Throughout the winter’s biggest sporting competition, which began this week in South Korea, premier broadcasters, pay TV providers, and over-the-top (OTT) TV sports programmers around the world plan to use AWS Elemental to power video streaming of the events. Following are some unique insights into one such media leader, as previewed by Adrian Pennington.
The following is reprinted with permission of Sports Video Group.
The BBC’s move to ramp up coverage of sport online is part of a comprehensive strategy to shift more – and eventually all – of its live event production onto software and into the cloud.
“We are at the point of transition from a place where IP is being used for contribution but with conventional gallery production, to a world where everything will be in the cloud,” says Tim Sargeant, Head of Production System and Services BBC North and Nations (whose remit includes BBC Sport).
In what BBC Director General Tony Hall dubbed “a reinvention of free-to-air sports broadcasting” the broadcaster has announced plans to produce and distribute an additional 1000 hours a year of sports online.
These will be predominantly niche sports accessed via the BBC Sport website and BBC iPlayer but more content from the BBC’s portfolio, including of the Winter Olympics, will also be given an IP treatment.
This is in line with moves since 2012 to build out the Corporation’s IP capacity. “It would simply not be possible to deliver 1000 hours of additional sport on budget without either the internet infrastructure or the IP production techniques we are now able to use,” says Sargeant.
The core infrastructure of encoders and networking capacity to points of presence and onward distribution with content delivery networks (CDNs) was built to deliver 2500 hours of IP content during the 2012 Games.
“The long term plan was always to build on this,” explains Henry Webster, Head of Media Services in the Corporation’s Design and Engineering Platform group. “We’ve not had to hire in capacity.”
The area of focus since 2012 has been around distribution at volume. “2012 was by far the biggest streaming effort we’ve ever done but since then there’s been enormous and continuous growth,” notes Webster. “Our last biggest peak to date was around the Euros (the England V Wales game last summer saw 2.3 million unique browsers watching online against 9.3m viewing the TV broadcast) and we expect to be breaking those records again next year.”
Wimbledon is another highly popular piece of live streamed content for the BBC but the World Cup from Russia is likely to smash streaming records for the BBC and most other rights holders.
The hub of the BBC’s live stream infrastructure is dubbed Video Factory. This is packed with AWS Elemental encoders for transcoding contributed live streams into a single adaptive bitrate (ABR) set. Separately, the streams are packaged into varying formats for different devices mostly using HLS and MPEG DASH with some Flash to service platforms still using it. The BBC is also working on an internal delivery network project again to increase capacity and to manage cost.
The packaging process is performed in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud with the encoding operation split between AWS and on-premise. “A lot of capacity which we built for the London Olympics was on-premise kit but increasingly we’re doing live events entirely in the cloud,” adds Webster. “A lot of work is being made to ensure our origin servers can cope with spikes in load back from the CDN.”
A key part of the equation is rollout of remote production to further streamline costs. “There are a variety of routes for this,” explains Sargeant. “We’ve already covered some early rounds of rugby league with just a single camera which is then IP contributed back to base where we add BBC commentary. It’s a very light touch production and the production standard and technical requirement is lower than you might find on BBC One. It won’t have 14-camera switching, the graphics will be fairly modest and, because it’s an online offer, we feel viewers don’t mind if there’s a holding card at half time rather than lots of rich analysis.
“We are at the point of transition from a place where IP production is contributed back to base and passed through a relatively traditional gallery with comms and graphics and switching towards a scenario where all of that takes place in the cloud. We are gradually increasing the amount of workflows and processes we operate in the cloud to allow us to do those very basic production activities, then to perhaps switch a couple of cameras and mix an additional audio signal and on to a world where all conventional production tools are software running in the cloud controlled by web browser.”
This technology is common to pretty much anything the BBC streams over iPlayer, notably multicam live events Springwatch and Glastonbury.
There are two other production scenarios. One is use of 3-4 cameras with a very low cost on-site production capacity and local switching before passing into the IP network. Another instance is where the BBC will enhance the live stream already being captured by sports federations for social media platforms or their own websites. The British Basketball League (BBL) is an example where the BBC might take some existing production and overlay its own commentary.
Currently, the BBC’s live stream sports efforts are destined for its own platforms. Discussions are taking place about the merits of distribution to non-BBC platforms – such as Facebook or YouTube.
“The goal is to advance technology that scales on demand and to move away from a world of defined 24-48 channels,” says Webster. “It’s a world where we flex capacity up and down in an ad hoc way.”
Does that mean scope to deliver a 4K stream? “At the moment there’s not a massive demand for that but it’s fair to say that most of our technology is internet and software based and therefore agnostic to resolution,” he responds. “It’s very straightforward for us to scale to deal with higher bit rates and larger frame sizes. IP opens up the possibility of delivering higher rez if that is an option.”
Since all that’s required for switching is a web browser and internet connection there is less need for a dedicated physical sports production centre. “We are in a hybrid world where some events will still come through the gallery in Salford and others where production will be more self-operating and not dependent on a particular centre,” says Sargeant.
Sports coverage produced and delivered over IP currently includes rounds of the FA Cup, ATP World Tour Finals, Women’s Ashes from Australia, Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships and Scottish International Open Bowls and Women’s Soccer League.
It should be noted, of course, that live streaming is notoriously bedevilled by a number of issues including buffering and latency.
“There are a bunch of things we don’t have good control over such as people’s last mile connection,” admits Webster. “We do have control over ensuring we have capacity to delivery against those large numbers and we work with multiple CDNs to ensure that we have redundancy and that we scale to meet the demand.”
