NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- At the beginning of this year, Akamai ( AKAM - Get Report) took Netflix's ( NFLX - Get Report) business away from Level 3 ( LVLT) and became the primary content delivery network (CDN) for Netflix. Although this was a big win, it proved short-lived. Netflix is planning to to move all of its traffic off Akamai in the coming months in order to go back to using only Level 3 and Limelight ( LLNW - Get Report) because of dissatisfaction with Akamai's performance, according to sources familiar with the situation. Last week, on Limelight's third-quarter earnings call, the company announced that Netflix had extended its contract with Limelight for another three years, until the end of 2013. And although Level 3 did not mention any customer by name, it said on its conference call that some of its recent capital expenditures were "in support of a large content customer CDN contract we just won in October." Level 3 said it expected to see revenue from that contract begin to ramp up in 2011. In addition, Level 3 also put out a news release saying that it added 1.65 terabytes per second of capacity to its CDN network in the third quarter and added five new network locations, two of which were in Canada. This clearly appears to be a move by Level 3 to offer more support for Netflix's new streaming service in that region. I sent Akamai an email to see if it wanted to comment on my blog post about this, and the company said, "It's no secret that Netflix has a multiple vendor strategy. We continue to have an ongoing relationship with Netflix, but we don't comment on the specifics of customers, contracts or other providers." Although I am not going to go into Netflix's pricing at this time, it is interesting to note that Netflix moved to Akamai for lower pricing, yet then didn't get the performance it wanted. It's another great example of how being a leader in the CDN business is not just about offering low prices. Rather, it's about offering good performance and reasonable prices. Naturally, one of the questions you have to ask is why would Netflix have performance issues with Akamai when other video customers say they don't have any. It's hard to know exactly, but part of the reason could be that Netflix has more video traffic going over CDNs than any other company on the Web.
If there is one thing Netflix is good at, it's measuring the quality of its streaming. It constantly sends out emails asking customers to rank the quality of the video they have watched, and Netflix has a lot of data about what works and what doesn't. So when it chooses one provider over another, it really has the data to back it up. I don't have exact numbers, but the value of Netflix's business to Akamai is probably in the $10 million to $15 million range. Limelight indicated on its earnings call that it also stands to get more of Netflix's business next year, especially when it comes to Netflix expanding further into the mobile space. I also heard at the Streaming Media West show last week that Netflix plans to release an Android app in the New Year, which would generate even more growth for Netflix. It's also interesting that Limelight isn't making any additional capital expenditures to support the increase in Netflix traffic, but Level 3 estimates it will spend $14 million the fourth quarter just to support "a large content customer" after spending $10 million in the third quarter for additional CDN capacity. That's $24 million of capital expenditures in two quarters for Level 3 on its CDN business alone. That shows some of the differences in network capacity between Limelight and Level 3 and also gives you an idea of just how big of a customer Netflix really is.