Broadband and Gaming

I recently saw an interesting statistic that showed that the most popular worldwide video content is gaming. The worldwide gaming video content industry has more than 665 million viewers which makes it bigger than HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined. This is a segment of the video industry that I was only peripherally aware of, which I suspect is true for many of you as well.

The GVC (Gaming Video Content) industry is distinct from the on-line playing of games. The GVC content consists of watching others play games along with content that talks about gaming. The industry is estimated to generate $4.6 billion in revenues in 2017. One third of that will come from subscriptions to GVC content along with other direct consumer spending. The rest comes from advertising. There is a whole industry that has sprung up around the GVC content including big conventions and merchandise.

While you can’t characterize such a large group of people, the gamers and GVC viewers are often what you might think of as tech-savvy. In the US the average GVC viewer is around 30, has more education that average and makes a higher than average income of around $58,000. And while you might expect the viewers of GVC content to be largely male a surprising 46% of GVC viewers are female.

Around the world there are numerous video platforms that have been created for gaming content. In the US and Europe the biggest content provider is Twitch. This is a platform that was originally known as Justin.tv. The platform was created in 2007 by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear. The platform allowed users to post live video streams that could be watched by anybody else on the platform. The platform was often used to show pirated live sports feeds, but over time the majority of the content centered around gaming.

Justin.tv was a large content generator and in 2013 – before Netflix really took off – the service said it had 45 million unique viewers and was the fourth largest source of peak Internet traffic in the US. When the biggest competitor to Justin.tv shut down the platform had a near monopoly on gaming content.

The company was renamed to Twitch Interactive and was acquired at the end of 2014 by Amazon. Amazon beefed up the underlying delivery platform, which increased the quality of the streams. Since then Twitch has grown significantly. Amazon reports that the service has over 100 million unique viewers per month, nearly 10 million per day. The average number of simultaneous viewers at any given time on the platform is about 622,000.

Amazon has grown the service by opening up the platform to ‘partners’ much as it has done with OTT content. Twitch now has over 17,000 partners – those that stream unique content. 35% of the content is viewed on cellphones, with the rest on landline broadband connections.

Twitch viewers are loyal. Over half watch the service more than 20 hours per week – and for many of them this is their primary source of video content. The average Twitch user watches the service for 1 hour 46 minutes per day.

While the Twitch platform is free (and I recommend taking a few minutes to watch the above link), many of the channel partners charge monthly subscriptions.

I find it interesting that Twitch is not counted in the universe of OTT providers. But Twitch viewers and statistics are separate from, and not counted with viewers of Amazon Prime. Perhaps this is not considered as OTT content since a lot of the content is viewer-generated. But this is still largely true for YouTube, which is now counted among the OTT providers. Many of the channels on Twitch are now professionally produced and certainly are hard to distinguish from other OTT content.

The GVC industry is worth noting because they are a big source of video content on our broadband networks. The video watched on the web doesn’t just come from sources like Netflix and more and more of it is coming from platforms like Twitch that carry a mountain of viewer-generated content. This is just one more example of how the major programmers are going to be in trouble as the generations turn. Younger viewers are not watching traditional programming to nearly the degree of older generations.

A Network Without Wires

Wi-FiThere is an emerging trend in the industry to try to create home networks without wires. ISPs and cable companies are all putting a lot of faith into WiFi as an alternative for wires running to computers and settop boxes.

It’s an interesting trend but one that is not without peril. The problem is that WiFi, at least like the big ISPs deliver it, is not always the best solution. The big cable companies like Comcast tend to provide customers with a cable modem with a decent quality WiFi router built in. This router is placed wherever the cable enters the home, which might not be the ideal location.

A single strong WiFi router can be a great device in a home with a simple network and uncomplicated demands. A family with two TVs, one computer, and a few smartphones is probably going to do fine with a strong WiFi router as long as the house isn’t too large for the signal to get where it’s needed.

But we are quickly changing to a society where many homes have complex data needs scattered throughout the house. People are likely to be demanding video streams from all over the home, and often many at the same time. There are bound to be a few computers and it’s not unlikely that somebody in the house works at home at least part of the time. Demands for big bandwidth for things like gaming and the new virtual reality sets that are just now hitting the market are increasing. And we are on the verge of seeing 4K video streams at 15 Mbps. On top of all this will be a variety of smart IoT devices that are going to want occasional attention from the network.

When a home gets crowded with devices it’s very easy to overwhelm a WiFi router. The new routers are pretty adept at setting up multiple data paths. But with too many streams the router will lose efficiency as it constantly tries to monitor and change the bandwidth for each stream it is managing. When this happens a home network can bog down, dropping the efficiency of the router precipitously.

There are a few solutions to this problem. First, you can run wires directly to a few of the bigger data eaters in a house and remove them from the WiFi network. Just make sure in doing so that you also disable having them search for a WiFi signal. But people don’t really want more wires in their home, and ISPs definitely do not like this idea.

The other solution is to add additional WiFi hotspots in the home. The simplest example of this are WiFi repeaters that simply amplify the signal from the base WiFi hotspot. However, repeaters don’t improve the contention issue, they simply bring a stronger signal closer to some of the devices that need them.

A more complex solution is to set up a network of interconnected WiFi hotspots. This consists of separate WiFi routers that all feed through one base router, a configuration that is familiar to any network engineer but alien to most home owners. The main problem with this solution is obvious to anybody who has ever operated a network with multiple routers – getting them to work together efficiently. Setting up a multiple-router network can be challenging to those unfamiliar with networks. And if configured poorly this kind of network can operate worse than one big hotspot.

But these kinds of interconnected WiFi networks are the cutting edge of home networking. I was recently talking to an engineer from a mid-size cable company and he admitted that as many as 20% of their customers already need this kind of solution. It’s a bit ironic that the demand for WiFi is mushrooming so soon after the ISPs went to the one-router solution. The percentage of homes that need a better solution is growing rapidly as homes jam more devices onto WiFi.

So there is an opportunity here for any ISP. Customers need better networks in their homes and there is a revenue opportunity in helping them to set these up. The downside, at least for now, is that this is labor intensive and there may be a lot of maintenance to keep these networks running right. But there are a number of vendors looking into solutions and one would hope that home WiFi networks will soon become plug and play.