As challenges facing traditional social media networks capture headlines, a much bigger story pointing to the pervasive socialization of online experiences is unfolding with strategic implications for decision makers everywhere. Consumers are no longer content with passive viewing and consumption. They want to connect with each other, customize their interactions, and engage fully with their… Continue reading 7 Reasons WebRTC Streaming Is Key to Socializing the Internet
As challenges facing traditional social media networks capture headlines, a much bigger story pointing to the pervasive socialization of online experiences is unfolding with strategic implications for decision makers everywhere. Consumers are no longer content with passive viewing and consumption. They want to connect with each other, customize their interactions, and engage fully with their media. WebRTC streaming is shaping up to be the perfect solution to the meaningful socialization of the internet.
In a world where an ever greater share of communal life is moving into virtual space, providers of streamed sports, esports, multiplayer gaming, movies, and other media and entertainment (M&E) content offered live or on-demand as well as those offering e-commerce, gambling, and much else share the same goal. They want to enable social experiences on their own platforms that will be compelling enough to keep people engaged whatever the use case might be.
This is blurring the lines that once defined social media.
As Deloitte put it in its 2022 Media Trends report, when it comes to M&E industry strategies, executives “should be thinking hard about how people socialize around entertainment and how entertainment itself is becoming more personalized, interactive, and immersive. The business models that have brought them this far, and even the technologies they have relied on, may not carry them through the next wave of change.”
1. Synchronization of User Experiences Is Vital to Socializing Live-Streamed Services
Socialization is particularly important in enriching user engagement with live events. Shared experience and the ability to communicate about it are vital to people’s enjoyment, whether they’re in attendance physically or virtually. But to achieve the full potential of socialized online engagement with live-streamed services, providers need to deliver better experiences than has generally been the case so far.
Notably, one of the biggest challenges developers face is ensuring their content is received at precisely the same time by everyone sharing the social experience. That’s relatively easy to do when socialization revolves around a small group accessing a stored content file under the control of an app using any of a variety of techniques to synch up HTTP streams while employing ancillary chat platforms to provide support for real-time audio or, in some cases, video communications.
Achieving frame-accurate synchronization of a live-streamed event that can be joined by any number of people at any time during the webcast no matter where they’re located or how many feeds are contributing to the user experience is another matter beyond the reach of conventional HTTP-based streaming. Adding an interactive component to video communications complicates things further.
2. Video Communications Top List of Advanced Features in Service Socialization
Support for real-time video communications among users, including the sharing of personal content, has become table stakes for anyone adding a social dimension to their applications. How could it be otherwise, given the proliferation of mobile video chat apps like Apple’s FaceTime and Android-optimized and OS-independent alternatives like Google Duo, Tango, and Viber? And that’s not including the plethora of multi-user video conferencing platforms available.
Adding to the challenges of synchronization, the embellishments to user experience providers want to deliver with live content often include things like support for multi-screen viewing, feeds from remote commentators, and overlays from sources of graphics, data, highlights, and other content from producers and third-party partners. All must be synchronized for simultaneous experience across all users.
Of course, as support for video-based user communications and the sharing of user-generated content becomes ever more vital to social networking in general, the need for real-time synchronization of shared video experiences extends to all types of social settings. For example, even Twitter is preparing to introduce video communications as the company struggles to regain momentum in the wake of the tumultuous 2022 takeover by Elon Musk.
Twitter has supported voice chat among up to 13 users since launching its Spaces app in 2021, and it allows users to share video content lasting up to two minutes and 20 seconds with tweets or with conversations in Spaces chat rooms. Now, as revealed by Musk in a recording of a company meeting leaked to The Verge in November, at some unspecified point in the near future the company will enable participation in encrypted video chats.
Beyond synchronization of all contributions in real time, the challenges attending to the creation of immersive, integrated shared video experiences among multiple users include scalability, ease of use, visual and audio quality, and much else. In other words, the social mediazation of the internet represents a transformative approach to streaming infrastructure.
