What is CDN Live Streaming?

Blog 8 min read | Nov 15, 2023 | Filip Trichkov


The demand for seamless, low latency and high-quality live streaming has never been greater. Whether it’s a digital conference, live sports event or a music concert, CDN (Content Delivery Network) live video streaming services plays a major role in making sure every viewer all over the world gets a smooth, fast and engaging user experience. But what exactly is CDN live streaming, and why is it so important?

In this guide, we’ll explain the ins and outs of CDN live streaming, from its basic principles to its practical applications, and how it is revolutionizing the way we consume live content.

Understanding CDN Live Streaming

To grasp the concept of CDN live streaming, it’s important to understand its two main parts: Content Delivery Networks (CDN) and live streaming. Let’s break it down.

Content Delivery Network (CDN): A content delivery network (CDN), or content distribution network, is a distributed network of servers designed to deliver content quickly to your visitors. The primary purpose of a CDN is to deliver web content, media files like text, images, videos and live streams, more efficiently to end-users. By placing servers in strategic geographic locations, a CDN closes the gap between content and consumers, leading to faster content transfers, enhanced website performance, reduced video hosting bandwidth, improved security, fewer service disruptions and limitless scalability. By distributing content across multiple servers, CDNs reduce latency and ensure quicker access to data.

CDNs play a key role in the distribution of video content through various streaming protocols like HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), and MPEG-DASH. For HLS, the widely used adaptive streaming protocol, CDNs help in optimizing the delivery of video segments to various devices and screen sizes. On the other hand, RTMP often requires CDNs to pass on the streaming content to multiple viewers. CDNs also assist in delivering content via MPEG-DASH, another adaptive streaming protocol.

Live Streaming: Live streaming is the real-time delivery of video and audio content over the internet. It allows users to watch events as they happen. Live streaming has found a wide range of applications in many different fields – from entertainment and sports to education and business. On the other hand, video on demand (VOD), provides pre-recorded on-demand video content that viewers can access at their comfort, allowing them to pause, rewind and select from a library of options.

CDN Live Streaming: CDN live streaming is the process of using a Content Delivery Network to distribute high quality content to a global audience. It upgrades the performance, redundancy and reliability of live streams by minimizing latency, buffering and downtime.

How Live Streaming CDN Works

So, how does CDN live streaming actually work? Let’s dive in:

  1. Live Video Source: The live streaming process starts with a source – a video camera, a computer screen or any device that can capture video content. This source sends the live video feed to an encoder.
  2. Encoder: The encoder processes the raw video and audio data, compresses it and encodes it into a format fit for streaming over the internet. This encoded data is then sent to a live streaming server. Additionally, a transcoder can transcode the video data to the desired video format before it gets sent to the live streaming server.
  3. Live Streaming Server: The heart of the live streaming operation is this server. The server takes the encoded data from the encoder and uses a robust internet connection to send the content to multiple CDN servers, improving redundancy and reliability.
  4. CDN Servers: The CDN servers are strategically located around the world. These servers store and distribute the live video content to viewers. The choice of CDN servers closest to the viewers minimizes latency and ensures smooth playback.
  5. Viewer’s Device: Viewers access the live stream on their devices – computers, smartphones or smart TVs. The live streaming platform on their device requests the streaming content from the nearest CDN server, and the content is delivered for playback.
  6. Content Delivery: The CDN servers monitor the viewer’s connection and device capabilities all the time. They adjust the quality and bitrate of the video in real time to ensure an uninterrupted and smooth viewing experience.

Key Technologies

  • Load Balancing: To make sure that incoming traffic is evenly divided among multiple CDN servers, there is load balancing – the process which optimizes server performance and results in faster load times for viewers.
  • Caching: CDN servers cache content to reduce the need for frequent requests to the origin server. Cached content is stored temporarily and makes sure there is a faster delivery and lower latency for repeated requests.
  • Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABR): ABR automatically adjusts the quality of the video stream based on the viewer’s internet connection and device capabilities. It breaks down the video to small video segments in various resolutions and the quality which gets sent to the viewer is based on the speed of their internet connection. This ensures uninterrupted playback and minimizes buffering.
  • Global Anycast Routing: CDNs often use global anycast routing to route, or connect, viewers to the nearest CDN server. This further reduces latency and enhances the overall workflow and experience.

