An Interview with Charles White: The Evolution of the Content Delivery Network

Apr 05, 2013

Article ImageContent Delivery Networks (CDNs) have long been quietly working behind the scenes to make sure content producers can get their products to consumers. But just like everyone else in the content business, CDNs are facing changes. EContent talked to Charles White, chief revenue officer for Mirror Image about the changes facing his industry.

Q: Even for those of us who are immersed in the world of digital content every day, the role of a content delivery network can be confusing. Can you start by telling our readers what a typical CDN did in the past?

A: Typical CDNs focus on providing traditional content delivery to end users with high availability and high performance. CDNs take the strain off of their customers' networks by offloading it onto their own servers to reduce downtime and latency. Websites often need to deliver a large amount of content as efficiently as possible, such as videos or games, without slowing down their load time. In fact, a one second delay in load time can results in a seven percent loss in conversions, 11 percent fewer page views and a 16 percent decrease in customer satisfaction. Today's CDN landscape has changed. Content creation is among the top priorities for any brand. When it comes to delivering that content, how and where to delivery it has changed dramatically with the advent of smartphones and digital technology.  And while brands may know who they are trying to reach, they don't consider the what, when and where. It is essential to partner with a CDN provider that approaches content delivery holistically.

Q: The internet is changing -- becoming increasingly mobile and app-based. How is this impacting CDNs?

A: The shift towards a mobile and app-based internet is rapidly changing the role of the CDN. Higher bandwidth capabilities overall, coupled with our on-demand society, have caused customers to recognize the need for more than traditional content delivery. Today, content delivery must be highly customized to further maximize the end user experience. Whether that means device detection technology or location-based advertising, CDNs need to be equipped to meet the needs of customers in real time.

Advancements in mainstream technology (smartphones, tablets) has helped fuel consumer media preferences. This has, in large part, been one of the primary motivations for Mirror Image to look inward and reinvent our marketplace offering by introducing a Dynamic Delivery Network (DDN). Beyond low latency delivery, the need for targeted consumer experiences is forcing CDNs to adjust on the fly to ensure that appropriate content and format is delivered, regardless of the request origin.

Q: Can you tell a bit about your idea of what dynamic delivery network is?

A: A DDN is the next generation CDN. It enables global organizations to deliver content more intelligently with customized targeting logic. By its very definition, dynamic describes a complex and continuously productive activity or change. Translated to our world, it implies the ability to combine things such as programmatic mobile and display advertising, stream and asset authentication, online data collection, and targeting and customization based on continuously changing request attributes. There is now a need for a CDN that provides fast and reliable content delivery coupled with precise targeting logic, customized in real-time based on location and device type. DDNs are built to deliver robust mobile ads, online videos, website content, live feeds and any other type of content, all of which is customized to meet the unique and changing needs customers. In the end it's about how to create a unique online experience for every browser or device in real time.

Q: Content providers are struggling to monetize their content, which is leading to more personalized experiences. How are CDN companies adapting to this?

A: With the rise of smart devices, there is a new set of demographics to consider- device demographics. It's a type of target marketing based not on any pre-determined group a consumer fits into (i.e. race or gender), but rather what mobile device they use and how they interact with content on that device. It is extremely important to have this technology in place that identifies the type of device that consumers use to access content. Device detection allows format and delivery method customization in real time, which ensures that content is displayed correctly on a consumer's screen. Traditional targeting is based on demographic profiles and assumptions based on previous purchase behavior.

Just as important as device detection is location-based advertising. Marketers can improve their advertisements by providing a financial incentive in the form of a coupon or voucher for a business in proximity to the consumer. It can't just be location-based, however, so the ad's content needs to align with the consumer's interest, which is why data collection is critical. Location-based content is received very well, with an overwhelming 80% of mobile users preferring ads that are locally relevant. Device detection and location-aware ads are the type of targeting logic applications that define the difference between traditional and dynamic content delivery.

Q: Is the death of the CDN inevitable?

A: I would not say that traditional CDN is dying, but I would say it's changing. DDN is a more powerful, robust version of CDN. In that sense, CDNs are evolving. With the rapidly changing needs of customers, traditional CDN companies need to become more dynamic and ready for what is next. Delivering content will remain a necessary function for companies. The challenge for providers is how to grow dynamically and as quickly to keep pace with end-user demand. So no, the death of the CDN is not inevitable. What is inevitable, however, is the rapid need for the CDN to change and adapt.

("Delivery" image courtesy of Shutterstock.)