The Switch-Away Incentive

TV-Test-Pattern1We deliver a LOT of video on behalf of our customers. Some of these customers are the very largest media brands in the world — companies that are rightly extremely protective of their brand and reputation.

For many, many years traditional TV engineering teams have maniacally focused on the quality of their technical solutions. Everything along the signal path from creation to consumption was treated as if it could cause a failure; because it could. This sort of focus has led to infrastructure that is extremely resilient to any sort of failure. When I grew up, the “test-pattern” was a regular appearance when something went wrong and a TV channel went off the air. When was the last time you remember that happening?

The world of Internet delivered TV has been racing recently to catch up. Internet TV is becoming so important to the largest media brands that the maniacal focus on quality is now just as apparent here. Some of the same people are now involved in looking at the architectures and the engineering involved in getting high-quality streams to your computer screen.

And one of the best tools has been the “switch-away.” The majority of the largest media brands now have very smart players (the software that displays video on your display device). This software can monitor the network for problems and choose to “switch away.” That means that the delivery platform (for example a CDN) can be changed in real time, for every single end user.

And this has provided an incredible incentive to service providers, like Level 3, to make sure we never hear the term “switch away.” It has made us very deeply explore and understand all the different nuances of every single streaming technology, rights management technology, end user device, operating system — whatever is involved in the incredibly complex and constantly changing ecosystem of video delivery.

It has also meant that we have built very detailed, real time data monitoring systems that look at the quality of every single video stream to every single consumer. Several years ago it was OK to use synthetic testing to see how you were doing. That meant a few dozen servers distributed throughout the Internet would provide data as a “proxy” for what real consumers were experiencing. But now that isn’t anywhere near good enough or anywhere near real time. So, now we have huge data gathering farms that collect and crunch massive amounts of data in real time to figure out where problems are.

We have teams who test and deploy new software continuously as things change; this week the Wii updated something, last week Adobe upgraded their player, next week a customer will launch a new piece of software. Change is continuous, fast…and exciting.

But what keeps us on our toes and makes us as nimble and maniacally focused on quality as our customers is that switch away; because if we aren’t, then we stop being used. And traffic switches away in a blink of an eye.

Level 3’s Media Delivery Solutions are designed and operated to avoid the switch away. Many, many media companies make use of our skills. If you’d like to know how we do it, come and see us at NAB.

If you’d like to meet with Level 3 while at NAB, please email us at

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Mark Taylor

I work as VP of Content and Media here at Level 3. English expat and passionate new tech energy evangelist.

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