Putting a Signature Move on Live Event Streaming
Every year World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) goes to the top rope to enhance its deep experience broadcasting live sports entertainment to its loyal fan base. The multi-billion dollar company produces spectacular televised events with programming reaching more than 14 million viewers each week. When WWE brought its exclusive pay-per-view television programming to the web, the digital media group needed a first-class streaming solution to deliver live video to an online audience. WWE deals in complex content punctuated with fast motion, quick scene changes and bursts of light that is tricky to encode for web-based viewing. To compress and deliver this type of video in real time over the Internet, the company needed a new encoding platform capable of generating a wide range of outputs simultaneously while maintaining superior video quality. How did the digital media group at WWE ultimately tap a streaming solution to extend its premium content to fans tuned in online?
Background: Global Entertainment on the Bleeding Edge
World Wrestling Entertainment began as Capitol Wrestling in 1953 and has since evolved and grown to become an integrated media organization and recognized leader in global entertainment. The company consists of a portfolio of businesses that create and deliver original content to a worldwide audience. WWE distributes its content across a variety of platforms including weekly television programming, pay-per-view, digital media and publishing. Over the past decade, WWE pay-per-views have generated an average of approximately 5+ million buys annually.
The WWE website currently generates an average of 13.5 million monthly visitors. These visitors view approximately 25 million video streams per month. WWE has online video sharing partnerships with Hulu, YouTube, TV.com and other select video portals. In addition, it delivers original “made for mobile” content to 39 countries spanning close to 100 carriers worldwide.
Challenge: Compressing Complex Content in a Live Context
The shift to the Internet as a video delivery platform offers enormous opportunity while presenting unique challenges in preparing and delivering web-targeted video content. WWE pay-per-view events command as much as $45 per viewer to access. For an online audience, source material must be compressed to very low bitrates for reliable and efficient delivery on a massive scale. At the same time, distributed video must retain high visual and audio quality in order to meet or exceed the expectations of viewers accustomed to the premium broadcast experience available with more traditional video platforms.
Quick movement and scene changes, elaborate stage lighting and even pyrotechnics all make WWE action extremely challenging to encode. Compressing fast motion and bursts of lights are generally recognized as encoding tasks with a high degree of difficulty – with complex content, typical H.264 encoders have a hard time delivering acceptable video quality for live event streaming. Compressed video can exhibit loss of detail, blurring, wash out, macroblocks and other artifacts. An advanced H.264 codec is required as is the ability to fine tune encoding settings. Beyond the ability to adjust parameters such as resolution, frame rate and bitrate, exposed controls that allow for GOP adjustment and insertion of an IDR frame for a scene change are essential. The ability to perform deinterlacing, adaptive quantization, anti-alias scaling and noise reduction are also key functions in generating the highest quality video for adaptive bitrate streaming.
In addition to the challenges inherent to delivering high-quality video online, WWE needed to bring its events to viewers live – in real time. Live event streaming is a high wire act with no margin for error. Fans who have invested a significant amount of money to view premium content expect an uninterrupted viewing experience and that requires fail-safe technology on the back end.
Solution: A Technology Takedown
To simulcast its pay-per-view programming on the web, WWE deployed Elemental® Live into its video production workflow as an alternative to existing encoding options. Elemental Live is video processing software that provides video and audio encoding for live event streaming to online and mobile platforms. Elemental Live enables highquality live video streaming to a Brightcove-supplied Flash player implemented on the WWE website.
WWE Multiscreen Workflow
The WWE event workflow begins with a live 1080i camera feed sent to the Elemental Live HD-SDI input. The signal requires deinterlacing which is an extremely computeintensive process employing complex algorithms. Video processing is performed by Elemental’s software, which is optimized to perform functions such as deinterlacing, anti-alias scaling and noise reduction using graphics processors. A single Elemental Live instance provides both the capacity and speed required to deliver multiple simultaneous streams for the WWE live broadcast. The result is a tremendous cost advantage compared to CPU-only solutions and allows WWE to deploy a single encoding platform from Elemental to replace eight previously installed encoding units from other vendors.
Once incoming video has been deinterlaced and the required video processing and compression functions are executed, multi-formatted live outputs are sent to a content delivery network for distribution. Elemental Live’s one-click CDN integration makes this an easy step – the user interface exposes a drop down menu allowing the operator to simply select the desired distributor from a list. As the workflow diagram indicates, WWE opted to serve its programming via Akamai’s streaming media service, sending its multi-bitrate Flash streams worldwide.
In addition to overcoming the speed and performance limitations of existing solutions, Elemental Live also supplies compressed video with superior quality. Rather than relying on third-party technology, Elemental Live employs an H.264 codec developed from the ground up. Even at very low bitrates, video converted using Elemental Live retains the detail, true color and seamless scene changes that make for a broadcast-quality viewing experience.
Benefit: Efficient Encoding with Finesse
With Elemental Live, WWE is able to create all the streams needed for an adaptive bitrate broadcast from one box. A single instance provides an eight-to-one performance advantage compared with other solutions in the WWE encoding arsenal. Elemental Live merges the benefits of general purpose processors with the versatility and forward compatibility of intelligent software to give content providers like WWE unmatched price-performance for video compression. Reducing the number of solutions required for large-scale video processing tasks lowers operations cost and overhead and eases integration challenges.
Adaptive bitrate streaming is quickly becoming a technology requirement for content providers and distributors supplying video to web-based devices. For its pay-per-view programming, WWE must encode live video into the format required for the Adobe Dynamic adaptive streaming protocol to display the highest possible quality video via the web. With complete adaptive bitrate support, Elemental Live lets WWE deliver adaptive streams seamlessly to Akamai for playback on the WWE website. In addition, flexible software ensures support for future video delivery standards and protocols.
Perhaps most importantly, the live action produced by WWE is brought vividly to life online using Elemental Live, successfully drawing a pay-per-view audience to the web and extending the reach of WWE events.
- Attract pay-per-view traffic to the web
- Encode complex video content in real time
- Deliver broadcast-quality live events online
- Deploy high-performance video conversion
- Employ high-efficiency video processing
- Output a range of adaptive bitrate streams
- Reduce equipment required for live streaming
- Ensure high-quality, high-value web-targeted video
- Provide an uninterrupted user experience
“Using Elemental Live encoders, WWE is able to offer seven different bitrates for adaptive video streaming. This includes HD quality streams and support for multiple formats and platforms including Android and iOS devices. Elemental’s robust and scalable technology allows us to run 20 active profiles per server for streaming and archiving our live events. In our deployment, we’ve been able to replace eight existing encoders with two Elemental Live systems.”Felipe Negron
VP Interactive Technology, WWE, Inc.