In announcing the sports plan, BBC DG Hall admitted the BBC has been forced to evolve as a result of the budget for live sport being slashed. “As we have shown time and time again, we will not stand still…not if we want to meet the changing demands of sports fans, not if we want to remain relevant in the media’s most competitive marketplace.
“While we’re privileged to be funded by the licence fee, it’s no secret we don’t have the same deep pockets as those we must now compete against but we have unique qualities that are essential for those sports who want to ensure their events are available to – and able to inspire – the widest possible audience.”
In January Hall outlined a strategy to “totally reinvent the iPlayer by 2020 to increase its reach and become a 'must-visit destination'.”
fuboTV is opening the door to live streaming sports experiences, giving fans and cord cutters access to all the action of live sports with a rich set of programming packages. The virtual multichannel video programming distributor keeps viewers engaged with a lineup of more than 70 channels and a heavy emphasis on sports programming from all major teams, leagues, and international tournaments – including more channels that carry sports in its base package than any other vMVPD. Through its own desktop and mobile web sites, and apps on TV connected devices such as Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV - as well as iOS and Android phones and tablets - fuboTV aims to bring viewers the live sports and entertainment they want, at home or on-the-go, with a flexible, user-friendly experience.
fuboTV brings audiences a diverse array of networks from across the world. Content from most of those networks comes to fuboTV with an allotment of ad inventory set aside for the company to manage and market, giving fuboTV a valuable opportunity to monetize its streaming content and create incremental revenue. But at first, the company’s cloud-based video infrastructure wasn’t capable of inserting advertising into live video streams, limiting its ability to realize value from ad inventory. “When we launched, we weren’t able to monetize many of the streams we received from our network partners,” said Sung Ho Choi, co-founder of fuboTV. “If we didn’t find the right solution for ad insertion, we were going to leave real money on the table.”
Choi and Thomas Symborski, principal software engineer at fuboTV, explored different approaches to implementing dynamic ad insertion. The solution had to provide on-demand placement of personalized video advertising via established ad networks, integrate seamlessly with its cloud-based infrastructure, and require minimal effort to deploy and manage. fuboTV signed on for a private preview of AWS Elemental MediaTailor and soon brought the solution into its production workflow.
“AWS Elemental MediaTailor was the perfect solution for fuboTV,” said Symborski. “It fits into our workflow with zero friction. We can continue to use the same architecture and the same origin; we simply configured our video players to point to AWS Elemental MediaTailor instead of our origin. There’s no impact on our systems, or the upstream systems of our content providers.”
As part of the fuboTV video workflow, AWS Elemental MediaTailor queries personalized ad content from two ad decision servers, which determine which ads to send based on information about the viewer and parameters defined by fuboTV. The solution inserts ads directly into individual video streams prior to encoding and distribution. Advertising and primary content reach the viewer with the same adaptive bitrate profile, resolution, aspect ratio, frames per second, and audio levels. Ads are inserted frame accurately, creating smooth transitions between content and advertising.
“The benefits to our business have been exceptional,” noted Choi. “AWS Elemental MediaTailor gives us the power to monetize our content with ads that viewers find relevant and engaging. We’ve added a significant revenue stream that enhances our business model and helps us keep subscription fees low. And, from a technical standpoint, AWS Elemental MediaTailor is so easy to deploy and manage. That lets us test new monetization strategies quickly and focus our resources on creating the best sports streaming service in the market.”
To hear more from Choi about his experience with AWS Elemental solutions, check out our video here. To learn about AWS Elemental MediaTailor, watch the webcast, “Personalize and Monetize Multiscreen Video Content in the Cloud.”
Kyushu Asahi Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) is broadcaster and title sponsor of KBC Augusta, a prominent annual tournament on the Japan Golf Tour. For the 2017 event, KBC deployed advertising insertion solutions from AWS Elemental and technology consulting partner Necfru, a member of the AWS Partner Network (APN), to help boost monetization of its expanded offering of live over-the-top (OTT) video content from the tournament.
KBC introduced dynamic advertising insertion powered by AWS Elemental into its live OTT workflow as part of Necfru Media Cloud, the company’s live and on-demand video distribution solution. Using cloud-based, server-side ad insertion technology powered by AWS Elemental Delta and AWS Elemental Live solutions within AWS Elemental Cloud, KBC was able to deliver pre-roll and mid-roll video ads with consistent high quality, and without interruptions between primary content and ads. The broadcaster exceeded its key benchmarks for ad fill rates, abandonment rates and quality of service.
For Nagoya Broadcasting Network (NBN), September marked a major milestone it its development of 4K video content over Hybridcast, which we first covered here. The powerful Hybridcast platform unifies broadcast and OTT content delivery, allowing consumers to switch between the two on special receivers that accept both traditional broadcast and internet video.
Following the success of last year’s initial technology demonstration, NBN extended its development of 4K delivery over Hybridcast to incorporate live streaming over cable TV networks. This effort culminated in a comprehensive demonstration of the new capability to augment network’s coverage of its annual NBN Autumn Festival. AWS Elemental Live encoding software ingested a 4K baseband signal from a switcher fed by six 4K-resolution cameras and processed it for delivery over a CATV network; the cable network carried the live streams as RF signals to a Hybridcast-enabled set-top box. Through this demonstration, NBN validated its ability to deliver live, 4K-resolution content over cable networks to users with or without an IP network connection. “We are quite pleased with the success of the demonstration of live 4K video over Hybridcast via cable network infrastructure,” said Minoru Murata, Director of Technology Strategy at NBN. “We achieved stable image quality and reliable, robust performance for 4K HEVC over MPEG-DASH format delivery, and consider this a significant step forward in our deployment of Hybridcast services alongside cable services.”