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Three Chinese web giants create streaming video 'standard'

ByteDance, Alibaba Cloud, and Tencent Cloud team on improvement to WebRTC's startup times

Updated Chinese web giants Alibaba, Tencent, and ByteDance – the latter through its Volcano Engine hyperscale cloud service – have teamed up to create, in their terms, a new video streaming standard.

The project was announced at a Chinese conference in late February. The Register has now been able to confirm information revealed in Chinese media at the time.

The project focuses on ensuring a better experience in the first few seconds of a live stream by reducing the time required to initiate a stream to a single second – or perhaps even half that. The three companies say stream-watchers today need to count for between three and six Mississippis while they wait for streams to start – which is painful for individuals, and intolerable if streams are piped into broadcast platforms.

The "ultra-low latency live broadcast protocol signalling standard" – for that it is the standard's name – achieves that low latency with innovative signalling techniques between client and server. The tech appears to build on WebRTC, which the three Chinese giants bemoan lacks robust initial signalling features.

While the three companies have termed their work a "standard" and pledged it will be available to all comers, The Register has been unable to find code online. We put this issue to one of the participating companies, which has promised to advise on how or if the project might be shared – perhaps as open source software or as a project for a standards organization to adopt. [See update below - Ed]

Whatever the status of the project, if it can deliver on its promise of swift startups for streaming it will be very welcome – all streamers abhor latency.

In China, swift-starting video streaming is perhaps even more desirable as the nation's e-commerce providers have increasingly turned to live-streamed infomercials to promote products. The tech therefore matters to Alibaba. Tencent has reason to care because it offers a Netflix-like service called Tencent Video, and ByteDance cares because its flagship Douyin app is all about streaming video (after video, after video) and is used for livestreaming in China.

If this tech is submitted to a standards body, the friendliness or otherwise of the reception it finds will be interesting to watch. Western nations and large democracies have explicitly stated they wish to dominate standards processes, thanks to a collective belief that China exercised disproportionate influence over the evolution of 5G standards and to some degree shaped them to meet local needs.

Low-latency video streaming may not be quite as contentious as 5G, so perhaps global reaction will be positive. But in today's geopolitical turmoil, who can predict anything? ®

UPDATE, 03:25 UTC, March 14th.: We've received a response to our question about how the standard might be shared. One of the tech's authors revealed this white paper (in Chinese) that we were told provides third party developers with information and instructions needed to use the ultra-low latency live broadcast protocol signalling standard.

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