As discussed below, the transformation brings into play the real-time interactive streaming (RTIS) capabilities of a WebRTC-based platform with the versatility and extensibility of Red5 Pro’s Experience Delivery Network (XDN) infrastructure. With XDN, synchronization along with unlimited scalability, persistent adherence to quality metrics, support for interactive engagement with multiple video feeds, and distribution across multiple clouds extends to everything that’s part of social engagement, whether it occurs within a generalized social networking environment or with live or stored content delivered by a streamed service.
3. Ready-to-Use Frameworks for Building In-Service Socialization Simplify Development
Fortunately, putting together an immersive social environment that can take advantage of these capabilities is much easier than it once was. Indeed, a major development contributing to the disruption of the traditional social media paradigm is the emergence of multiple frameworks for building new so-called decentralized social networks free of the limitations imposed by the dominant players.
Often with controversial results, these networks avoid centralized control over what can be communicated, allow users to participate without sharing private data, including in some cases their true identity, and provide users more control over the content they generate, frequently with support for monetization through cybercurrencies.
Critically, the ability of decentralized social networks to flourish with small user bases rests on the fact that the myriad frameworks that have emerged to support them are designed to enable cross-platform communications and content sharing. This contrasts with the in-platform restrictions imposed by mainstream social platforms.
In many cases, federated usage is enabled by social media development frameworks that rely on ActivityPub, a protocol standardized by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that provides a set of APIs for integrating content with social platforms while enabling cross-platform notifications and content sharing. Mastodon, PeerTube, Friendica, Pleroma, Pixelfed, and a host of other ActivityPub-based frameworks, typically offered free and on an open-source basis, provide developers with a wide choice of approaches to usage rules and functionality.
The most widely used framework with a reported user base in the two-million range is Mastodon, which is designed to support Twitter-like microblogging but at a maximum of 500 rather than 280 characters without the restrictions imposed by that platform. Mastodon has spawned a large number of branded social media operations, the most famous of which is Donald Trump’s Truth Social.
Each operates with its own rules, account privileges, themes of interest, regional characteristics, etc. on servers that are interconnected like nodes on a network. This allows cross-platform sharing of messages to whatever extent the rules of any given instance allow.
4. Ancillary Watch Party Apps Fall Short of In-Service Socialization Goals
These decentralized social network frameworks give service providers a lot to work with when it comes to creating in-service socialization of their users’ experiences. But, so far, service providers seeking to socialize user experiences have just scratched the surface of what can be done by focusing on support for rudimentary watch parties, most of which are limited to voice chat.
These efforts took hold during the Covid lockdown when demand for co-viewing experiences surged, especially among younger audiences. For example, a survey conducted by Hub Entertainment Research found that as of mid-2021, 23% of all viewers and 41% of those in the 16-34 age bracket had used a co-viewing app, compared to 20% a year earlier.
Since then, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon, Sling TV, and other streaming service providers have been making watch-party apps available for subscribers viewing stored content on their channels. Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) is an exception with a broader reach than the other service-affiliated apps. It can be used to support up to 50 co-viewing participants in voice chat with any service.
Among apps in this group, only Sling TV and Teleparty enable co-viewing with sports and other live-streamed content. And Sling TV is the only one that supports video chat, which is limited to a handful of co-viewers per watch party on its own channels.
There’s also a host of independent DIY apps like Discord, Chrome Watch Party, StreamParty, Watch2Gether, Kast, Vemos, and many more that enable co-viewing of on-demand programs from multiple service providers. Most are limited to voice chat involving anywhere from a handful to dozens of users.
As for live events, the use of watch parties has been sporadic with few instances that come close to what’s needed to deliver truly compelling experiences. Some have fallen victim to M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activity, like the NFL’s watch party support delivered through Yahoo Sports, which disappeared with Verizon’s 2021 sale of Yahoo to private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Similarly, BT Sports’ Watch Together, which was in beta when BT Sports merged with Discovery’s Eurosport in 2022, has dropped from view on the BT Sports website.
