Bram Tullemans (EBU T&I)

Eurovision Flow began as an R&D effort, demonstrating the technical feasibility of a new business concept. It went on to deliver significant cost savings to participating organizations and influence the market to the benefit of the entire EBU membership. With the R&D gains made, and several cost-effective multi-CDN service options now commercially available, Flow has fulfilled its mission.

The idea of the Flow project was to combine procured CDN capacity and multi-CDN technology in a single operational service. An outcome the EBU’s Vision 2020 strategic plan, the intention was to help EBU Members in the OTT domain. It was recognized that PSM organizations would increasingly find audiences online, which posed technical and operational challenges with implications for distribution costs. These risks were mitigated by the Flow project by giving Members access to a state-of- the-art technology stack in a fully operational service, while reducing their cost per GB delivered.

New CDN trends

Although it’s still a technical challenge to deliver media to the masses over the internet, EBU Members’ specialist teams have risen to the challenge. About half of the EBU membership now run a multi-CDN service either combining their own CDN with a public one or load-balancing traffic over public networks. The remainder of Members use a single public CDN or a local telecom operator with CDN backhaul capacity to deliver their content. This is less of a risk nowadays because public CDNs perform better, and when needed it is easier to change a CDN supplier.

When the Flow project started, CDNs suffered more operational blackouts and/or regional blind spots that could be overcome only by switching content automatically away from underperforming instances. This is where Eurovision Flow excelled. At one stage, the Flow service had eight CDNs with different capabilities in its portfolio.

Experience gained via the trial phase showed it worked best to use a maximum of three to four CDNs per content provider, with one as the core worldwide provider and adding two with regional and/or technical advantages. Having the EBU run the operation saved participating Members quite a heavy administrative and organizational burden.

Falling costs

Another positive development for content providers is the reduction in cost per GB delivered now offered by CDNs. When Eurovision Flow started, the price a smaller Member had to pay was more than 10 cents per GB for a single CDN. Today prices are 5-10 times lower. Flow provided, right when it mattered, a competitive edge and healthy pressure on the market. We heard from Members who experienced large price drops from CDN providers who learned they were part of Eurovision Flow. Overhead costs of running a multi-CDN operation on top of single CDNs have not dropped as much, which reduces the overall cost advantage.

Cost control is not the only advantage. Flow also made it possible to scale quickly, with a redundant setup to meet the needs of large events driving audiences to Members’ online services. By stacking the interconnection capacity of different CDNs, Flow overcame even the biggest challenges. One example was the surprise success of the Croatian team reaching the final of the FIFA World Cup in 2018: Flow ensured that the many Croatians who could not be in Zagreb to see the glorious homecoming of the team could follow the event via EBU Member HRT’s online service.

Eurovision Flow delivered on many promises, improving the quality of online delivery and providing operational and strategic advantages in addition to reduced costs. It grew into a full operational service delivering online media content for 16 companies. It reached its peak throughput during the FIFA World Cup 2022, Flow’s final tournament, which it ended with a win.

This article was first published in issue 55 of tech-i magazine.

EBU work on online distribution continues in the Broadband Distribution Architectures group, whose report ‘CDN Architectures Demystified’ (Tech Report 068) is available here.

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