Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tackling the challenges of providing Sports Live over the Internet

Jim DeFilippis explains the challenges of
streaming the Olympics
Live events are one of the big money makers for the entertainment industry, and none are bigger than sports broadcasts. They come with many unique challenges for digital broadcasters, but each year new records are set for how many streaming users can tune-in to a game or match. ETIA's Getting Sporty panel shared their expertise in digital sports broadcasting, along with some of their future challenges.

Ken Kerschbaumer of Sports Video Group moderated and kicked off the panel, starting with industry veteran Jim DeFilippis, currently with TMS Consulting, who talked about the challenges of streamcasting the Sochi Olympics. He began by showing the mobile application designed to allow users to pick and choose between live and recorded events as well as highlights. Client broadcasters could also provide their own clips for their customers. The application was cross-platform, with versions for Flash, iOS, Windows Mobile and Android. It ultimately supported 370,000 hours of viewing.

Sports insider David Aufhauser of Pac-12 Networks -- a wholly-owned Pac-12 company created to provide the Universities sporting events to broadcast and streaming viewers. Perhaps unique among similar content creators, the Pac-12 creates all content ready for both broadcast and digital across its National network and six Regional networks -- including 2400 hours of live events last year alone. Their current challenges include dealing with events that don't wind up fitting neatly in their pre-defined slot in the electronic program guide.

Joe Novello of Crossfit Games started his remarks by explaining that unlike most entertainment provided online Crossfit aims to cross-over to real life by providing a new physical workout every day that each of its viewers (I guess we should call them participants) carries out. While the framework of the workout is the same, individuals scale the workout to their capabilities. The logical result is the gamification of the system and the creation of the Crossfit Games. They have grown to over 200,000 participants this year.

Clark Pierce of Fox Sports rounded out the panel by explaining that at Fox there is no tension between broadcast and streaming, as they are committed to providing their content to the user with the best quality on the best screen for their viewing needs -- so Fox's on the go solution is designed to provide the same excellent experience that a subscriber would get on their TV at home when they are using a mobile device. He stressed that live TV is, in his opinion, what is holding the streaming solutions like Netflix and Hulu at bay.

-- David Cardinal for ETIA 2014, SMPTE & SCIEN

Piracy and Entertainment business models

Industry veterans discuss the best way
to monetize content over digital media
Allan McLennan led a panel discussing how data and technology can provide compelling business models for content owners and consumers alike that can span the variety of new -- non-managed -- devices where most viewing growth is taking place.

Tony Emerson -- who leads the media industry portion of Microsoft's anti-piracy efforts -- explained the challenges of keeping malware off computers and devices when some arrive with it already installed from the factory. Microsoft's cybercrime center is responsible for all type of malware and other cybercrimes, but of course the topic of most interest to the ETIA audience was content piracy. Emerson explained how the visualization tools used for tracing and tracking computer viruses could also be used for locating pirated content and piracy tools.

Gartner's Van Baker explained that newer viewers have shorter attention spans, want to multitask, and have less tolerance to barriers that are placed in the way of their consuming content. Meeting those needs while maintaining a business model that protects the content owner is a large challenge for the industry going forward.

Allan suggested a standard for viewer data might be helpful, but Decentrix's Taras Bugir pushed back, saying that each of the large companies it works with have different data and different needs. So he doesn't see a standard as being likely -- except for figuring out how to monetize "the viewing eyeballs." He pointed out that simply charging for premium content over digital is only one type of income stream -- leaving out the needs of advertisers -- who spend most of their money on traditional media but want to learn how to measure and use digital media to expand their reach.

Vubuquity's Darcy Antonellis made the practical point that scaling is a crucial issue for getting content provided on demand over digital infrastructure. Without a more automated and efficient process it is hard to generate profit. She also stressed that if content providers could get information about when users are ready to buy they could optimize their deliver networks and the experience of their users. Bugir said the difficulty starts with the simple issue of who in the content delivery chain owns the customer data -- since you can't analyze customer data if you don't have access to it.

SMPTE's own Pat Griffis helped wrap up the session with an offer for SMPTE to help with the portion of the business model work that would benefit from standardization. The panel agreed that there would be benefit in building a standard for measuring from the impression up so all media could be evaluated by content providers and advertisers.

