Limelight And Akamai To Stream NFL Games: New CDNs Not Winning Live Business

ImagesUpdated 12:12pm: Unlike the Olympics where Limelight is the exclusive provider for video, the NFL games will be streamed by both Limelight AND Akamai.

Starting September 4th, the NFL in conjunction with NBC will stream 17 Sunday Night Football games on and While Limelight had no comment when asked about the recent announcement, I have learned that Limelight and Akamai will be the backend streaming providers working with NBC and the NFL. By my count, this makes at least five major wins or expanded contracts for Limelight in the past few months. Disney, Microsoft, Netflix, Amazon and now the NFL/NBC. While I don’t know the terms of the deal and whether the NFL or NBC will be the paying customer, Limelight is already closely working with NBC for the Olympics. The NFL content is new business for Limelight but for Akamai, falls under an existing contract they already have with NBC.

Many of the newer CDNs on the market have been talking for some time now about how they are only focusing on live delivery and how their "next generation" networks are so much better for live streaming than an Akamai or Limelight. But to date, I have yet to see any recently launched CDN win any of the big contracts for all of the live events that have happened or will soon take place. The Olympics, NCAA March Madness, Presidential Debates, Operation MySpace, Oprah’s Online Classes, Democratic National Convention, US Open for golf and tennis and the NFL Sunday Night Games amongst others. Akamai, Limelight and Level 3 combined are responsible for doing the delivery for all of these events.

This reinforces the fact that building out a global CDN to truly scale for large live events and have the required capacity and support pieces in place to handle such events is not as easy as some think it is. Live events are unique in that you get one chance and one chance only to get it right. You can’t add capacity after the fact like you can with on-demand delivery. The CDN has to be able to route traffic in real time, monitor and report back on the network to the customer in real time and deal with things like content ingestion, splitting streams across the network and working very closely with those who are capturing and encoding all the signals. Successfully delivering large scale live events it still not easy and it takes a very focused and disciplined approach to that specific segment of the market to be successful. The idea that any CDN can come along and simply add capacity and be able to handle large scale live events is just not accurate.