If content is King, the network is the Hand

(And for non-Game of Thrones fans: the network is integral in delivering the content we want today)

The wait for millions of Game of Thrones viewers is finally over as the highly anticipated fifth season of the popular TV show greets our screens tonight. Drawing in an audience of 18.4 million, this hugely successful HBO show is estimated to have been downloaded 8.1 million times last year, with roughly 1.5 million people downloading the first episode during on the day of its launch. And this year, will prove to be no different.

Now that fans have the ability to stream the series on HBO’s on demand service HBO Now, viewers will be able to choose when, where and on what device they watch their favourite show. And we are seeing this trend in TV viewing becoming the norm. The fact we can consume entire series of video content anytime and on any device, and the proliferation of connected devices and OTT services, is fundamentally changing the way people watch TV and video.

We are already seeing transformation happening in the US as Netflix currently accounts for 34.9% of downstream peak. In Europe this figure is lower at 4.5%, but history shows that consumption patterns in Europe tend to mimic the US with a 12-18 month lag. This will put huge pressure on our network infrastructure, particularly when you consider that the culture of ‘binge watching’ demands huge amounts of bandwidth at less predictable times of day.

To all intents and purposes the Internet today is a video network, but it was never designed with that in mind. The pressures facing internet connectivity are in contrast to the highly reliable, high quality broadcast TV service that we have been receiving for the last 30 years. Yet, increasingly, people want good quality content as well as more choice and flexibility and at the moment we are reasonably tolerant of bandwidth and buffering issues. A recent report from Conviva shows that only 25 percent of respondents would engage with video content for more than four minutes of an inferior viewing experience.

But as this culture of “binge watching” continues to grow in popularity, will we be quite so tolerant when we can’t watch the latest season of our favourite shows with the user experience we demand? The way we consume content today means that we need to pay increasing attention to the entire connectivity infrastructure – from the data centre to routers inside our homes. Network optimisation, peering and compression improvements will all help but the infrastructure needs to be looked at as a whole.