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28 April 2022

Disney, Lumen launch CDN configuration metadata push for SVA

Disney Streaming and Lumen Technologies have formally announced a joint project that will attempt to create a standardized way to publish CDN configuration metadata. The pair hope this will aid Multi-CDN ease of use, and the standard seems set to be housed within the Streaming Video Alliance (SVA).

Currently, a CDN user, such as Disney, must publish their CDN configurations to each of their CDN vendors’ systems, via a suite of APIs and management portals. When dealing with multiple territories, products, and brands, this operational headache increases, and so Disney has picked Lumen to help create a system that should solve this particular problem.

Disney and Lumen, which was formerly known as CenturyLink and rebranded after acquiring Level 3 Communications for some $25 billion, have already submitted the first version of the Configuration Interface Specification to the SVA. This announcement is to draw attention to the second version, which the pair say should be complete by the end of the year.

With NAB as the backdrop to the announcement, some of the quotes issued appear juicy. Disney Streaming’s Michael Fay, VP Software Engineering, said “we believe all streaming providers will benefit from standardization across commercial CDN providers and the Open Cache industry. Hundreds of millions of subscribers already engage with Disney, and as demand increases for our direct-to-consumer platforms, we believe standardization will be a key driver in maintaining our reputation in delivering a high-quality viewing experience for subscribers at scale.”

That reads like a shot across the bow for the broadcasting industry at large, which is painfully aware of the decline of pay TV subscriber bases. Here, Disney has wholeheartedly abandoned the pay TV market as a conduit to customers, and its unicast direct-to-consumer distribution model is diametrically opposed to the National Association of Broadcasters.

And also looking to make headlines, Google has announced its new Media CDN offering, which essentially opens up the Google Cloud infrastructure that powers YouTube for other video services to use – for a price, of course. Google has been migrating YouTube from an on-prem architecture into Google Cloud fully, for some time. This move would align YouTube more closely with other CDN deployments, which sounds like a boon for the SVA’s Open Caching plans, but Google is also looking to closely integrate its advertising services with Media CDN too.

In classic fashion, the names of the projects mentioned in the Disney-Lumen announcement do not match up with their official names within the SVA. Disney and Lumen point to the SVA’s Configuration Interface API page, when discussing the Configuration Interface Specification. Disney and Lumen then mention the upcoming second version.

However, the SVA page consists of three parts. The first part appears to be the foundational document, and is on Version 1. The abstract describes how it extends the IETF’s CDN Interconnect (CDNi) metadata model, and adds publishing layer APIs to provide configuration management capabilities required by the CDN and open caching industries.

The second part appears to be the metadata object model, which was published at the same time as part 1. Part 2 is on Version 1.0. Both were published at the start of February 2022. According to the splash page, Part 3 has not yet been published, but once you dig into the details, you will see that this too was published in February.

Based on the Disney-Lumen announcement, you would probably assume that Part 3 was the entire subject of their interest, but we have received confirmation that all three parts are the focus. Jason Thibeault, Executive Director of the SVA, said that he expects parts two and three to be updated within the year, with part one likely to remain unchanged.

So, parts two and three will jump to a v2.0 status, once the work of Disney and Lumen have been incorporated. Part three sounds like the most important element, and concerns “the requirements for a configuration publishing layer are presented, along with APIs that facilitate the publishing of CDNi metadata objects within the CDN and open caching ecosystems.”

The configuration work is part of the Open Caching working group, chaired by Hulu and Qwilt, within the SVA. Open Caching had a pretty solid 2021, as Faultline reflected in its final issue of the year. In March this year, we examined Velocix’s validation of Open Caching business models, and concluded that the technology is on the cusp of hockey stick growth over the course of the next 18 months.

Put simply, Open Caching should enable ISPs to cache content nearer the viewer, to provide a better quality of experience, and be compensated by the video service provider for this function. Creating these local caches should reduce the bandwidth requirements of the inter-ISP networks, and lower the CDN bills of the content providers. This requires a lot of cooperation, between the ISPs and their access networks, the content owners that are trying to provide customers with video, and the CDNs that broadly act as the conduits between the two.

Still, Open Caching is far from a certainty. A recent IBC webinar featured panelists expressing doubts about fragmented billing, the orchestration of bitrate and bandwidth optimization between the parties, and privacy concerns. Velocix, our main interest in that particular discussion, was sure of Open Caching’s chances.

The Part 3 working group includes contributors from Broadpeak, Comcast, Disney, Limelight, Lumen, Qwilt, Telefonica, Vecima, and Verizon. Back in July 2021, Faultline examined an open caching deal between Disney and Verizon, expressing doubts that open caching does not seem particularly open when it is an exclusive arrangement between an operator and a single streaming service – and that it screamed of paid prioritization, which should fall foul of net neutrality regulations.

This is the heart of the adoption problem for Open Caching, and to this end, the recent Disney and Lumen announcement suggests that the tide might be turning. After all, Multi-CDN configurations are an inherently competitive market, where the CDN providers are essentially bidding the lowest price to try and win the current business of the video service.

In Multi-CDN, the video service can dynamically switch between multiple CDN providers, based solely on price or perhaps on different quality or resiliency criteria. Switching is expected, and so the Open Caching expectation that the video service would be paying out to multiple different caching providers can be seen as a natural evolution of that ethos.