WHEN BENEDICT XVI became pope in April 2005, 100,000 viewers logged on to MSNBC.com to watch clips of the ascension, making it one of the Web site’s largest live video events. While momentous ceremonies had crashed the site in the past, this one went off without a hitch.
That’s because a few months earlier, MSNBC.com, a joint venture between Microsoft Corp. and General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, had become a customer of Limelight Networks Inc. The 105-person start-up based in Tempe, Ariz., redirected Web-video viewers to thousands of computer servers that hosted copies of the pope video.
While YouTube Inc., News Corp.’s MySpace.com and Facebook.com are some of the hottest names on the Web, underlying these belles of the Internet ball are “content delivery” providers like Limelight with its world-wide network of data centers.
“It’s very critical to what we do — which is deliver news — that we work with a company like Limelight,” says Ted McConville, director of video engineering with MSNBC.com. “We can’t go at it on our own.”
The dominant player in the industry is Akamai Technologies Inc., Cambridge, Mass., with revenue of $283 million in 2005. However, Limelight has been making inroads because it specializes in delivering Internet video and because it offers its services for a lower cost. “Limelight has benefited tremendously from the explosion of media online,” says Mike McGuire, a research analyst with Gartner Inc. He says Akamai’s size can occasionally serve as a disadvantage with customers who prefer to negotiate discounted price arrangements with a start-up.