Update on CDN Market and Akamai’s Business, Key Takeaways From Full Year Earnings

I’ve highlighted some interesting numbers and takeaways from Akamai’s Q4 and full-year 2023 earnings for those tracking the CDN industry. At times, I hear some people suggest Akamai isn’t really in the CDN market anymore, which could not be further from the truth. The company still dominates the overall industry and is the largest player concerning every metric, including revenue, number of customers, and total traffic delivered. Akamai’s delivery revenue for 2023 was $1.542 billion and dwarfs the next largest competitor by 3-4 times revenue, based on a comparison of the same type and size of customer. Please note that Akamai does not report “CDN” revenue but “delivery” revenue.

It is accurate that revenue growth in the CDN market has slowed over the past few years, with my CAGR estimate for the entire market in 2023 being 1-2%, excluding China. Akamai’s full-year 2023 delivery revenue was down 8% and is expected to be down again in 2024, year-over-year. Everyone following the CDN market knows it’s a tough business with high capex costs, low margins and competitive pricing. The removal of Lumen and StackPatch from the market will help remaining CDNs concerning renewals since those two vendors offered some of the lowest pricing in the market. That’s not to say they were successful in winning business from Akamai or other CDNs, but at times, they would get a small share of the overall traffic in a multi-CDN mix, or customers would use their pricing to negotiate against Akamai and other more prominent CDN vendors.

While fewer CDN vendors are in the market, customer traffic growth hasn’t accelerated significantly, pricing is always competitive, and many video customers have optimized their encoding, resulting in fewer bits delivered. The CDN business is all about the economics of scale for efficiency and profitability, and the focus is on taking on the right customers at the correct pricing and cost structure. Akamai highlighted this strategy and said they would continue to focus on reducing unprofitable traffic, including peak traffic. They also stated they would start charging a premium to deliver traffic in harder-to-reach places as it looks to right-size its delivery cost in these markets with the revenue it generates. This is smart business and is what every other CDN is doing.

Seven of Akamai’s top ten CDN customer contracts come up for renewal in 2024. They will be concentrated in the first half of this year, so the company is expected to take a temporary hit in overall revenue growth, which we have seen happen every few years during significant contract renewals. Akamai notes that select contracts Akamai acquired from StackPath and Lumen accounted for ~$20M in revenue in Q4 last year.

Some vendors in the market, especially smaller ones, like to claim Akamai has a “legacy” network for CDN services and isn’t “next generation,” which is laughable. The numbers tell the story. While Akamai didn’t discuss this on their earnings call, I will report that for both the NFL Wild Card game on Peacock and the Super Bowl stream on Paramount+, Akamai had the majority of the video traffic. There is nothing “legacy” about their CDN, and they are at a size and scale that, so far, no other CDN has gotten close to.

Of course, one could argue it doesn’t make sense to get as large as Akamai anymore due to the delivery market’s lack of overall revenue growth, the low margins, and the high capex costs of running the business. That’s a fair argument, which is why CDNs now make most of their money on RSVP fees for one-off live events, not bit delivery. If a CDN is going to put more capacity in place for an event, they want to guarantee revenue from the RSVP fee they charge, regardless of the traffic that might show up. It’s smart business on the CDN’s part and shows how much they all take cost into the equation.

I will have a more extensive post soon with an update on the overall CDN market and a second post on why Akamai’s CDN scale is important for other segments of their business. Yesterday, they announced their plans to push generalized compute out to the edge in what they call their Gecko edge computing initiative. Akamai is in a unique position to do what few, if any, CDN providers can: bring the cloud and edge together into a single continuum of computing.

Note: I have never bought or sold stock in any public CDN ever, including Akamai, Edgio, Fastly, Cloudflare, Amazon, or any other vendor listed at www.cdnlist.com

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Live Blogging Super Bowl LVIII Stream on Paramount+ Across Devices

The Paramount+ live stream of the Super Bowl has started and is 1080P 60fps true PQ HDR, has no color space conversions and is encoded for six bitrates maxing out at 12Mbps. The CBS Sports app stream requires TV Everywhere authentication and points to a local affiliate. Various MVPDs and vMVPDs are picking up an upconverted 4K stream, but Paramount+ will not have the upconverted 4K stream themselves. Paramount+ has a free trial and has both the local affiliate feeds, which is the case for standard NFL games, and a national stream. NFL+ is also streaming the game on phones and tablets.

