Are Video Games the Next Streaming Frontier?


With more people cutting the cord, OTT streaming providers have been fighting for consumer’s limited subscription dollars. Be it through new original content, exclusive licenses, or interactive opportunities, the ways in which to differentiate are narrowing between providers. The easiest way to provide unique offerings, is through interactive content — the biggest possible revenue opportunities is with video games.

Earlier this week, Netflix announced its plans to jump into video games, by hiring gaming executive, formerly of Electronic Arts and Facebook, to oversee new game development. Calling gaming a “new content category” that will be a “multiyear effort,” games will start on the company’s mobile app.

But, can OTT providers really break through to the big screen where the majority of subscribers watch?

It’s difficult to say that the immediate future holds any answers. A lot of development is going to be needed — both around the content and delivery vehicles. This is especially true if they aim at supporting multiplayer content.

What’s in the Box??

The first issue is that most of the current tech stack for OTT providers doesn’t support live or real-time content. Only a handful support “live” content which is still latent, but hardly any support real-time where interactivity thrives. Most are heavily invested in HTTP streaming.

          Call of Duty: Warzone — Courtesy Activision

With latency, you can’t have real-time multiplayer interactions. Think of it this way: If you were playing a Call of Duty or Fortnite, once took aim at an opponent standing a few feet away and fired, you’d miss because they actually moved away from that spot 3–10 seconds earlier. First-person-shooters and sports games live or die (or their characters do) by the millisecond.

eSports leagues recognize this. It’s why they have recommended minimum settings for CPUs, GPUs, and most importantly, networking bandwidth for competitive teams. If a game is lagging, people just won’t play it, and if the machine can’t support it, the game won’t make the cut for competitive prize money.


Subscribers will need a way to control their game. Netflix admits that the first games that roll out will be embedded in its mobile application — that’s because the mobile platform already supports multi-touch controls and makes an easy integration.

But, what about the big screen? Until they made a dedicated controller that works with any instance of Netflix on a SmartTV, or was dongle-based, they’re stuck with remote control-based games. This limits the kind of gaming available, to almost mobile app simulations. Think puzzle games like Bejeweled, or some of the JackBox.TV games.

The next logical step would be to create native apps for PC, Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Switch that support the existing interfaces (controllers, mouse/keyboard). But again, this will beg the question of adding latency to connect to the services for multiplayer content.

Big Graphics Mean Big Compute Resources

Most of today’s video games today HEAVILY rely on on GPUs. This means that either they’re hosting and streaming individual instances with major GPUs — or are going back to their roots of serving local instances that run on your local machine.

For people who tune in via SmartTVs, they’d be out of luck when it came to playing Call of Duty. If service providers created PC or console applications, they could allow you to download the content for your “rental period” and leverage the compute resources of the local machine. Of course, some gaming applications, like Steam, could beat them to the punch and create a rental library or a subscription model for PC and some console games.

Regardless, OTT providers want to provide a compelling gaming catalogue, they need to address the graphics rendering, set minimum system requirements or solve for it on the server side.

Honestly, high quality graphics eat up a HUGE amount of bandwidth, and 3D rendering for most games is going to be difficult with the existing infrastructure. Delivering high quality, 3D graphics, especially for first-person view games, will require a new deliver method, similar to Facebook’s foveated 360 VR streams that scales resolution as you move your field-of-view. But resolution scaling needs to happen in real time. Otherwise gamers have fuzzy graphics experiences.

Leveling up OTT

The simple fact is that OTT providers are really clearing houses for content. They redistribute existing content, or create content that meets their brand, but the vast majority of content is licensed. For more OTT providers to see new growth, it’s going to come from interactive content.

This means that OTT providers need a new partner like Phenix that not only understands real-time, but also has the technical stack that can be “turned on” to deliver to customers.