Euro 2016: Should You Block Live Streaming On Your Network?

Live streaming can impact network performance, create security risks and harm productivity. But it can also improve morale. Should you block or restrict it?

The opening match of the Euro 2016 tournament between hosts France and their opponents Romania in Paris will mark the start of a month long feast of football. Twenty-four teams will contest 52 matches – a significant number of which will kick off during office hours at 14:00 and 17:00.

In years’ gone by, watching these matches would have involved sneaking off to the pub or pulling a sickie, but the advent of live streaming and superfast broadband means many employees will be viewing matches on the BBC and ITV websites.

For businesses and IT managers this is a blessing and a curse. Live streaming might encourage more people to stay in the office, but the ease at which games can be viewed might tempt those not brave enough to skive to watch a crucial England game.

Widespread use of streaming can not only impact productivity but also place a strain on corporate networks. This means IT departments might be tasked with ensuring the network performs or to place restrictions on colleagues.

To block or not to block?

BBc world Cup 2014But should companies block streaming and other Euro 2016 related activity on their networks?

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offers information and advice to employers and employees on workplace relations and legislation. It recommends a flexible approach with regards to annual leave and office hours during Euro 2016, but also acknowledges issues could arise.

“There may be problems around staff watching lengthy coverage via their computers or on personal devices,” it says. “Employers should have a clear policy regarding web use in the workplace and the policy should be cascaded to all employees.

“If employers are monitoring internet usage then the data protection regulations require them to make it clear that it is happening to all employees. A web use policy should make clear what is and what is not acceptable usage.”

Cloud firm 4D says streaming can negatively impact network performance, distract workers and potentially expose companies to more security threats, but says clamping down is likely to damage morale and loyalty and that in any case would be ineffective and encourage sick leave.

“In the US, NCAA college basketball coverage includes a ‘Boss Button’, which hides the webcast behind a fake spreadsheet,” said Jack Bedell-Pearce, Managing Director. “Discourage individual video streaming and limit bandwidth usage by blocking media, sports and related sites.

“Instead, provide screens in communal areas, which allows people to watch collectively, but minimises distraction to others.  Similarly, prevent cybercrime by monitoring website access and blocking where necessary.”

IT or business decision

BBC World Cup 4K TrialAccording to IT social network Spiceworks, 64 percent of its members expect staff to stream matches during working hours. Some are blocking BBC and ITV streams outright and redirecting users to a webpage showing the company’s policies, while others have had the decision taken out of their hands by bosses who have allowed streaming or set up big screens in the boardroom.

Some IT managers fear the Olympics will be a much bigger issue, while some Scottish IT pros have decided to block streaming simply because Scotland didn’t qualify for Euro 2016!

Other companies have either limited bandwidth for streamers and some businesses are allowing live video but monitoring productivity at the same time.

Cultural differences also might come into play as a US based server might be locked down if a surge in traffic is detected. Staff in the US might have no idea Euro 2016 is on and could decide to take action.

“During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there was a particular Oil and Gas company whose IT team struggled to complete Windows updates and patches out to servers and workstations located on their oil rigs,” said Paul Griffiths, Technical Director, Advanced Technology Group, Riverbed Technology

“When IT looked in to what might be causing these delays, they discovered that in addition to those watching the streamed content on the TV in the recreational area, staff were using the company’s WAN link – a costly piece of infrastructure, consisting of limited bandwidth and high latency – to watch the matches. As a result, they were causing a data traffic bottleneck, impeding critical business operations.”

Network strain

One way to manage network activity could be to prioritise certain types of activity.

“By deploying application control at the perimeter of the network, IT administrators are able to configure access policies according to the needs of the network.

Euro 2016“IT teams need to be able to both prioritise mission critical services and manage bandwidth across a variety of other applications, such as the streaming sites,” said Wieland Alga, European head of Barracuda Networks.

“For example, streaming pages may be allowed, but chat and games may be prohibited. Video conferencing might be allowed only for the executive group. VoIP and mission critical traffic might be prioritised while social media and YouTube is blocked.

“The ability to prioritise and manage in this manner is based upon a relatively new technology and it’s one of the primary differences between a firewall and a next-generation firewall.”

Of course in some business environments, watching matches isn’t just encouraged, it’s essential. But even still, Sky Betting & Gaming won’t be streaming games.

“Sky Betting & Gaming is probably one of the few companies that actively encourages its 1,000-plus employees to get involved in the Euro 2016 experience during working hours,” said Andy Burton, CTO. “The Sky boxes and TVs around the office mean people don’t need to stream matches to their desks – our screen to staff ratio is also high with plenty of large TV screens around the place. We’ll also be screening matches on large projectors around the office which people will watch together at the end of the working day.”

“Our sports focus means trading staff have multiple screens on their desks watching matches to manage in-play betting, which is business as usual for us.”

Quiz: Excited for Euro 2016? Try our sports technology quiz!