Perhaps the most far-reaching sports watch party initiative was undertaken in 2022 when European sports streaming powerhouse DAZN announced co-viewing would be part of the revamped business model it was implementing with its streaming app, which it says is delivering live events in 225 countries. But the DAZN watch party option so far is limited to enabling up to four people to participate in a video chat while viewing events on their laptops and PCs.
5. The Live Sports Socialization Trendline Is Moving to a New Multi-Feature Paradigm
Big changes are afoot as consumer demand for streamed sports has forced license holders to embrace streaming rather than treating it as a threat to their traditional TV affiliates’ interests. In 2022 Nielsen reported that 40.7% of sports fans worldwide were streaming sports events through online platforms. Production platform supplier Grabyo predicts that, based on a global survey of 15,000 consumers, the traditional TV market’s share of live sports viewership will drop to 28%.
With much bigger audiences to satisfy, some sports leagues and networks are introducing new approaches to in-stream socialization that go far beyond the previous watch-party strategies. For example, in 2021 the New York-based regional sports network YES launched a streaming app available to its TV channel subscribers that combines interactive graphics, live stat overlays, real-time polling, and a four-person watch-party option with video chat. Viewers can activate the app for viewing Yankees baseball, Nets basketball, Islanders hockey, regional college sports, and other live events on desktops, iOS and Android phones and tablets, and some connected-TV devices.
As reported by Sports Video, YES Network officials say their investment in these capabilities has already paid off. Streams per Nets games were up 21.3% YoY with a 130% increase in average minutes watched per game. The per-game stream count for Yankees games grew by 246% with a 145% gain in average minutes watched.
The NBA, too, has brought together support for synchronized watch parties and a wide range of ancillary features, many personalized to deliver clips and data tied to each viewer’s interests, which subscribers to its League Pass can engage with while streaming games. As described by one reviewer, “The platform is a hybrid of modern app design with social media conventions.”
But, used natively, the League Pass streaming app only supports watch parties viewed from subscribers’ desktops. Otherwise, the only mobile access is through Apple’s SharePlay, a watch party extension used with the company’s FaceTime video chat app that has gained significant traction with multiple types of services since its launch with iOS 15.1 in 2021.
Along with NBA, SharePlay affiliations include ESPN+, Paramount +, Disney +, Hulu, Showtime, and many more streaming services. As in the case of NBA’s League Pass, providers can bring additional bells and whistles into the watch party experience on SharePlay, which works as an integral component of affiliates’ apps.
Apple has made this possible while ensuring that all watch party participants’ views are synchronized, whether the chosen program is live or stored. People can choose to chat via text or, when they do speak, the audio automatically adjusts to make their comments audible.
SharePlay is meant to simplify access to watch parties for users on Apple devices. But, for anyone initiating a SharePlay session, which can be joined by up to 33 people, knowing who meets the user requirements can be a challenge. Only those who have access to the selected program on the same streaming service used by the initiator can join, provided they are on iOS 15.1 or the latest OS used with iPads, Mac computers, and Apple TV devices.
6. Brazil’s Dale Proves There’s an Even Better Way to Socialize Live-Streamed Sports
A much better reflection of what can be accomplished with the socialization of user experiences can be found with the streamed soccer games supported by the Dale platform in Brazil. This is the latest of a growing number of instances around the world where video publishing platforms and service providers have determined the best approach to socializing user participation in their content streams is through reliance on Red5 Pro’s XDN infrastructure.
“We believe Red5 Pro and WebRTC are great solutions for live sports,” says João Nasseh, Dale’s co-founder and chief product officer. As a startup launched in 2021 to give Brazilian football (soccer) leagues and distribution rights holders a compelling sports streaming alternative to cable TV, Dale is enabling synchronized real-time viewing and truly personalized experiences across a wide range of approaches to social engagement with live-streamed sports, Nasseh says.
