Speed is a constant for the National Hot Rod Association. Fans crave it. Drivers win and lose with or without it. And, viewers demand it, whether they are watching a race live or waiting for one that was just completed to be available on the NHRA app or website. The problem is, until this year, some elements of that speed - specifically preparation of on-demand assets and the ability to view them as fans, were very slow and needed improvement. So, the NHRA brought in Brightcove to help improve its video experience and deliver content faster to its passionate fan base.
In a webinar this week, Rob Hedrick, who is charged with the NHRA’s Broadcast Operations, talked through how the company optimized its live streaming infrastructure, process, and delivery.
The NHRA offers a video service called NHRA All Access, which provides access to not only the current season’s live races (with Cloud DVR) and on-demand assets that can be viewed post-race, but also thousands of videos that date back to the 1960s. A little more than one year ago, Rob and the team had a workflow that wasn’t doing them any favors, or saving them any time. They were managing 10 vendors, processing 20 videos per event, and taking from between 12 to 24 hours to fully process the content from each event. Rob says the team had to think about how to deliver this content as they went. “How are we going to get that content live to the race fan? We were driving the train and laying track as the train was going full speed.”
“Our tracks are in rural areas with constrained bandwidth. Every time we had to upload a video, staff drove 20 miles down the road to use a mobile hotspot. That wasn’t working. Then we moved to satellite and were using 30 hours of satellite time, which can get very expensive,” Hedrick continued. With this process, the NHRA’s Sunday event wasn’t available until the following Wednesday. It knew subscribers weren’t happy and there had to be a better way.
Fixing The Issues
Through the 2016 offseason and into 2017, Rob and the NHRA staff set out to remedy the issues affecting the All Access product and workflow. Their process included a detailed evaluation of the various products and solutions in the cloud based video workflow space. The NHRA ultimately landed on Brightcove because of its offerings maturity, sophistication, and workflow continuity. For NHRA’s live events at the race venues, Brightcove Live takes the live feed Rob’s operations team provides. That source is used to create every stream rendition to reach viewers across all platforms and devices. Brightcove Live also provides for a sliding live window, which one could call Cloud DVR. This feature enables viewers who may have missed the beginning of a race to easily ‘scrub back’ to see it. Once a race is complete, Rob and his team are able to use API calls to Brightcove Live and our video platform for the quick and efficient segmentation of each race. This means that ‘behind the scenes’, our platform is taking that live event, marking the ‘top and tail’ so that every race is quickly made into an on-demand asset. In our conversation Rob said this functionality now makes assets ready in a matter of an hour or so, where it previously took days.
Additionally, Rob and his staff were able to eliminate the expense of the satellite truck and moved that process to public internet, using a suitcase encoder. Using the APIs that are part of the Brightcove ecosystem, Rob and his staff are able to automate the workflow so that their viewers can see races faster than ever before.
Results: Fewer Vendors, Less Time, More Sleep
By implementing these critical changes to its live streaming architecture and process, the NHRA saw powerful results. The company went from 10 vendors to four, saved 18-20 hours each race weekend and cut down on the people needed onsite to deliver a race as a result of this streamlined workflow. These results have extended to its viewers, NHRA is seeing an increase in engagement play rate - which is now at approximately 80-90 percent - and a 35 percent increase in subscriber growth year-over-year. Last, but certainly not least, Rob and staff can now watch television on Sunday night and sleep better.
Lessons Learned For Your Live Event
One extra benefit of the NHRA journey involved some best practices discovered along the way. Rob and his staff would advise others to:
Learn how to use the APIs. When bandwidth is constrained, API calls can sometimes be obscured. The call may have gone through to the cloud, but the return acknowledgement may be obscured due to bandwidth deficiencies.
Have multiple people in different locations, independent of the live event who can check the frontend and also the backend tools to make sure your workflow is performing the way you expect and doing the things you’re asking it to do.
Lastly, Rob subscribes to the ‘hit by the bus theory’, where he has at least two people on staff who can carry on with video operations and product while he recovers.
I added the ‘crime scene tape’ theory. Once you have your gear and workflow in place for a live event, ensure that no one can interact with your configuration prior to the live event.
In the future, Rob and the NHRA team are thinking about new product innovations they plan to add to the All Access offering. Rob would like to put live streaming cameras in the pits, so that viewers can see live images of the racer up for a run, in addition to the next few drivers who are gearing up for their run. Viewers love the additional interactive elements in the All Access product and the NHRA plans to feed that hunger. Rob and I also discussed the role of machine learning (ML) and how it may be able to help crunch data and provide more information about the drivers, cars, times, and more to the viewing experience.
Thanks again to Rob and his team at NHRA. This was a really fun webinar from both a content and technology perspective with one of our most advanced customers. See you on the next one!
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