Fewer companies know how to build world spanning distributed services than there are countries with nuclear weapons. Facebook is one of those companies and Facebook Live, Facebook’s new live video streaming product, is one one of those services.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
The big decision we made was to shift a lot of our video efforts to focus on Live, because it is this emerging new format; not the kind of videos that have been online for the past five or ten years...We’re entering this new golden age of video. I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.
If you are in the advertising business what could better than a supply of advertising ready content that is never ending, always expanding, and freely generated? It’s the same economics Google exploited when it started slapping ads on an exponentially growing web.
An example of Facebook’s streaming prowess is a 45 minute video of two people exploding a watermelon with rubber bands. It reached a peak of over 800,000 simultaneous viewers who also racked up over 300,000 comments. That’s the kind of viral scale you can generate with a social network of 1.5 billion users.
As a comparison The 2015 Super Bowl was watched by 114 million viewers with an average 2.36 million on the live stream. On Twitch there was a peak of 840,000 viewers at E3 2015. The September 16th Republican debate peaked at 921,000 simultaneous live streams.
So Facebook is right up there with the state of the art. Keep in mind Facebook would have a large number of other streams going on at the same time as well.
A Wired article quotes Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, who said Facebook:
Has more than a hundred people working on Live. (it started with ~12 and now there are more than 150 engineers on the project)
Needs to be able to serve up millions of simultaneous streams without crashing.
Need to be able to support millions of simultaneous viewers on a stream, as well as seamless streams across different devices and service providers around the world.
Cox said that “It turns out it’s a really hard infrastructure problem.”
Wouldn't it be interesting if we had some details about how that infrastructure problem was solved? Woe is we. But wait, we do!
Federico Larumbe from Facebook’s Traffic Team, which works on the caching software powering Facebook’s CDN and the Global Load Balancing system, gave an excellent talk: Scaling Facebook Live, where he shares some details about how Live works.
Here’s my gloss on the talk. It’s impressive.