This goes beyond delivering personalized graphics and clips to allowing users to choose camera angles, access commentary from and talk with their choice of outside influencers, and engage in group watch parties. “This flexibility was crucial for Red5 Pro being our partner because there are a lot of things that can be done,” Nasseh explains.
He notes Dale switched to Red5 Pro last year when another WebRTC-based platform provider proved not to have that flexibility or the ability to scale to audiences in the hundreds of thousands that are common to soccer viewership in Brazil. In early 2023, for example, Dale is streaming championship games from a Rio de Janeiro-based league with a fan base approaching 100 million, where any given game can draw 200,000 plus viewers.
Initially, the focus has been on freeing viewers from having to rely on broadcasters’ chosen commentators by allowing them to choose streams featuring influencers who share their passions. “Fans want to hear commentary from someone who has an emotional involvement with their team,” Nasseh notes.
But they don’t want to rely on streamed content from influencers if reception lags behind what others are seeing over cable channels. “We’re streaming faster than cable TV, so that’s a big advantage for us,” he adds.
The real-time advantage also applies to everything else Dale can do on the XDN platform to personalize each user’s experience. “One guy likes the narrator, another doesn’t,” Nasseh says. “One wants to watch with the sound muted, another wants it very loud. One wants to talk during the match, another wants to be silent. Some people want to engage in big watch parties, others prefer small groups.”
The flexibility extends to enabling the introduction of real-time betting on the Dale platform, which is on the company’s development agenda. “We are seeing a lot of interest from betting companies,” Nasseh notes.
7. XDN Architecture Offers the Flexibility & Scalability Essential to Internet Socialization
In contrast to most other WebRTC-based platforms where prebaked solutions limit innovation in the use of real-time interactive streaming, XDN architecture is designed to provide developers the freedom to create whatever types of viewing experiences they deem to be most appealing to their constituents. With decentralized open API-based social networking frameworks like Mastodon to work with, developers can create socialized video publishing platforms integrated with XDN architecture to provide a real-time interactive video streaming environment that transcends the piecemeal, video-deficient options developers have had to deal with up to now.
This is the template for creating in-app socialization of user experience on the scale of application versatility the market is looking for. As explained in this white paper, the cross-cloud XDN platform automatically orchestrates hierarchies of Origin, Relay, and Edge Nodes operating in one or more cloud clusters with full redundancy to enable tightly synchronized real-time streaming to and from any number of endpoints over any distance.
In long-haul scenarios, end-to-end latency in any direction doesn’t exceed 200-400 milliseconds, which means all live feeds remain in sync at all endpoints with no perceptible delays in video interactions. In more regionally focused applications, the latency drops to 50ms or below.
The architecture supports highly scalable approaches to utilizing WebRTC, which, by virtue of its support in all the major browsers, is the primary means of reaching most devices at these imperceptible latencies. At the same time, to compensate for the lack of browser support in some devices, the platform employs protocols best suited to reach them, such as Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTSP), Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Secure Reliable Transport (SRT), and MPEG-Transport Protocol (TS), which are encapsulated for delivery over the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) that underlies WebRTC.
The XDN platform also provides full support for the multi-profile transcodes used with ABR streaming by utilizing intelligent Edge Node interactions with client devices to deliver content in the profiles appropriate to each user. And to ensure ubiquitous connectivity for every XDN use case, the platform supports content delivery in HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) mode as a fallback. In the rare instances where devices can’t be engaged via any of the other XDN-supported protocols, they will still be able to render the streamed content, albeit with the multi-second latencies that typify HTTP-based streaming.
As the new era in the socialization of the internet takes hold, there’s no reason for providers of live-streamed sports or any other streaming services to be constrained by the limitations of traditional streaming infrastructure. To learn more about why this is the case, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a call.