The 2023 Super Bowl by FOX Sports delivered an average of 7 million simultaneous streams across all FOX Sports and NFL digital properties without co-viewing. I expect Paramount to have a larger audience this year, but not by that big of a percentage. I will be live blogging the stream starting at 6pm ET, so check back here for updates.

10:55pm ET: Game over. Like many Super Bowl streams where users have tech issues, it is hard to judge how widespread they are and what percentage of viewers were impacted. I don’t expect Paramount to disclose the nature of the problem or what vendor was the root cause of it. Viewership numbers will be out in the next day or two, but they won’t be detailed enough to know what percentage of “viewers” had a good user experience versus those that did not since they are all counted as the same.

9:08pm ET: The tech issue has largely been migrated by now (unless I get permission, I am not disclosing what it was), and fewer error messages are being reported on Twitter.

8:45pm ET: No issues for me with the stream during the halftime show.

7:50pm ET: The streams on Amazon, Fubo, and YouTube TV have been rock solid for me.

7:30pm ET: The stream on Fire TV and Apple TV crashed. Same error message. While the stream’s uptime has improved, it’s still not been as stable as it should be.

7:14pm ET: This news report is inaccurate: “The streaming platform seems to be struggling with all the Super Bowl traffic.” The technical issue was not due to the “volume” of traffic Paramount was receiving. I see the highest number of problems reported around 5:30pm ET, with fewer reports coming in at 6pm. However, users still say “video is currently unavailable” errors as of 7:00pm ET. Some are reporting the stream is back up but at a lower quality (720). I was getting 5.1 on Fire TV, but I am no longer. I was getting HDR on Roku.

7:00pm ET: Latency on the MacBook Pro is 30 seconds, which is expected for desktops. The latency of the Paramount+ stream via Prime Video is 2 seconds, and the Paramount+ app on Apple TV is averaging 8 seconds behind the CBS pay TV feed.

6:50pm ET: The stream across YouTube TV and Hulu has been looking good for me. I see very few technical issues being reported online for either service by users.

6:29pm ET: The number of reports of the stream not working on Twitter has dropped dramatically. It is working for me across all devices.

6:00pm ET: The Latency on the stream for me is 10 seconds on Fire TVs and LG TVs.

5:48pm ET: Many are reporting the stream is still down for them. A tech problem somewhere in the video workflow.

5:39pm ET: The stream is back up now for me.

5:30pm ET: The stream is down for me across streaming boxes and TVs, with an error of  “Sorry, this video is currently unavailable. Please try again. (6006)”. Others are reporting the same error.

2:30pm ET: I’m using three different Paramount+ accounts across Roku Streaming Stick 4K (3820X2), Apple TV 4K (A2843), Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, two LG OLEDs (55C9AUA/65BXPUA) and two Samsung TVs (UN40F5500AF/QN65S90CAFXZA).

ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery to Launch Joint Sports Streaming Service

ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery announced plans to launch a joint sports streaming service this fall in the US in a new standalone app, bringing together sports linear networks and DTC service ESPN+. The platform, which will be owned by a newly formed company with its own leadership team, does not yet have a name or a price. This will not be cheap! I’m “guessing” it will cost $40-$50 a month after a special launch price discount.

Note that it will be missing NFL Sunday Night Football and NFL games from Paramount+. It’s interesting to see WBD included since they have no NFL rights, but I guess this means WBD has won the new rights to the NBA. I question whether there is enough sports content throughout the year to support this service.

The new Joint Venture will not be bidding on sports rights on its own, and this announcement does not impact Disney’s plans to bring on a strategic partner for ESPN or impact ESPN’s planned DTC service. Disney says this new sports streaming service can be bundled with Disney+, Hulu and/or Max. Talk about confusion. You’ll have ESPN+, a new ESPN app, and a new sports streaming service that includes ESPN content. This is getting messy.

