The Broadcast vs Streaming Showdown

I had the great opportunity to visit Seoul, Korea recently with the ATSC. We met with several great companies and broadcasters while there. A special thanks to LG Electronics, Samsung, ETRI, and MBC for hosting us, and the wonderful exchange of ideas.

While there I had the chance to witness first hand the benefits of mobile broadcasting on a grand scale. In Korea all TV stations transmit a mobile signal and phones have mobile TV tuners. Everywhere we went people were using their phones to watch TV – on the streets, in cabs, on buses and other mass transit, in buildings – without impacting their data plans or clogging up the pipes with high bit rate video.

One of our meetings was taking place while the Korean team was facing off against Russia in the World Cup. As such, we felt compelled to “test and monitor” system performance. On one tablet a Samsung VP was watching the game via streaming IP video and just next to him a Samsung engineer was watching the game via mobile DTV broadcast.

The Gangnam district World Cup watch party in Seoul, Korea.

The broadcast arrived quicker as it doesn’t have the latency of streaming, so the Samsung engineer saw everything happen first.

But where it got really interesting was in the final 5-10 minutes of the game. The score was tied and things were getting tense. The number of folks trying to watch the game via streaming kept growing too, and got to approximately 2 million. And that is when the streaming video feed puked and died. Right at the best part of the game, the feed just stopped and started buffering and re-buffering and ultimately failed. There just wasn’t the capacity to support viewers in a unicast, one-stream-per-viewer, model. Meanwhile the broadcast performed flawlessly and our test was complete. Broadcast wins!

Now, 2-million connections are a lot, but it still broke. And Seoul has some of the best Internet connectivity in the world. Additionally, the Seoul metro area has over 24-million people, so the streaming system failed at about 8% penetration.

Mobile DTV in Korea provides a World Cup game to screens on buses.

The Korean government, mobile carriers and broadcasters have realized what we in the US have not – that broadcast is a vital part of the mobile ecosystem. The soccer game proved it yet again. The game ended in a tie, but the Korean people are the real winners as they have a system that supports their consumption needs and will also be there to support them at other critical times, like in the event of a disaster where 100% of the people need instant access to vital information.

We in the U.S. need to follow their lead.


Sam Matheny is Chief Technology Officer and Executive VP
of the National Association of Broadcasters.
AWARN Advisory Council