What is a Video CDN?: How it Works and Top Providers for 2024

By Emily KringsDec 27, 2023

The quality of your video content plays a massive role in how effective it is. Believe it or not, there’s another factor that’s just as important: the quality of the viewing experience. You can intuitively understand why this matters so much – even the best movie ever made would be virtually unwatchable with a lot of buffering, skips, and lag.

If you want viewers to tune in, you must learn about an essential tool in your streaming toolkit: the video content deliver network (CDN). 

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about video CDNs. We’ll cover what a video CDN is and how it works before we dive into some actionable insight on how to choose a video CDN provider.

Table of Contents

What is a Video CDN? 

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A video content delivery network (CDN) is a system of servers designed to deliver video content more efficiently based on a user’s geographic location. With a CDN, your videos are optimized for both video-on-demand (VOD) and live streaming, so that your viewers can enjoy fast, high-quality content.

Because CDN servers are located all over the world, at least one of them should be located close to every viewer, where videos can be cached and served to minimize latency. This is particularly important if you intend to stream content at high-definition resolutions.

How a Video CDN Works

In a nutshell, whenever a user requests one of your on-demand or live videos, you can have your video CDN deliver it to them from the server that’s closest to them geographically (rather than just coming from your site’s origin server). This is known as a Point of Presence (PoP).

For on-demand video, this works because the CDN has already requested the stored video from the origin server and cached it. For live streaming, there can’t already be a stored version of the video to cache, so the CDN has to cache and then serve the video in real-time – but because it’s closer in proximity to the viewer, it still reduces the risk of bandwidth issues and improves overall playback!

Example of CDN Caching

Let’s walk through what this looks like. Say you own a website called MyVideoWebsite, where you publish your video content and live streams, and you work with a web host or platform whose server is located in Seattle, Washington. 

This is just fine for your viewer named Barbara, who lives in Bellevue just outside of Seattle – but what happens if a viewer named Dave in Chicago wants to view a video of yours while he’s on the train for his daily commute? That’s a distance of more than 1700 miles!

Physically, the data has a lot longer to travel with Dave than it does for Barbara, which means Dave has a worse viewing experience – this could mean more lagging, buffering, and waiting for content. But if you have a quality video CDN to cache your video and serve it closer to whoever is making the request, your viewers can enjoy a better viewing experience overall!

The Benefits of a CDN for Live Streaming

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Obviously, a CDN has some big benefits. Let’s look at why a CDN is such a good idea for your video streaming.

  • Reducing latency: A video CDN reduces the physical distance between the content itself and the viewer requesting it. This allows for faster load times and less buffering, which makes your content more accessible to an audience across the globe.
  • Avoiding server overload: It’s possible for your site’s origin servers to get overloaded if there are too many requests at the same time. A CDN allows you to distribute that load across a number of servers in different locations for reliable content playback at any level of demand.
  • Ensuring smooth streaming: CDNs are able to optimize the delivery of your content to viewers, which allows for a more efficient use of network resources. Plus, viewers will enjoy smoother streaming for a quality viewing experience.

The content delivery network is a really important resource for any business that hosts and serves video content to an audience, particularly if the quality of their viewing experience could make or break your business. 

Whether you monetize your videos or just use them to market your business, choosing the right CDN is key for making sure viewers get the right impression of your brand.

How to Choose the Best Video CDN 

Fortunately, most people who use video streaming can get away with the CDN that their chosen online video platform uses. However, some situations require choosing a CDN. For example, if you’re taking a self-hosted approach, you’ll need to add a CDN to your tech stack.

With that said, choosing the best video CDN depends on a number of important factors, including:

  • Geographical reach
  • Cost efficiency
  • Scalability
  • Performance
  • Reliability
  • Customer support

You need to balance these key considerations against the total cost to ensure you go with a CDN that makes sense for your business.

5 Top Video CDN Providers

If you’ve decided to consider top video CDN providers to find the ideal one for your video content, we’ve compiled a quick list you can look at. These 5 CDNs are all known for strong performance, a global network, and reliability.

1. Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is the video CDN from Amazon Web Services. It says it can help you “securely deliver content with low latency and high transfer speeds.” This popular CDN features more than 600 globally dispersed PoPs with intelligent routing, plus a powerful AWS Shield Standard for defending against DDoS attacks.

They cite Peacock using CloudFront to stream a Super Bowl among their customers, which is definitely a testament to the quality of their network.

CloudFront is available to try with 1 TB of free data transfer under its No-nonsense Free Tier. For a paid plan, you’ll have to request a quote.

2. Akamai

Akamai promises that the agility and scale of its Connected Cloud will help you flawlessly deliver the digital experiences you create for your audience. We included it at the top of the list because it’s easily the leading CDN for American-based businesses. 

It supports both live video and on-demand video streaming, along with important features like analytics, security, and privacy.

Pricing is not available on Akamai’s website, but you’re able to request a free trial to experience Akamai’s CDN for yourself.

3. Cloudflare

Cloudflare is a popular and growing CDN with an impressive reach of more than 300 cities across 100 countries. For the two higher plans, they promise 100% uptime in their SLA. The service also supports paid add-ons available with any plan to give you additional functionality as needed. 

You may want to opt for the Video Streaming add-on for Cloudflare Stream, which claims to make streaming high-quality video at scale easy and affordable. It starts at $5 per month.

Cloudflare comes with four simple pricing plans:

  • Free: For personal or hobby use
  • Pro ($25/month): For professional websites that aren’t business-critical
  • Business ($250/month): For small businesses operating online
  • Enterprise (Custom): For mission-critical applications

4. Edgio

Edgio (formerly Limelight Networks) bills itself as the way to get your online business on the leading edge with “sub-second websites.” Its CDN product is known as Edgio Uplynk, which promises to help you manage your video streaming service from end to end, ingesting and optimizing all the way through encoding and publishing. 

Some of its customers include Verizon and Mars, so you know Edgio would offer some strong support for your video needs, particularly live streaming!

There is no publicly available pricing for Edgio. It does break down its services into Applications and Media, so you can find out more about Media pricing on their Contact page.

5. Fastly

Fastly’s tagline is “the platform for the best digital experiences.” Like many of the top video CDN providers on this list, Fastly offers much more than just CDN services, but it can still deliver fast, personalized experiences globally through the Fastly Content Delivery Network. It promises to boost performance and scale and reduce delivery costs with fewer, more powerful PoPs.

Big customers who use Fastly include The Guardian, Giphy, Stripe, and Taboola.

Fastly wants you to request a demo for their CDN, although you may also be able to try it for free. Either way, there’s no publicly listed price on their Pricing page, but you would pay a minimum of $50 per month based on total bandwidth and request usage.

Make Maestro Your Video Streaming Platform


If you’re looking to tap into a streaming platform that lets you live stream without confusion or limits, Maestro is here to help.

Maestro allows you to build a CMS for creating, monetizing, and delivering your video streaming experiences. Set up a professional-looking streaming website with a few clicks. Choose your branding, add monetization, and go live in just minutes!

Sign up today to host exclusive streams for your audience in no time at all.

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