The news is interesting, but it is far too early to call it a “game changer.” There is so much we don’t know about the service, internally dubbed “raptor”; until we do, we can’t truly judge the potential impact. Here are my questions:

  • Cost of service and bundling options with Disney and WBD’s other DTC services
  • WBD has no NFL games. Does their inclusion indicate they may have renewed their deal with the NBA? (I’m speculating)
  • We know the NFL is the number one viewed sport in the US, but this won’t have Sunday Night Football, which is on NBC and Peacock, Sunday games on CBS and Paramount, and Thursday Night Football, which is on Amazon.
  • Paramount Global has rights to the NFL, NCAA Men’s Basketball, the PGA Tour and soccer’s Champions League.
  • Many sports are missing from this new JV, and one has to wonder why Paramount is omitted.
  • Who’s tech stack will this be built on? Max is very busy with their service and doing many enhancements, and Disney is already laying the groundwork for their DTC ESPN app. I don’t see Disney being able to take on the engineering work; Max might also be too busy.
  • What type of ad formats will be offered? Inserting ads into a live stream is not easy at scale; doing it on a personalized level is challenging, as we saw with the NFL Wild Card game on Peacock, where DAI was not used and the ads were burned in.
  • How will user data and usage be shared amongst all three companies?
  • There are no regional sports networks in the bundle. Will the newly formed JV try to bring that content to the platform?
  • All three companies own an equal share in the new JV, but I’m told revenue will not be split the same way. What is the methodology that determines the revenue split?
  • Are there enough sports during the year to keep churn low? Many sports fans like myself only watch one sport. Churn could be high as users come on/off the platform for just one sports league each season.
  • Will Max strip out the sports option from their D2C service once this new sports service launches? I assume not, but I wonder since they recently postponed charging users for the B/R (Bleacher Report) Sports Add-on.
  • Do any of these companies in the JV truly understand what the sports viewership crossover is from one sport to another? Or are they guessing a “sports fan” wants to watch all sports?
  • Will independent networks be added over time?
  • This does not change the fact that Disney is still looking for a strategic partner for ESPN and plans to offer a stand-alone ESPN streaming app. But does this news change the type of strategic partner or investor they want?

On the company’s earnings call, FOX’s CEO says the new sports streaming service does not plan to add more content partners, saying it’s “not something that we’re considering at this stage.” When asked again, he said they were “not contemplating adding partners to it” and that the 14 linear networks this service offers “gives people a tremendous amount of content.” I’m hearing Paramount, and others were not asked to join because adding a fourth content partner would have made the service more expensive than they think consumers would be willing to pay. CEO says he has “seen some of the prototypes” for the new JV sports streaming service but gave out no other details.

Multiple news outlets report that sports leagues weren’t informed of the talks to create the new sports-streaming platform. Even if you own the rights to the content, you still want the leagues backing this and making them feel like they are a part of it. Lots of questions.

Episode 83: Netflix’s Record Q4, Their WWE Deal, Content Focus, Ad Strategy and How They Will Continue to Dominate

The Netflix episode “Woooooo!” This week, we discuss Netflix’s record Q4 earnings, their free cash flow of $6.9 billion for 2023, their growing AVOD business and their off-the-top rope deal with the WWE as they continue to dominate the industry. We discuss how the WWE deal with “scripted entertainment” differs from sports content, how it will expand Netflix’s advertising business, and what it might mean for a more significant content deal with the WWE when Peacock’s domestic WWE Network deal expires in March 2026.

We highlight new data from Netflix showing that 40% of all Netflix sign-ups are for their AVOD plan in markets where it is offered and the reason why Netflix plans to retire their Basic plan in some of their ad countries. We debate the growth Netflix could have with AVOD in the short and long term, especially with T-Mobile having just converted Netflix’s users to the ads plan in their “Netflix On Us” bundle.

Finally, we discuss what Netflix said about their shift in the mix of content spend, their historical bias to build and not buy content assets, why they are not interested in some of the big linear assets being shopped and the work they are doing to improve ad targeting, relevance and measurement.

Titan OS Unveils TV OS and Ad Platform, Targeting Europe and LATAM

In the US, the TV OS market is highly competitive, and there’s little room for new entrants because many of the largest TV manufacturers, including Samsung, LG, and Vizio, operate their OS. On top of that, Roku, Google, and Amazon have established relationships with other brands like TCL, Sony and Hisense. But in Europe, the CTV market is different from the US, and this is where Titan, a new TV OS recently launched with Phillips as its main distribution partner, plans to concentrate their focus. In November, I had the chance to sit down with the Titan team in NYC and hear more about their product and their interest in the European market.

