Video has become a fundamental part of online experiences. We use it to research new products, communicate with friends and colleagues, engage with communities, attend virtual events, and more. For these reasons, businesses across industries are integrating video as a core part of their offering.
But building video into your products is hard. And delivering streaming experiences that flawlessly scale as customer demand grows is even harder. That’s why we recently hosted a panel with experts from Uscreen, MoneyLion, and Whatnot to explore how these leading companies are using video to drive business results. One topic that popped up time and again in that conversation was the need to build video experiences that can scale. In this post, we’re taking a deeper look at the tactics businesses are using to support future growth, from leveraging video analytics to automating processes with AI tools and beyond.
The stakes are high for content distributors. Video powers new use cases every day, and it’s not enough to just support it. Developers need to give end users stunning video experiences that are always on point — regardless of how many people are watching, what device they’re using, or where they’re tuning in from.
End users have also come to expect personalized and relevant experiences. That’s why next-gen products offer functionality like content recommendations, interactive chat, data visualizations, and more. Delivering such sophisticated video experiences leads to additional complexity, so it’s important to find ways to streamline the workflow where possible.
Several factors need to be taken into consideration when thinking about scale. Here’s a quick breakdown.
- Quality: Video quality can suffer when streaming at a high volume. That’s because the larger your audience grows, the more variables come into play. Your viewers’ locations, connectivity, and devices all impact the playback experience. Building infrastructure to support quality at scale is a huge undertaking, so many content distributors opt for a scaled encoding platform to ease this burden. This is where adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR) saves the day. ABR enables videos to adapt to each viewer’s device and connection speed, ensuring the highest-quality experience possible.
- Reliability: Reliability may often seem at odds with scalability. The larger an audience grows, the more resources are required to maintain availability. This is why multi-CDN distribution has become so common. By distributing traffic across multiple content delivery networks (CDNs), dev teams can better support increases in demand. Mux Video automatically leverages multiple CDNs for this reason and can scale automatically when usage spikes.
- Latency: As a rule of thumb, the more interactive a video experience is, the harder it is to scale. Scalable protocols like HLS and DASH weren’t designed for speedy delivery, whereas real-time protocols like WebRTC are best suited for one to a few applications. For interactive video experiences that require low-latency delivery, many content distributors sacrifice a few seconds of latency for the ability to reach more viewers.
- Efficiency: From defining your content taxonomy to getting it in front of the right viewers, sometimes the issue isn’t a lack of content but a lack of organization. Luckily, new tools pop up each day to automate these processes.
Here are the steps you can take to ensure your technology will scale as video usage climbs.
1. Bring it into your product
Plenty of companies start by hosting videos on third-party platforms like YouTube. This works great when you’re just starting out, don’t have developer resources, and are experimenting with the video format. It’s also a useful channel to build awareness. But if you’re serious about making video a part of your business strategy, you’ll want to graduate to a native solution that offers the functionality and customization your brand deserves.
With YouTube, viewers are pulled away from your message. Commercials, pop-ups, and video recommendations all compete for their attention. To grow and scale in today’s digital world, you’ll want to bring video into your platform once you reach a certain threshold, rather than embedding videos from other websites.
2. Offload the infrastructure
It’s not practical for every business adding video to its tech stack to build an in-house solution. When you're creating a product, you want to focus precious resources on your core competency. Countless organizations let Mux handle the infrastructure for this reason (rather than staffing a video engineering team).
One example is MoneyLion, a financial app that uses video to provide financial advice and make banking approachable to its users. Chief Product Officer Tim Hong explains:
“There's always a practical notion to build versus buy. Some of it's resourcing and the desire to go to market. But you know, it’s better to build the components where we truly add value. That's why we work with Mux. We didn't feel like being the best-in-class video delivery provider made sense when our mission is around financial access and empowerment.”
By offloading video infrastructure, brands can focus on what they do best. This also lets companies quickly build new video experiences as their business grows.
3. Use video to build growing communities
One surefire way to create content at scale is by empowering your users to contribute. Whether it’s through interactive chats or user-generated content, video helps self-sustaining communities grow within your app or website.
Take Strava as an example. The connected fitness platform has long paired activity tracking with a media experience that encourages users to create and share content. But that experience used to be limited to photos and text.
Strava’s community expressed a desire to share videos as well, so the subscription platform added video-sharing capabilities by partnering with Mux. More than 20% of the app’s community is now engaging with this format, making it a crucial driver of business growth.
Likewise, Uscreen delivers interactive capabilities to meet the pandemic-driven demand for online collaboration. Uscreen’s CEO PJ Taei elaborates:
“One of the things that's been apparent during COVID and post-COVID is the community aspect. We're all spending more time online and behaviors have changed. So we see a lot more demand and interaction with community features. For example, live chat on live streaming.
