Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 46
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Tom Leighton


It should come as no surprise that a man at the forefront of streaming live sports via the Web and mobile is a mathematics genius with a long list of academic awards. Tom Leighton, CEO of Akamai Technologies, is one of the world’s foremost thinkers when it comes to applied mathematics and complex algorithms. Before he founded Akamai in 1998, Leighton was a professor of applied mathematics at MIT.

In the world of sports broadcasting, Leighton could be the man who finally wrestles live sports from the clutches of television.

“We’d like to deliver all the major sporting events in ultra-HD quality to any connected device to any point in the world,” Leighton said. “Our goal is securing digital rights from the major players in that industry.”

Akamai has 40,000 servers around the globe. It does everything from oversee video delivery to manage e-commerce and security for team and league websites.

It has streamed major sports events for years, and it began streaming games for Major League Baseball Advanced Media starting in 2004. In 2009, Akamai streamed the PGA Championship, and in 2010 it won a bid with the NFL to stream games in HD via the league’s website. Akamai also works with the NBA to manage 45,000 streaming assets.

Leighton said the next step in the evolution of streaming is to increase the quality of video. He said ultra-HD-quality video will become the norm in the next few years. The higher quality and easier accessibility could make the connected device the preferred platform for sports viewing.

“There is an ecosystem around sports that is very important to us,” Leighton said. “There is a live delivery, there are VOD clips and commercial transactions, security to protect the websites. It’s an important component for our overall revenue.”

— Fred Dreier
Innovation you’re most proud of: The notion of a content delivery network, which is basically what we do, in terms of taking media and delivering it and making those transactions secure. I’m proud of the virtual Internet we’ve built on top of the Internet.
Last innovation that made you say, “Wow!”: A cool thing we invented here is something called multi-tenant dedupe technology. It’s how you transmit information in a much more compressed way. Sending the information once saves cost and money and load time on the Internet infrastructure.
It may sound crazy now, but soon we’ll be able to …: It’s going to take a while, but all video watching will be done online. The quality online of video right now is fairly low, and I think that is going to change. The ultra-HD format is going to change that.
A less-than-perfect outcome that you learned from: We got into an area called content transformation, so we bought a company to automatically transform our content, and it looked right on all the devices in an automated way. It sounded great. But we found it wasn’t as automated as we would have liked. We sold lots of it, but it became hard to support. Automation is key when you’re going to do stuff to scale.
What brings out your creativity? Talking to customers. Talking to people. In the sports industry, it gets my creative juices flowing because the people have ideas, and it becomes our idea to make that technically possible.