In Europe, Phillips has the third largest market share behind Samsung and LG. Connected TV penetration in Europe lags behind the US, and there is an opportunity to grow with many regional brands that don’t have their own OS. In addition to launching with Phillips, Titan also announced a partnership for branded TVs with Curry’s, the largest electronics retailer in the UK. The European advertising market differs substantially from the US since the continent has over three dozen countries and two dozen languages. Titan has built a network of local relationships with advertisers and agencies to create a new marketplace for CTV advertising built upon a robust data platform that complies with EU privacy laws.

Philips already has a partnership with Google TV but will deploy Titan on most of its models for 2024, including its upcoming entry-level Mini LED and LCD TVs, including the PML9009 Xtra Mini-LED and “The One” LCD (also known as the PUS8909). These TV models are expected to make up >60% of the overall volume of TV sales in 2024. Phillips will continue to use Google TV on the newly announced OLED+959 and OLED+909.

TV operating systems are important in the Connected TV ecosystem because they serve as a marketplace for streaming services, FAST channels, data and advertising. Operating systems build revenue off these lines of business and measure their success by growing ARPU. Growing revenue after the retail sale of a television is a trend over the last decade, pioneered by Roku, with many companies following a similar playbook. Margins in the highly competitive TV manufacturing business are shrinking, so having a recurring revenue stream to bolster profitability is necessary. In the case of Titan, they share recurring revenue with the TV manufacturers they partner with.

We have yet to see any company break out TV OS revenue from the rest of their finances, and almost no TV manufacturer breaks out revenue from their FAST offerings aside from Vizio. If I missed numbers from a manufacturer, please let me know in the comments. I don’t know if Titan plans to release any numbers over time, but it would be helpful for the industry to know the actual market size by region based on revenue.

Titan, based in Barcelona, has no plans to enter the US market anytime soon. Following the launch of Europe, the company plans to expand with Philips into Latin America.

Qwilt to Deploy Their Edge Cache Software and Cloud Services Across Cirion in LATAM

Qwilt has announced a deal with Cirion Technologies to deploy Qwilt’s edge cache software and cloud services across Lumen’s former CDN footprint in LATAM. In 2022, Lumen sold its LATAM infrastructure (network, peering, hardware) to Cirion, one of the few Pan-Latin American networks operating one of Latin America’s most interconnected data center platforms, with 18 owned data centers. Their long haul and metro networks comprise 31,000 miles and over 22,000 miles of subsea network, with 13 Tbps of total CDN capacity.

With this partnership, Qwilt gets full LATAM CDN coverage through the Cirion infrastructure and peering in the region. Cirion gets Qwilt CDN tech and access to their SP-embedded edge deployments throughout LATAM. Qwilt will run this CDN service and jointly sell with Cirion, expanding Cirion’s footprint and CDN services in the region. Neither company is disclosing how much total capacity Qwilt will build across Cirion’s network, but we should expect to get more details as their edge services start to roll out this year.

Lumen Begins Shutting Down Their CDN Network as They Exit The Business

Lumen has started shutting down their CDN. The company was one of the CDNs in the mix, along with Akamai, Amazon, Edgio, Fastly, and Qwilt, for delivering the NFL Wild Card game on Peacock, with the game being the last big event for Lumen’s CDN network.

Now that the game is over, multiple ISPs are reporting that Lumen has stopped sending traffic, and the de-provisioning of their CDN has started. Lumen had recently refreshed some of their CDN hardware, so some assets are expected to be redeployed for Lumen’s Edge Bare Metal product offering. At the peak of their CDN business, Lumen was generating about $200 million in revenue. Once they lost traffic from Apple and later on Disney, the business started to decline.

In August 2022, Lumen sold off their Latin American operations, including all of Lumen’s fiber assets and data centers in Latin America and their subsea assets. In October of last year, Lumen announced the sale of “select” contracts to Akamai, comprised of about 100 enterprise customers and the “end-of-sale of Lumen’s CDN services.”

For a little CDN history lesson (see www.cdnlist.com), in 1999, Sandpiper, one of the earliest CDNs on the internet, was acquired by Digital Island. In 2001, Digital Island was acquired by Cable & Wireless. In 2002, Cable & Wireless withdrew from the U.S. market and sold the U.S. company to SAVVIS. In 2006, SAVVIS excited the CDN business and sold the CDN assets to Level 3. In 2017, Level 3 was acquired by CenturyLink, and in 2020, CenturyLink changed its name to Lumen.