-- David Cardinal, ETIA 2014, SMPTE & SCIEN

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Getting traditional content ready for the web

Martin Wahl explains how the Olympics were webcast
Everyone agrees that web-based streaming is the fastest growing segment of the digital entertainment market, but that doesn't help those with libraries of traditionally-created content to be able to take advantage of it without some effort and tools. Jan Skoglund, of Google's Chrome team moderated a panel on some of the tools available to effectively provide traditional entertainment over the web.

Renganathan Ramamoorthy, also from Google, led off by discussing the background of Google's VP9 codec, that has been instrumental in providing content streams beyond HD over the internet. VP9 was designed to be a web-native codec, as a better-performing alternative to re-using codecs that were originally developed for other media. The growth of video to over half of all web traffic -- and especially the rapid growth in mobile video -- made it critical for large content players like Google to figure out a way to deliver high-quality content with less bandwidth.

Google knew that whatever codec it developed would need to be usable across a variety of devices and bandwidths -- thus adaptable. To make that happen it needed to be available to everyone. Its development would need to keep pace with the rapid pace of web development. The result -- VP9 -- provides equivalent quality to H.264 while using significantly less bandwidth.

Microsoft's Martin Wahl -- the panel's only non-Googler -- provided a user perspective by discussing how the 2014 Winter Olympics were cloud cast using Microsoft technology. He began with the challenges -- mostly the highly-complex technologies needed and the large capital outlay required. But with Live events being the most compelling broadcast entertainment, the motivation to deliver them as streams over the cloud is compelling.

Wahl showed another reason streaming can be value-added to broadcasters. Over the years that Microsoft has worked with NBC to add viewing options for the Olympics, the total amount of time watched per viewer has increased -- even the amount of TV viewing increased, before adding in the additional viewing time on PCs, tablets, and smartphones. To help media capture that additional revenue, Microsoft created Azure Media Services as a complete cloud-based solution for content owners and broadcasters to stream and then monetize their content.

Anil Kokaram and Doug Stallard from Google's YouTube rounded out the panel with a discussion of how better video really does make a difference to its users and how VP9 is helping them deliver it while using less bandwidth.

-- David Cardinal, for SMPTE & SCIEN

Video's "Perfect Storm" helps thePlatform evolve, Blaine looks forward to new challenges

Fireside Chat on Quality over the Internet:

Colin Dixon interviews Ian Blaine at ETIA 2014
When thePlatform CEO Ian Blaine started the company in 2000, video broadcasting was either tied to cable systems, or required a massive expenditure of $10 per Gigabyte for streaming solutions. He explained to moderator Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia how it was a perfect storm of high-quality-video-capable devices like the iPad and game consoles, along with widespread availability of high-speed broadband, and a willingness of content providers to put premium content out over the internet that helped launch the massive increase in popularity for video streaming.

Blaine sees one of the biggest future challenges is to extend quality video streaming to live events -- which will require not just quality, but immediacy and the ability to deal with large viewing spikes. In terms of technology, he is hopeful that MPEG-Dash will eventually be very helpful in reducing the complexity of the streaming environment today. He is optimistic about 4K for niche markets like sports, but uncertain how important it will be in influencing consumer buying decisions.

While Blaine wouldn't predict whether streaming would eventually become the only solution for distributing content, he was more interested in progress in the user experience -- something he called "time to watching something good." Key to providing that is better targeting, in his mind. Dixon tied that to the impatience and "me-centered" younger generation, but Blaine insisted that it was just common sense not to want to waste time.

ETIA 2014 is Underway!

Bernd Girod kicks off ETIA 2014
We're underway here on the gorgeous Stanford Campus, for ETIA 2014. This year's event is appropriately hosted in the Huang Engineering building, with the main events occurring in the Nvidia Auditorium. Co-chairs Joyce Farrell and Pat Griffis were joined by Stanford Senior Associate Dean Bernd Girod in welcoming us to this 2nd annual ETIA.

Professor Girod helped set the context with some of Stanford's history in media -- starting with the work of Muybridge and of course continuing through broadcast media and the internet. New this year is the "Holodeck" exhibit this evening of immersive virtual and augmented reality technologies.

I'll be live blogging the event as it goes on, and of course we'll have a full report in Motion Imaging later this summer. You can even download an app with the program and speaker bios for your mobile device from the Apple or Google app stores (search for SMPTE ETIA 2014).

-- David Cardinal for SMPTE, SCIEN & ETIA 2014