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MTV CTO Articulates CDN Open Problems

Posted on Friday, Aug 3rd 2007

As we discuss Web 3.0 and Online Music, I have also been pondering some of the issues that large media companies are facing today. I had an interesting chat with Nick Rockwell, CTO of MTV Networks, focusing on MTVN’s digital businesses, including some of the internet’s most popular and recognizable brands: MTV.com, VH1.com, Nick.com, and NickJr.com. Nick has led MTVN’s digital technology organization since 2000.

One issue that MTV faces, like many others in the content business, is the shift in advertising technologies, and the demand from advertisers to provide more accountability. You have read some of my rather detailed commentary on the subject recently, as I discussed the vulnerability of Google’s AdSense model, which has skewed too far in favor of the Advertisers, and by disregarding entirely the publishers’ interests.

In this piece, I want to explore the infrastructure issues related to streaming large files to large audiences, that Nick talked about.
The basic problem is that it is still not possible to stream an online event to millions of simultaneous viewers. A hundred thousand viewers is okay. But not Millions.

Streaming servers from Microsoft, Real Networks, etc. all do a fairly poor job of managing variable bit-rate connections. Streams need to upgrade and downgrade gracefully, but they don’t. You start viewing something at a decent bit-rate, and then your neighbor starts to download a movie next door, and the bit-rate drops. A small company called Move Networks stands out with a clever solution to this problem.

But overall, MTV’s problem of transcoding 50,000 pieces of content at various bit-rates and routing an appropriate version to a connection remains a hairy one, hindering the Internet’s evolution to a full-blown television-caliber content delivery medium.

And when it comes to handling millions of such simultaneous connections, even CDN’s like Akamai fail.

Not surprisingly, startup activities abound around the general area, but so far, no one has the solution.

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[…] had a conversation recently with Nick Rockwell, MTV’s CTO. Nick highlighted some of the complex open issues he is dealing with. Many of the startups are working on solving these problems. Akamai, being a company with a heavy […]

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