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3 Major Misconceptions about WebRTC in Broadcasting

Allan Maule May 2, 2022 9:04:56 AM

As video streaming transforms industries ranging from retail to healthcare, the WebRTC market is expected to grow to $21 billion by 2025. WebRTC is known for its flexibility, enabling real-time media like voice, video and data to transfer natively between browsers and devices without complex plug-ins or extra software. Because WebRTC was initially conceived as a solution for 1:1 or small group calls, it has had a slow start in the broadcasting space. But as WebRTC has matured, WebRTC providers like LiveSwitch have overcome many of the challenges associated with large scale broadcasting. Here’s how.

Misconception 1: WebRTC can’t deliver high quality video.

For broadcasters, quality is critical. If you can’t get quality feeds to customers, it’s almost better to have no feeds at all. In contrast, the original goal of WebRTC was to always get a basic feed through, even if the quality wasn’t great. There are several tech components impacting this:

  • The default bitrate behavior on many streaming platforms is variable, which can result in poor video quality. 
  • The quality is limited by many platforms to 1Mbps, where for a “good” quality broadcast you need 6Mbps at minimum (This ties in to point #2 below re: adaptive bitrate.).
  • Oftentimes the source must integrate directly with a hardware-encoded feed, enabling the delivery of a high-quality feed with low end-to-end latency. 

By locking the bitrate and setting it to a higher quality level while directly integrating the WebRTC feed into the production source, we delivered high resolution with ultra low latency for the WWE Thunderdome – thrilling hundreds of thousands of fans with a right-there experience.

Misconception 2: WebRTC doesn’t support adaptive bitrate, so the user experience is terrible on slower connections. 

Adaptive bitrate (ABR) in broadcasting refers to the practice of pre-encoding different quality levels of a video feed (low, medium, high, etc) to ensure a smoother user experience. This allows OTT platforms to dynamically adapt a stream’s video quality to the user’s network. While not all WebRTC solutions support ABR, LiveSwitch offers server-side simulcast—a dynamic, just-in-time ABR system that delivers the best possible experience to any connection or device.

Misconception 3: WebRTC doesn’t scale to broadcast-size audiences of hundreds of thousands.

To tackle challenges of streaming at scale, you must pair the flexible nature of WebRTC with elastic server architecture. An individual LiveSwitch server cluster can handle tens of thousands of simultaneous streams, which can be further scaled through the use of “superclusters” (“clusters of clusters”) running many clusters scaled horizontally. This horizontal scalability enables truly massive streaming at scale, including streaming for broadcasts like Couple.tv, a first-in-the-world online, interactive reality dating show.