Level 3 Scores Big in Spain With World Cup Streaming

The massive online viewership of the 2010 FIFA World Cup has gone a long way in proving the viability of streaming live sporting events in the U.S. However, this phenomenon is not limited to the States: Level 3 Communications and Spanish broadcaster Telecinco have posted record-breaking numbers for their HD streaming of the World Cup. During Spain’s opener against Switzerland on June 16, approximately 220,000 concurrent users watched the broadcast on Telecinco’s Website, making it the most-watched event the broadcaster and Level 3 have ever delivered to online audiences in Spain.

“This has certainly has been an eye-opening experience and a fantastic one when you think about the traffic volumes that we’re seeing for the World Cup,” says Peter Neill, SVP of content markets at Level 3. “I think it’s lending some credibility to [live streaming of sports]. From a Level 3 perspective, it certainly validates the position we’re in right now, in terms of the sports arena, to really deliver a quality sports experience in both the broadcast world and online space.”

From Capture to Consumption
Level 3 has provided the distribution backbone for the eight World Cup matches that Telecinco owns the streaming rights to in Spain. Level 3 is leveraging its Broadcast Encoding Centre, Vyvx services,  and international Tier 1 backbone to encode, distribute, and stream the World Cup feed for the Spanish broadcaster.

The streaming video is encoded separately for Adobe Flash and Microsoft Smooth Streaming. For the Flash stream, Level 3 has partnered with Overon, which encodes the video using the h.264 standard. Level 3 encodes the Microsoft Smooth Streaming feed in-house, using VC-1 (SMPTE 421M video codec). The content is then transmitted over Level 3’s CDN (content-delivery network) to fans online. While the video is being broadcast, it can also be recorded and stored on the Level 3 Origin Storage server network for archival or video-on-demand.

Level 3 uses adaptive-bitrate technology to maintain a consistent video stream regardless of the user’s bandwidth and computer performance at the time. This allows the company to deliver a true HD feed to customers with sufficient bandwidth, while providing a lower-quality but consistent live stream to viewers with lower connection speeds.

Alleviating Telecinco’s ISP Worries
In February, when Telecinco began its search for a CDN provider for its World Cup streaming, it had serious reservations regarding several ISPs’ (Internet service providers’) ability to support video streams during ultra-high-traffic periods like the World Cup.

“They were concerned over some ISPs in France supporting what we’ll define as pure-play CDNs,” says Neill. “Certainly, there are a lot of issues out there related to dumping [streams], especially in times like the World Cup, when Europe is seeing very high traffic. They were concerned that traffic volumes might reach a point where a particular French ISP might turn off any one of those pure-play CDNs. However, by owning the network, Level 3 is in a better position to manage the quality of the service delivered and avoid [these types of issues].”

Full Network Control
As more and more viewers drift toward viewing sports online, Level 3 believes it has positioned itself in a prime position to stream high-profile events like the World Cup to viewers all over the world.

“The big piece for us — and something we’ve been talking with the sports leagues and broadcasters about over the last 12 months — is the ability to take that broadcast feed and encode and distribute it to multiple online providers,” says Neill. “It’s exactly the position that Level 3 wants to be in, and I think we’re seeing that validated across the industry in terms of delivering a quality experience. Our ability to control that full network that delivers the feed end to end provides a noticeably higher quality experience.”