You might think that for a company like Netflix to get shows to you, it’s as simple as chucking the library on some servers and sending it to you from across the other side of the world. But there’s much more to it than that.
Ken Florance is the Emmy Award-winning man who, as vice president of content delivery at Netflix, keeps the videos streaming. Without Florance and his team, you wouldn’t have anything to binge on a Sunday night.
He’s in charge of Open Connect, the servers Netflix built from scratch specifically to make video streaming as hassle free as possible.
But those servers don’t just sit in the basement of Netflix HQ in Los Gatos, because Netflix is planting them inside internet providers across the world. That’s important, and here’s why.
In Australia, there’s at least one Open Connect server in every state for every major internet provider.
The point of it is to help reduce load on the network, as well as making it cheaper for internet providers to handle congestion on their networks.
So inside each internet provider’s servers is a dedicated Netflix server. And inside each dedicated Netflix server is every single show or movie on Netflix.
Master copies of new TV seasons and movies are all sent from the US directly to that server. This means that each video file only gets sent to Australia from the US just once, or the equivalent of one stream, with two copies kept on each server, taking about 15 minutes all up.
From there, nearly every individual stream to an Australian household comes from servers in Australia.
If the content comes from as close as possible to the person watching it, the less strain it can cause on the network, which means everyone’s connection shouldn’t slow down when the whole neighborhood is watching House of Cards.
In more densely populated areas, Netflix will have a second Open Connect server in smaller internet provider exchanges that can hold around 80% of the library. That again reduces the strain on streaming to crowded marketplaces.
This is important for Netflix. The company is a big believer in net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers should provide access to all content equally regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
Opponents of net neutrality see a future where ISPs should be able to charge internet TV providers such as Netflix a higher rate to pass on a good experience over their network.
Netflix has simply taken on its own responsibility of getting video traffic to users quickly.
Florance believes we’re just at the start of the internet TV revolution, and the next challenge is trying to work with mobile operators to grow mobile video support.
In an ideal future, Netflix will have partnered with big telcos and equipment manufacturers to have Open Connect servers installed at major mobile towers. This will then help avoid the congestion over network backhaul, eliminating a major barrier for telcos to stream regular video to customers.
Netflix already serves more than 125 million hours of content a day, has over 75 million subscribers and made $1.2 billion in revenue last quarter, and as that grows, technologies such as Open Connect will become crucial for everyone.
Harry Tucker traveled to Los Gatos as a guest of Netflix.