How Data Centers Support an Increasingly Digital Entertainment Industry

Data centers are the backbone of a seamless, high-performing streaming experience. 

Entertainment media has drastically evolved over the last couple decades. Physical storage mediums such as tapes, video cassettes, CDs and DVDs have been digitized to deliver on-demand, streaming access to movies, television shows, music, video games, concerts and sporting events. This shift has completely changed the way users consume content providing near instant access to an ever-expanding mix of media platforms.

Netflix began this transformation in 2007 with on-demand access to a library of movies. The service rapidly gained acceptance, putting one-time powerhouse Blockbuster out of business when it did not react to the digital transformation quickly enough. Today, Netflix has been joined by a growing list of digital media platforms and video streaming services including YouTube TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, Twitch and many more.

Digital entertainment is big business. In 2019, 2.6 billion people worldwide watched digital videos, and this number is expected to surpass 3.1 billion by 2023.

The music and gaming industries have also been transformed. The days of sitting by the radio waiting for a favorite song to come on is long gone. Today, music is available on-demand through services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. Even live concerts and sporting events can be streamed on any internet-enabled device.

The $120 billion gaming industry has also flourished, offering online gaming for recreational users as well as competitive gaming—or eSport—in which professional gamers face off in livestreamed video competitions for prize money, while millions of viewers watch online. The popularity of eSport is only intensifying with viewership expected to grow from 454 million to 646 million between 2019 and 2023.

COVID-19 only fueled the digital media surge as we relied on this medium to keep us entertained—and sane—during the nationwide lockdown. According to one survey, 26% of participants tried a new video streaming service during the first weeks of the pandemic.  

Delivering Digital Entertainment

The sheer volume of media created and stored is overwhelming, as is the ability to deliver this increasingly high-resolution, high-density content across an internet infrastructure that was not designed to support the quantity and complexity of this data.

The growing number of devices used to stream digital media adds to the amount of internet traffic. In 2021, there were 14.91 million mobile devices, and that number is expected to hit 18.22 by 2025. These connected devices—including phones, tablets, televisions and computers—access two forms of content: pre-recorded and live. Pre-recorded content, such as a movie or album, is stored remotely and streamed on-demand, whereas livestreaming delivers content in real-time, as it is happening.

Regardless of how digital content is accessed, the amount of time it takes to reach the end user is critical. An Akamai study reports that users are significantly more likely to abandon video content that takes more than two seconds to load—and each additional second increases the bounce rate by another 6%.

The reality is end users have high expectations: They want content delivered without fail and without delay, making performance and the speed of delivery essential.

The Data Center’s Role

Data centers are the backbone of a seamless, high-performing streaming experience. By providing space, compute power and interconnections, data centers store and help distribute content while ensuring its performance, reliability and security. Data centers also offer content delivery networks (CDN), internet service providers (ISP), content providers and others centralized locations to improve the streaming experience and strengthen their businesses.

To effectively deliver these services, data centers must provide robust environments that are always on to support the progressive requirements of ever increasing quantities of high-density, latency-sensitive content.

Providing Scalable, Secure Storage

Providing the physical space to store digitized content or to house CDNs and other players in the streaming media market is key. By design, data centers can quickly and easily scale existing space to accommodate growth, allowing organizations to enlarge their footprints, as necessary. The facilities are also designed with a series of physical and logical security measures to ensure the safety and availability of the data they store, process and deliver. This includes perimeter fencing, biometrics, card readers, 24x7x365 patrolling guards, video surveillance and more.

Managing Latency with Location and Bandwidth

Ensuring smooth, low-latency content delivery is critical in a digital world. Delays and interruptions are frustrating and can impact the overall experience. This is particularly relevant with livestreamed eSport competitions in which even a millisecond of latency can put a competitor at a tremendous disadvantage. In this atmosphere, flawless performance and reliability are non-negotiable.

Data centers are dedicated to providing environments that minimize latency to deliver outstanding user experiences. This is done through a combination of geographic proximity and managed bandwidth.

Geographic Location. Think of content delivery like a work commute. The closer an employee lives to the office, the shorter the commute time. By placing content or delivery networks in a data center near concentrations of end users, companies physically reduce the distance the content has to travel, which minimizes latency (or lag) and improves the user experience. 

Data center providers offer a portfolio of geographically diverse locations to allow organizations to choose the site that best meets their needs. To support users outside of high-traffic metropolitan areas, edge data centers are also increasingly used. These smaller data centers offer opportunities to place content and delivery networks at the edge of the network and closer to users.

Bandwidth Capacity. Managing bandwidth capacity also helps control latency. Growing quantities of streaming media can strain network infrastructure. As bandwidth nears capacity, delivery speed suffers—and in worst-case scenarios capacity-based outages can occur. This is particularly troublesome with the increasing quantity and density of content and the proliferation of connected devices that enable users to steam media anywhere, anytime.

In 1999, when Victoria’s Secret livestreamed its first runway show, some viewers were unable to watch the show because of bandwidth issues with their internet providers. Madonna’s live concert from the U.K. in 2000 had similar results. Entertainment companies have learned a lot since then, but bandwidth concerns remain a priority in delivering seamless viewing and engagement experiences.

Data centers allow organizations to seamlessly scale their network capacity, providing flexible bandwidth to match growth or fluctuations in traffic to control latency and ensure content it not bogged down during peak times.

Delivering Diverse Connectivity Options

The network and its performance are critical to successful media streaming. Connectivity-rich data centers will play an increasingly critical role in delivering more diverse, sophisticated interconnections to meet customers’ needs. Data centers are dedicated to expanding and enhancing their connectivity options and reengineering networks to optimize service and reduce single points of failure. This includes increasing the number of carriers within their facilities, offering vendor neutral policies that allow customers to connect and exchange traffic with the carriers of their choice, introducing more exchanges and routes within metropolitan areas and becoming network access points (NAPs).

Ensuring 100% Uptime

The speed of delivery is a moot point if the infrastructure and networks that support and deliver the data are unavailable. To promote 100% availability, data centers operate and maintain redundant IT systems and architectures—including UPSs, generators, power sources and feeds, cooling units, connections and more. This ensures if one system goes down, another can take on the load to continue operations without downtime. This built-in resiliency ensures unwavering uptime and reliable service.

Building a Growing Ecosystem

Data centers can also offer an ecosystem of CDNs, ISPs and other organizations that can partner and connect to improve online experiences. These providers establish presences in data centers that support their customers and partners, building a strong network of partnerships within the facility that can enhance performance and delivery speed.

A Final Thought

Entertainment content delivery—in all its forms—is poised to continue to grow exponentially. Today, data centers provide a central hub to effectively store and deliver entertainment to the masses across a growing number of connected devices. Regardless of the kind of digital entertainment or how it is accessed, the data center is behind the scenes, ensuring it is delivered quickly and reliably. As entertainment requirements continue to evolve and become more intense, data centers will evolve their capabilities to continually expand capacity, build and strengthen networks, and enable stronger ecosystems to deliver a continually improving, high-performing online experience