SVG@NAB Perspectives: Limelight Networks’ Jason Thibeault on the Future of Streaming, Promise of 8K

Limelight Networks, a key player in the sports-video delivery space, is breaking out of its shell at NAB – not only by highlighting solutions like Orchestrate for Media and Broadcasters, but establishing itself as a thought leader capable of understanding and addressing the challenges and obstacles sports broadcasters face. SVG sat down with Senior Director of Content Marketing Jason Thibeault at the show to discuss how Limelight Networks is “growing up,” why 4K doesn’t hold the promise that 8K does, and how CDNs will hold up to the increasing number of fans looking to consume sporting events on their mobile devices.

What’s new for Limelight? What are you most excited about?
We’re going through a process right now of really improving the network. We’re focused on the network, and the reason were focused on the network, is we understand how important performance is and capacity is and scale is to all of our customers. They’re looking to us to deliver production-quality traffic and broadcast-quality video. They’re looking to us to deliver their video games and their software files. We spent the last 15 years building out this wonderful big private network, and now, it’s really a matter of making sure we are fine-tuning it as best we can. We’re doing lots of things like improving the way our edge software works so that we increase the capacity using just software improvements, so we don’t have to add any servers. We’re doing a lot of things to be more green; we’re reducing the number of servers we have in pops, and with the software improvements, we’re increasing that capacity so we’re saving wattage, we’re saving power

We’re kind of growing up a little bit. We’ve been around for awhile in the industry and we’ve reached that stage of maturity where it’s time to take off the kid gloves and put the shorts away put the flip flops away and really sort of get down to being a mature professional content delivering network that rivals the largest of our competitors.

How is Limelight addressing the needs of the sports market, specifically?

Limelight Networks' Jason Thibeault

Limelight Networks’ Jason Thibeault

For us, the sports market is really important because live sports are primarily what keep people on linear broadcast television. I’m not going to cut the cord because I don’t want to give up my live sports. But, more and more, live sports are moving to online streaming. We just had The Masters that was done in 4K, which is even better, and we’ve gotten a lot of the major league sports — the NHL, the NBA, Major League Baseball — that have been streaming online for awhile. They’re all our customers. We stream a lot of that traffic, and so for us, it’s really about building out a network that produces broadcast-quality experiences. That’s the key phrase for live sports, because when you start talking about degradation of quality, that’s instantly when people turn off. They get angry. They want to see the crispness of the picture and the ball being struck or the puck being shot or the basketball going through the hoop. They want to see that detail, and so what we’re trying to do is create a set of products and a suite of services that allows them to go from linear broadcast to online with the least complexity as possible.

We’re really turning our sites a lot on 4K. I sat on a 4K panel yesterday and talked about live 4K streaming ecosystem and about a lot of the complexities that are involved in getting 4K to the masses. How can we get trucks out in the field quicker? How can we commoditize 4K equipment so that everybody can use 4K equipment? How do we then get that streaming to television sets? What’s the bandwidth? How can we compress that? [We’re] trying to solve all these problems and, from Limelight’s perspective, using the CDN as sort of the mechanism to deliver that content out makes a lot of sense.

You’ve mentioned 4K at this year’s show. I’m curious what other trends your seeing at the show or hearing in the industry?
I’ll be controversial – 4K is dead. 4K was dead before it got out of the gate. When you see an 8K display, the level of detail is absolutely amazing. Japan has already committed to doing an 8K Olympics broadcast, so we know that’s going to happen. 4K, I think, is going to be a blip in the roadmap. I think it was a stepping stone to ultra high resolution displays, and that’s really what we’re after. We’re after lifelike displays and a lifelike experience, and when you look at 8K, it’s like looking at a photograph. I think what we’re seeing right now from NAB’s perspective is 4K — the march towards 4K – but, again, I think that’s the march towards ultra high resolution displays.

In the same vein, we’re seeing again still this transition from SDI to IP broadcast. I think, underlying the show, there is a feeling, a theme around this transition of linear broadcast television to mobile. I think all of these technologies – 4K, ultra high resolution displays, HDR, IP broadcasting, ATSC 3.0, they’re all pointing towards [a time when] people are going to be streaming more content via networks like ours and via the internet than they are watching via terrestrial linear programs.

With more and more people turning to streaming platforms to consume their content, scalability is key. Especially when you have those “viral” moments or word-of-mouth leads people to tune into a particular stream, how do you accommodate those spikes?
That’s the network. That’s the beauty of this private network. We’re one of the only CDNs that has our own backbone, and we don’t use the public internet at all to deliver traffic, so that allows us to do traffic shaping, [provide] quality of service, and really ensure that we have capacity. Or, if somebody comes along and exactly that happens — an event goes viral — and all of a sudden there’s an explosive number of users, we can handle that capacity whether it’s next door or 3,000 miles away, because we have all of these nodes that are built around the network that go around the globe. We have presence everywhere and we have capacity everywhere to deliver that content at scale.

Why is it important to have a presence at NAB? What are your goals for the show?/
NAB is sort of the nexus of broadcasters, content producers, and streamers for not only North America, but globally. Everybody converges on the show as much as they converge on IBC, and it’s really a great place for holding all of the meetings that you have to get done through the year in one spot. We’ve had all these conversations, we get to see all this key technology at the same time, and it all influences each other. It’s just a great place that everybody converges on for the industry.

Our goals are twofold: to meet people and network. We want an awareness of Limelight at the show that people know we’re here: we have people on the floor, we have people in a suite at the Venetian, we have customer meetings. And then the second thing is really to get ourselves in the conversation of trends within the industry and get people to understand that Limelight is a significant player when it comes to streaming video content, especially in the sports world, and allowing us to put out those ideas is like 4K is dead and 8K is the next big thing so that people understand that we know the challenges that are faced in the industry and that we understand how to solve them.

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