The Benefits of CDN Live Streaming

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of CDN live streaming, let’s explore the benefits that this technology brings to the table:

  1. Global Reach: CDN live streaming allows content to be distributed globally, reaching audiences in different regions. This is crucial for businesses and event organizers looking to engage with a diverse and global audience.
  2. Reduced Latency: By delivering content from servers closest to the viewer, CDN live streaming significantly reduces latency. This means that live events can be experienced in real time, boosting interactivity and engagement.
  3. Enhanced Scalability: CDNs are designed to handle heavy traffic loads, so they can effortlessly scale up to accommodate millions of simultaneous viewers without compromising the streaming quality.
  4. Improved Reliability: With multiple servers and load balancing, CDN live streaming is highly reliable. It minimizes downtime and ensures a seamless viewing experience. Most CDNs don’t have network points of presence (POPs) or third-party data center connections in every country, which means organizations must use several CDNs if they want a broader international presence.
  5. Security: CDNs often come with security features, such as DDoS protection and encryption, to protect against cyber threats.
  6. Cost Efficiency: CDN live streaming optimizes bandwidth usage, minimizing the costs that are needed with streaming large amounts of data to a global audience.
  7. Adaptability: Because of its nature, adaptive bitrate streaming makes live streaming much more accessible to a broader audience.

Practical Applications of CDN Live Streaming

With its workings and advantages out of the way, it’s time to explore its real-world applications of CDN live streaming. Here are some areas where CDN live streaming has made a significant impact:

  1. Entertainment and Sports: Live streaming has revolutionized the way we consume entertainment and sports content – from streaming live concerts and gaming events to broadcasting sports matches and tournaments, CDN live streaming offers a more immersive and interactive experience for viewers.
  2. Business and Conferences: Companies use live streaming for webinars, conferences and virtual meetings, which makes global collaboration and knowledge sharing far more possible and accessible. Events like product launches and corporate announcements make extensive use of live streaming as well – think Apple or Microsoft announcing their newest devices.
  3. Education: Live streaming has become a key element of online education in recent years. Educational institutions use CDN services to deliver lectures, webinars and interactive classes to students worldwide, regardless of geographical restrictions.
  4. Gaming: Live streaming is what the gaming industry relies on to broadcast gameplay, tournaments and eSports events to a global network of an audience. This has given rise to a new generation of content creators and streamers who engage with their audience in real time.
  5. Social Media: Social media platforms and apps use the live streaming functionality for users to share live moments with friends, followers and the world.

The Future of CDN Live Streaming

As technology continues to advance, the future of CDN live streaming looks promising. Here are some exciting developments to keep an eye on:

  1. 5G Integration: The widespread deployment of 5G networks will further reduce latency and enhance the quality of live streaming.
  2. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Live streaming will play a pivotal role in the growth of VR and AR experiences.
  3. Improved Content Discovery: AI-driven content recommendation algorithms will help viewers discover and engage with live streams that fit their interests.
  4. Sustainability: CDNs are exploring ways to reduce their carbon footprint through energy-efficient server farms and sustainable data centers.

Popular CDN Providers

Several CDN providers are widely recognized for their reach, reliability and performance. Here are some of the most well-known ones:

  1. JW Player: On top of being a full end-to-end streaming solution, with JW Player you can do video content delivery as well. Deliver your content as efficiently as possible with dual and multi-CDNs, allowing you to compare cost and quality in any region. Minimize buffer time and get your videos crisply up and running in no time.
  2. Akamai Technologies: Akamai is one of the oldest CDN providers, known for its network of servers worldwide.
  3. Amazon Web Services (AWS) CloudFront: AWS CloudFront is Amazon’s CDN service, integrated with the AWS ecosystem.
  4. Fastly: Fastly is recognized for its real-time caching and instant purging capabilities.
  5. CDN77: CDN77 offers a global network with a focus on content delivery and live streaming services.
  6. Limelight Networks: Limelight specializes in digital content delivery, including video streaming and edge computing solutions.
  7. KeyCDN: KeyCDN is known for its simple pricing and a user-friendly approach to content delivery.
  8. Microsoft Azure CDN: Part of Microsoft’s Azure cloud services, this CDN offers integration with other Azure services and data centers worldwide.


CDN live streaming is a major part of the digital age, making real-time content accessible to a global audience with reduced latency, improved reliability, and adaptability to varying conditions. From entertainment to education and gaming, CDN live streaming continues to reshape the way we experience live events. As technology advances, the future of CDN live streaming promises even more immersive and engaging experiences for audiences worldwide.

If you want to know how JW Player can help with your CDN needs, book a meeting with us and let our video experts break down our services and answer all your questions.