Within Uscreen, we've launched a community feature that allows members to collaborate with each other. It's very similar to Facebook groups, but it's embedded into the platform, and we've seen a lot more adoption of those tools post-COVID. The need for these communities to interact with each other has significantly changed post-COVID.”
4. Get on the AI train
AI is a hot topic right now. And when it comes to video, it can be used for everything from content creation and personalization to live captioning and transcriptions.
All of these processes help automate video production. When it comes to captioning and creating transcripts, the benefit is twofold. For one, captions and transcripts boost reach and SEO, which helps businesses expand their audience. AI and machine learning also make video content more actionable internally.
MoneyLion’s Tim Hong explains:
“We started to ask, what's our content ingestion pipeline? And where can we really get to something that's truly scalable? This has meant creating a taxonomy of content that we understand and can create at scale. Transcriptions and tagging feed into our recommendation layer where we can actually match the right content with the right person based on anything from their interest to their financial situation.”
5. Consider latency
If streaming at scale is challenging, then distributing low-latency content to large audiences is even more so. Scalable protocols like HLS and DASH simply weren’t designed for speedy delivery. That’s why we recommend building a bit of latency into your workflow whenever possible.
But for a growing number of applications, real-time delivery is essential. For instance, many of today’s live-shopping platforms depend on low-latency streaming to deliver interactive e-commerce experiences.
Whatnot is a great example of this. The community marketplace lets people and businesses sell luxury handbags, limited edition sneakers, and more by streaming live to their network of users.
Whatnot’s VP of Engineering Ludo Antonov talks about the importance of driving latency down:
“As a live stream shopping app, a lot of the interactions are between sellers and buyers. When we have live auctions, the latency impacts when something goes live, how the video syncs with what the sellers say, how buyers engage, actually bidding against each other, and who wins.
It's really important to get this right and it is really interesting. There are traditionally two paths you can have: high scale with high latency or lower scale with low latency. We require high scale and low latency — and building in that direction has been challenging. Sometimes you get like 20,000+ people on a single stream and have to also ensure low latency.”
So how does Whatnot do it? With a video API built for interactive streaming at scale. Using next-generation protocols like Low-Latency HLS, Whatnot lets Mux do the heavy lifting for their interactive video experiences. Maintaining low latency is also essential in other industries building interactive video, including connected fitness, live events, education, and betting.
6. Quickly pinpoint issues with data
By monitoring video performance data in near real time, organizations can pinpoint issues and immediately address them. Say you’re broadcasting a live football game to millions and the stream keeps rebuffering. You’d want to identify what’s happening and why. Is one of your content delivery networks (CDNs) struggling, or did your recent player update introduce issues?
With Mux Data, you’re able to track errors, rebuffering, startup time, and video quality to understand quality of experience and take actions to quickly improve anything that’s amiss. Real-time data lets you respond to issues fast, while historical data gives the granularity needed to scale future content without a hitch. Because if you don’t understand what’s happening with your streams, you can’t truly understand what your users are experiencing and reach your next stage of growth.
7. Combine the power of multiple CDNs
CDNs play a critical role in transporting content across the globe by placing servers in strategic locations close to end users. Increasingly, though, video platforms are relying on multi-CDN support to ensure availability. This is because CDNs can occasionally fail, and without having interchangeable vendors on hand, your viewers could be impacted by an outage.
That’s why all Mux users benefit from multi-CDN support. The Mux platform dynamically selects the optimal CDN for every viewer based on current network conditions.
8. Drive engagement across all touchpoints
Today’s viewers expect to engage in real-time experiences, share clips from live streams instantly, and watch (or rewatch) content on demand after an event has ended. Even if you’re only building one type of video experience today, it’s useful to think about the kinds of experiences users may want from your products tomorrow, a year from now, and beyond. Mux excels at all three types of video — real-time, live, and on-demand — giving you less to manage from one place.
The ability to transition seamlessly across these different modes of video means customers can drive user engagement by letting users create clips, thumbnails, and GIFs. This also makes it easier to repurpose content internally, so it’s a win-win. Take it from Whatnot’s VP of Engineering Ludo Antonov:
“In addition to delivering the live streams, we also record them. It goes to trust and safety, live clipping, and there's a lot of interest from folks in our community to be able to rewatch streams afterward. So just building that entire pipeline and making sure that everything is consistent has been also, you know, an interesting challenge.”
Mux is built for scale — delivering a billion-plus minutes a month around the globe. And whether you're serving a few dozen streams or a few million, Mux grows with your business.
Mux is also the only video infrastructure solution that gives developers a single API to manage all three video types (real-time, live, and on-demand). From there, developers get access to a host of features like clipping, live captions, and GIFs, on top of multi-CDN flexibility to rely on. And of course, Mux delivers near real-time performance data, so you can get granular into your audience’s quality of experience, spot errors as they happen, and make impactful improvements.