When Felix Baumgartner jumped from the Red Bull Stratos space capsule on 14 October 2014 he broke a lot of records. He was the first person to break the sound barrier while in free fall (or without the use of an engine.) He broke the world record for the highest balloon flight and he broke the record for the highest jump.
But perhaps the most interesting fact for those in the TV streaming business was that he broke the record for the most live streams with more than 9.5 million people watching concurrently.
And of course, the event was watched worldwide. There were no issues regarding borders, rights or time zones – or any of a number of other traditional issues that face broadcasters. Indeed, anyone in the world with an internet connection could watch the event.
But there was one big issue: the engineers did not know if there was enough server capacity for 9.5 million people to watch the same event at the same time. It had never been done before online.
When it comes to live streaming, each viewer (or each device) has to make a unique connection to the streaming site – with bigger audiences meaning bigger servers and bigger pipes to push the streams onto the internet. By comparison, broadcast is multicast – or in layman terms, you only need to push out one signal and theoretically everyone can receive it.
For broadcasters, audiences of 10 million happen every week in large markets like the US or the UK. And on a larger scale, events like the UEFA Champions League final is watched on television by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Broadcast technology is not restricted by the size of the audience, and the broadcast signal does not need to be bigger in order to be viewed by more people. Instead, once the signal has been transmitted, it can be accessed by an infinite number of people. If live streaming is ever going to compete with broadcast, then it’s going to need to solve for this fundamental technical issue.