and how will you achieve those?

We see our customers moving increasingly towards IP-enabled workflows across the content acquisition, production and distribution phases of sports broadcast. Our mission is to be at the centre of that revolution in content creation, by providing a flexible, extensible platform which underpins and interconnects the diverse physical locations of the process.

One significant area of interest over the past 18 months has been the rise of remote production as a viable means of driving efficiency in a globally distributed events business. We are proving our deep expertise in this area by being part of UEFA’s U21 remote broadcast proof of concept project, which demonstrated that advances in connectivity have made it possible to run pretty much an entire production a thousand miles away at HQ.

On the distribution side, we’ve seen a dramatic growth in traffic on our content distribution network (CDN), as market adoption of over the top streaming services accelerate. Our main focus in this area is driving quality of service through network performance and stability. We also recognise the challenge of ensuring ‘broadcast-like’ low latency over non-fixed network conditions, and we’re actively engaged in several different projects to tackle that problem.

What do you see as being the biggest issues in sports broadcast today, technologically and otherwise, and how are you moving your company forward and innovating in those areas?

Probably the biggest barrier to adoption of new technologies in the broadcast world remains a cultural one. Change is always hard at scale, and that is certainly true of sports broadcast, where many of the processes and standards we rely upon for delivery are decades old.

However, several consumer market trends are now driving change at a faster pace than we’ve seen for some time. Firstly, the idea of consuming broadcast services over the internet has been normalised by a younger audience who grew up with online streaming. Secondly, the rise of mobile as a viewing platform is significant, not only for its flaunting of the ‘bigger is better’ idea, which has defined the home viewing experience for so long, but also for its QoS and network path considerations. Added to that increased bitrates through HDR, HFR and 4K, with a touch of AR thrown in for good measure, and you can see we as technologists will have enough to keep us busy for some time! 

The key point here, however, is the extent to which consumers remain engaged with sports and sports broadcast content. Never has it been more in demand or more valuable. With that in mind, countering the threat of piracy remains a key challenge for rights holders and vendors alike. Part of that challenge is again a cultural one yet providing differentiation through viewing experience and quality of service will place premium streaming services at an advantage versus the competition. We see CenturyLink’s role, given we own one of the best-connected networks in the world, as being central to delivering performance and stability at scale as the infrastructure of television changes.

How are you helping customers today?

For more than 20 years, our high quality, broadcast-based Vvyx Solutions has delivered pristine video for some of the most-watched television events and sporting programmes around the world, providing both acquisition of content and delivery to global audiences.

This summer our Vvyx Solutions will transmit international distribution and unilateral feeds in support of the global football championship to top networks in the US and Latin America starting 14 June. Collaborating with a range of networks, including Fox in the US, we will provide diverse routes in the transmission of the tournament and content feeds from Moscow, Russia to each programmer’s master control facilities.

For the first time in our delivery for the tournament, CenturyLink will offer 4K encoding, as many broadcasters and distributors now have the capability to deliver 4K and other high-resolution content.

Back in 2014, this major football event reached 3.2 billion viewers, so the stakes are high for broadcasters to provide smooth, uninterrupted access to every match. At CenturyLink, delivering large-scale live events on such a scale is what we live and breathe and we’re looking forward to helping our customers provide a seamless viewing experience throughout the championship.

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