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FIFA World Cup 2022 kicked off on Sunday with much fanfare. But, fans in India were not happy. It wasn’t about the game per se. The issue was with the app they had to use to watch their favourite players kick the ball.
If you’re in India, there are only two ways you can watch the World Cup. You either watch the broadcast on TV via the traditional set-top-box (STB). Or you download a fancy app and watch the game on it. The STB option costs about ₹15 a month, but the app stream is free.
And if you don’t like either, you can go to a local pub or restaurant to watch it there. And the last option is to get the live score on Twitter.
The first two choices flow from the same company. Reliance-backed Sports18 has bagged exclusive broadcast rights, and JioCinema has been awarded streaming rights. On Airtel STB, the sports channel was not available in HD. (I personally opted for the SD channel as only standard option was available on the menu).
Several users who installed the JioCinema app grew frustrated. It was visible from the messages they posted on Twitter. One user asked the streaming service to take subscription fees, and provide a buffering-free output.
Some complained that they couldn’t see the first goal of the match as streaming lagged. Others suggested a few work-arounds that mostly did not work. Few fans complained on WhatsApp groups, asking if there was any alternative way to watch the world’s most-awaited sporting event.
JioCinema did not react to any of the complaints on social media. It did not even put out a statement for the lag. A question seeking comment on whether it failed to estimate bandwidth did not get any response.
Live streaming and CDNs
Live streaming, like the one in this case, usually happens through a series of roughly half a dozen steps. A raw video data is converted to a new format through a process called compression, encoding, and segmentation. After this, for the video to be made available to millions of viewers in multiple locations, a content distribution network (CDN) shares the video through a network of servers.
Once distribution starts, users can access the video after it is decoded at their end. The critical part here is the bandwidth, as at any given point in time a network can only handle a certain amount of data flow. If the stream reaches a point when data exceeds server capacity, it chokes. This choke point moment is similar to the number of fans entering an arena. If the gateway is small and the number of users attempting to get in is large, the passage is choked.
Usually, if the stream is accessed from its actual point of origin, then that server and its network becomes a choke point. To eliminate this, delivery of video streams is moved to CDNs. In the case of JioCinema, there seems to be an issue with this network. If the Reliance-backed app does not fix its CDN issue, users would switch to STBs to watch the rest of the world cup.