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Making Live as Easy as 3-2-1

Making Live as Easy as 3-2-1

In the first half of the 2000s, independent filmmakers were empowered through the availability of affordable digital non-linear editing (NLE) software and workstations, mass storage solutions, and prosumer high-definition cameras. With these tools, telling a story became much more achievable from a cost perspective, making film a desirable--but not required--part of the filmmaking process. 35mm reels and cans were replaced by Canons, Sony decks, a suitcase of G-Tech drives and a MacBook Pro.

As many of us are well aware, though, the affordability and availability of powerful tools is no substitute for great stories, talented directors and actors, and the expertise of cinematographers, makeup artists, stunt coordinators, and other underappreciated hands that help guide the invisible wires.

Over the past several years, many publishers have focused on pre-recorded content as their primary or only type of programming. In many cases, the decision to prioritize pre-recorded content was due to content licensing restrictions (e.g., broadcast simulcast) or the inability to monetize the content (e.g., the online audience was not large enough to effectively sell this inventory as part of their digital offering or package it with a broader deal).

Considering technical capabilities and requirements, publishers face a number of challenges when considering event-based, on-premise events for live streaming:

  • Hardware encoders are powerful tools, but they often come at both a financial and physical cost. Not only can top-grade encoders hit publishers with a significant capex expenditure, the logistics of transport and storage is not to be underestimated. Remember the days of moving your desktop and CRT monitor to a new cubicle?
  • On-premise live steaming often means limited uplink bandwidth. While a 5Mbps uplink might seem sufficient, publishers need to support multi-screen ABR, which typically means encoding for RTMP and HLS protocols with rendition bitrates of 2500, 1800, 1200, 800, 500, 350, and 150. All of a sudden, that 5Mbps uplink begins to sound like the audio handshake from a Hayes modem.
  • In addition, in an on-premise setting, publishers need personnel that specialize in managing, configuring, and operating live streaming hardware and software. For broadcasters that do this 24/7, that skillset can likely be found within the organization. For other publishers, it's a non-starter.
  • To cap it off, some publishers have been able to put the pieces together for on-premise live streaming with the appropriate hardware and personnel, but it scales to just a single event. For multiple simultaneous events, publishers are often faced with making the difficult decision of forgoing an opportunity or incurring one-time costs that may not be recouped in the foreseeable future.

From the streets of the London Olympics to the bytes of CES to underwater cameras giving us a glimpse into the fabulous aquatic lives of penguins, publishers use Brightcove Video Cloud to support playback and monetization of their live events. And, in accordance with FCC regulations that went into effect earlier this year, Brightcove recently introduced support for closed captioning for live streaming.

But, we didn't think this was enough to move the needle for all of our publishers to help them to evaluate the value of live streaming as a viable content model for monetization and branding.

With the availability of Zencoder Live Cloud Transcoding, Brightcove has removed much of the friction with live streaming. Live streaming is now more cost-effective, more scalable, and more approachable for any publisher large or small. Some of the earliest live streaming content I witnessed many years ago was the prototypical postage-sized playback of fish swimming in an aquarium--not too exciting unless you were spinning your imaginary propeller hat like the rest of us. As an aside, my first use of the Brightcove APIs was live streaming my dog doing nothing more visually exciting than snoring--though it was certainly technically interesting. Those bits flowed from an MBP camera, to FMLE, to Zencoder, to Akamai, to Video Cloud before finally appearing back on my screen.

A publisher can now reduce the operational requirements for live streaming to a single uplink rendition from a single software encoder. Zencoder handles all of the multi-platform and multi-bitrate transcoding in the cloud. This means the publisher has more choice and more control. Here's what's needed:

  • A single software encoder--hardware decoders are optional
  • A single uplink rendition--just send the highest quality bitrate rendition and the cloud handles the rest. If a publisher only needs to support a single rendition via RTMP, that's no problem. If a publisher needs to support 10 RTMP renditions for Flash and 10 HLS renditions for iOS mobile Web, native apps, and Connected TVs, it's as simple as a configuration setting.
  • API integration--it all starts with the basics, and the first step is exposing a flexible API that can easily integrate with existing publisher systems and workflows.

With Brightcove's ecosystem of innovative partners, publishers will see even greater end-to-end efficiencies and value:

  • Monetization services from partners such as mDialog that enable server-side ad insertion for live streaming content for both manual and signal-based use cases
  • QoS measurement from partners such as Akamai and Conviva that enables fine-grained instrumentation of the playback experience to improve the viewing experience--and also improves consumption and engagement with content and advertising
  • Emerging platform experiences from partners to expand the live streaming experience from just desktop consumption to truly anytime, anywhere, and any device

Some of our publishers have already embraced these capabilities - from bass fishing to sled dog racing. The closest I've ever come to sled dog racing was being dragged across the lawn on a plastic sled by my half-Husky, half-German Shepherd during a typical snowfall in Northeastern Ohio; however, I am fairly certain that my experience paled in comparison to the multi-day 500 and 1000-kilometer sled dog races held each year in northern Norway. For a publisher such as Smartcom:tv to have the confidence that they could live stream over 600 hours of race footage captured on all-weather cameras and delivered to desktop and mobile audiences worldwide, that stands out as an incredible use case of marrying premium content with compelling technology to delight the viewer (certainly more compelling than live streaming the sounds and snores of my Boston Terrier).

It was only a little over three years ago that the iPad was introduced. There were many skeptics at that time, and many publishers were surprised to see how this new device (one on which I typed this post) would change the video consumption behavior of their audience and create new revenue and branding opportunities for themselves. Many publishers have already embraced live streaming as a compelling form of content programming (broadcast simulcasts, brand marketing events, reality programming, educational and spiritual programming, sport competitions, etc.). Every technological shift evolves in spurts, stutters, and shouts. With the reduced complexity and increased availability of more affordable and available technologies, this step function of live streaming capabilities will enable new and exciting content programming opportunities for all publishers.

Every publisher should consider how live streaming can be a cost-effective strategy for engaging with their audience, providing additional monetization options, augmenting their VOD content consumption, and delighting their audience.