Global sporting events like the upcoming World Cup in Qatar require broadcasters to deliver live content to end users with consistent ultra-low latency. To do that, they must deploy distributed infrastructure at the digital edge. In this case, the digital edge will be anywhere fans are watching from, which means just about anywhere there are people with internet-enabled devices.
When it comes to deploying at the digital edge, live sports broadcasters face several unique challenges:
- Enabling a consistent user experience across time zones and devices
- Ensuring network scalability to keep up with shifting demand
- Setting up temporary infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively
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Delivering a consistent user experience—whenever, wherever
The amount of content consumed during global sporting events has increased consistently over time, and this year’s World Cup is expected to draw 5 billion viewers, making it the most-watched event yet. Fans are also consuming that content in different settings and on different devices—such as on their phones while waiting in line, riding public transportation, and even at their desks during the workday. In the past, rights-holders for major sporting events had greater control over how and where fans accessed content. Now, fans are more empowered than ever, and broadcasters must adapt to give them what they want, when they want it.
Alongside breaking news, sports is one of the only remaining genres of content that needs to be broadcasted live, which creates challenges around latency. Sports broadcasters must synchronize delivery of content to locations across the globe in different time zones, so that fans watching from their couches thousands of miles away will see the results unfold mere milliseconds after those watching inside the stadium. This means the latency requirements for live sports broadcasters are even more challenging than those faced by video-on-demand content distributors.
Keeping up with shifting demand
Over the course of a month-long event made up of 64 individual matches, there will be peaks and troughs in demand among viewers. Certain teams and players will drive significant interest among fans in certain parts of the world, while others will be less popular. The results of the matches will also play a role in determining demand: A match where the outcome is decided early on may drive some fans away, whereas a close-fought match where the outcome remains in doubt until the last minute will likely attract additional viewers. Broadcasters have no way of planning for this shifting demand in advance; instead, they must build a network infrastructure that’s flexible enough to account for anything.
This means being able to scale up capacity easily as demand increases, and then scale it back down once it’s no longer needed. Traditional network architectures with fixed physical connections may lack the flexibility needed to achieve this.
Setting up temporary infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively
The temporary nature of major sporting events like the World Cup can present challenges for broadcasters. They need their infrastructure to be highly flexible and reliable, but it doesn’t make sense for them to invest significant resources to build that infrastructure when they’ll only be using it for a month.
This is where virtual infrastructure services can help. They allow broadcasters to deploy temporary infrastructure when and where they need it, without the high CAPEX spend that typically goes into physical broadcast infrastructure. Virtual infrastructure is also quick and easy to set up, and could even help alleviate the global hardware shortages we’re currently experiencing.
GXI data shows edge deployment accelerating
Global sporting events provide a particularly vivid example of a trend that’s playing out in different ways across the digital business landscape: Organizations are increasingly using direct, private interconnection to support service delivery to end users at the digital edge.
The 2023 Global Interconnection Index (GXI) report, an annual market study published by Equinix, includes data points that illustrate this growth. Although the GXI found that interconnection bandwidth is most highly concentrated in digital core locations, both Enterprises and Service Providers are interconnecting their edge infrastructure 20% faster than the core. This is a clear sign that the move to the digital edge is accelerating.
In the case of live sports broadcasters, interconnecting at the digital edge helps them deploy PoPs deeper in their networks, and thus closer to where fans will be watching from. This can help them address many of the unique challenges described in this blog post.
Digital services from Equinix help sports broadcasters get the flexibility they need
Sporting events that bring the whole world together don’t just happen by chance. In reality, broadcasting a global sporting event requires careful planning and the right infrastructure in the right places. Digital services on Platform Equinix® can help make it easier for broadcasters to get what they need.
Equinix Fabric™ is a software defined interconnection service that allows broadcasters to flexibly set virtual connections to cloud and network service providers, and many other partners in their digital ecosystem. It enables them to exchange data with partners in a manner that’s more reliable, cost-effective and secure than the public internet. In addition, adding or removing virtual connections quickly can help broadcasters scale capacity up and down as needed.
Network Edge from Equinix offers virtual network functions, allowing broadcasters to deploy the scalable, resilient network infrastructure they need without high CAPEX costs or long deployment timelines. These virtual devices can be fully provisioned in minutes, not months.
Equinix Metal®, our automated Bare Metal as a Service offering, can help sports broadcasters stand up dedicated compute and storage capacity in many different locations across the globe, right when they need it, and consume it the way that specifically matches their on-demand requirements.
Platform Equinix is made up of 240+ IBX® data centers spread across six continents. As the world’s digital infrastructure company™, Equinix has the global reach needed to help broadcasters deliver content to sports fans anywhere in the world.
To learn more about how one Equinix customer used Equinix Fabric, Network Edge and Equinix Metal to create a flexible, cost-effective broadcast solution for a global sports event, read the Friend MTS case study today.
 Ed Dixon, “Qatar 2022 to be watched by 5bn people, says Gianni Infantino,” SportsPro Media, May 25, 2022.
 Interconnection bandwidth is a measure, calculated in bits/sec, of the capacity provisioned to privately and directly exchange traffic between two parties, inside carrier-neutral colocation data centers.
This year's World Cup is expected to draw 5 billion viewers from across the world, making it the most-watched sporting event yet.