It’s game time, and you’re getting ready to stream today’s event. Your company invested a small fortune to get the streaming rights, and your tech/ops teams took months to piece together the streaming solution. Your viewer demographic is digitally savvy and ready to watch on any device from anywhere. Viewer engagement is paramount – the combination of their eyeballs and your ads will be the ultimate indicator of success. That success or failure is on your shoulders. The event is live, and that means you only have one shot to get it right.
Three hours before the scheduled start time, you set up monitoring tools from your different vendors: video streams, real-time analytics, CDN health, encoder stability, your CMS, a vendor contact list and your trusty landline.
10 minutes before the game, traffic begins to climb as does your anxiety.
30 seconds prior to air, your traffic graphs take a nosedive, and all the lines on your phone simultaneously light up. You need to fix this, and fast! You grab your phone and contact list, hoping that your first call, not your last, fixes the issue…
That was me, a number of years ago before working for Verizon Digital Media Services. At one of the world’s largest media companies, during one of the nation’s most watched events, our viewers were left in the dark. For the first time in my 20-year television career, the show did not go on, and it still haunts me to this day.
If a VOD asset is unavailable, it will be available later. Your linear channel, once set up is on autopilot. Live events, however, are neither of these things.
Live event streaming is hard, and here’s why…
- Location variability: From the comforts of your news studio and while sitting on a robust, well-supported and familiar IT infrastructure, streaming life is easy. The same can’t be said about your live event. As your feed makes its way from camera to connected device, spotty network connectivity and multiple vendors handling your event increase the complexity of your streaming ecosystem. Each variable in your equation adds risk. With a complicated, multi-vendor ecosystem, trying to quickly triage and remediate an incident is extremely difficult. If something goes wrong, you want to know first. You don’t want to find out via a tweet.
- Feed variability: As I alluded to above, you’ve taken time to set up your live-linear stream, and it’s on autopilot. Your broadcast systems are integrated with your streaming workflows, and you know what to expect from your in and out-of-band triggers and metadata. The same cannot be said about your live event. There are a number of ways you need to manage your event stream in real time: start and end times are usually just a suggestion, while monetization is of the utmost importance, your live event schedule isn’t beholden to advertising formats, and mother nature can meddle, causing rain delays or wardrobe malfunctions. Given that your video can come from anywhere, your ability to reliably automate solutions to those problems it not always a given.
- Content delivery at scale: Delivery scale is not a problem that’s unique to live event streaming. There have been well-publicized outages during VOD premieres of popular TV series. Video on demand, as the name implies, can be watched whenever the viewer chooses. Live events on the other hand, have a remarkably short shelf life and can expire as soon as the package is open. Not only does traffic spike steeply at an event’s start, but events with localized fan bases can have highly concentrated spikes. Your content delivery network (CDN) needs to automatically, intelligently and quickly scale and route these requests at the very start of your event.
- The event life cycle: Operations are not only a concern for feed acquisition and delivery, but your apps and websites run into additional challenges when it comes to live events streaming. Due to the fluid nature of live events schedules, orchestrating the synchronization of your front and back end can be complicated. If each live event is supported by multiple URLs throughout its lifecycle, mishandling results in a poor user experience. Before your live event starts, if you accidently publish your feed, viewers will be met with an empty red carpet or conspicuously candid commentator dialog. After the event is over, you need to transition into an immediately available VOD replay. If not, viewers will be met with dreaded color bars and tone.
- Resource scheduling: Regardless of what business you’re in, you have limited resources. One of our Verizon Digital Media Services customers regularly streams nearly 100 concurrent sporting events. Without proper resource scheduling, this customer would end up with too few or too many encoders or operators, leaving either eyeballs or dollars on the table.
If you’re as invested in streaming success as I am, the challenges above should scare you; not enough to give up, but enough to understand that you need to be prepared to bring your local event to a global audience. Inherent in live event streaming is complexity, and doing everything you can to minimize that complexity will increase your chances of delivering flawless experiences to your fans.
Live event streaming is hard, but there’s hope…
Verizon Digital Media Services’ Live Streaming Solution is the best way to simultaneously decrease complexity and increase scale. This vertically integrated, 24 x 7 supported and streamlined end-to-end solution will ensure any phone calls and tweets at game time will be full of cheers, not jeers.
Read more about our Live Streaming Solution here.
Scott Goldman, Lead Principal Product Manager