Monday, October 15, 2012

YouTube Prove Internet TV Isn't Ready For Prime Time

It feels like deja vue all over again. I remember reports of an Elton John concert from somewhere in Ireland  around 2004 that the FT, straight faced had 4 million concurrent viewers online. Only, as I pointed out at the time, there wasn't even that much bandwidth capacity on the internet, especially at local level. There were similar reports  for Kylie and Robbie Williams gigs around the same time. (What I suspect they meant was that there were that many attempted connections to the stream - proof that no one could connect).

So, YouTube's claim of 8 million simultaneous viewers for the amazing images of Felix Baumgartner's world record beating freefall from 23 miles up again rang alarms bells as journalists who should know better vaunted the success of the webcast.

Now, those of us in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but the reality on the ground, certainly with my 100Mbps Orange connection here in France, was very different. Connecting was difficult, the connection was lost at least forty times, often froze and would usually not connect at all. The landing page was lightening quick, though, which shows what a different proposition delivering web pages is to delivering video streams.

And eight million, it should be remembered, is hardly enough to make up the prime time viewing of a single popular channel in a country like the UK.

If this is the best that Google with all its resources can do (and I personally believe that this was probably the largest single webcast to date), then we're a good way from replacing broadcast with internet.

Of course, an event like this would have been perfect for multicasting, but once more, we seem another decade from this being a reality.

In the meantime, we have actually stepped backwards in the technologies used for live streaming, using HLS and http delivery in order to pander to Apple's refusal to support rtmp or another sensible streaming protocol.

And adding to my viewing woes over the weekend was Sky - what are they doing ? Their skysport.com service for the Heineken Cup and Champions' League used Silverstream and it just didn't work, but the same stream of Sky Go was fine. What's going on here ? Sky used to be the champions of rationalised technology and their decision to use Silverlight baffles me.