World Cup Second-Screen Coverage Achieves Glitch-Free Success

How do you deliver a glitch-free live second-screen viewing experience to millions of people around the world who live and breathe the World Cup?

For Michelle Munson, co-founder, president and CEO of Aspera, it all starts with quantifying the probability of a glitch based on several IT network givens and building in an appropriately long buffer to offset any hiccups.

Probability of Waiting-new

Michelle Munson, president of Aspera, explained at the SMPTE Conference last week how to predict and plan for the probability of a glitch when FASP with in-order byte delivery is employed.

Last week at the SMPTE Annual Conference and Exposition in Hollywood, Calif., Munson laid out how Aspera transported multiple live streams of game coverage of this year’s World Cup from the EVS C-Cast platform via a wide area network for ingest and transcoding in the cloud and ultimate playback on smartphones, tablets and computers.

“EVS’s challenge is they were commissioned to deal with 12 stadiums and 64 games, an IBC [international broadcast center] located in Rio [and] a global broadcast audience they were trying to reach,” she said.

EVS originated six live streams from each World Cup venue with full redundancy, so viewers could augment their World Cup TV viewing with multiple shots and angles of the action on their second screen devices.

Transcoding all of those streams on site with standalone hardware for Internet streaming simply was not an option, she said. Not only would the cost of all of those black boxes been astronomical, but the bandwidth available from each of the venues was woefully inadequate to handle millions of individual requests for streaming coverage.

What was called for was elasticity in computing power that could scale to waxing and waning viewership as games began and ended. The decision was made to ingest the streams at the venues into the C-Cast platforms, transport them to Amazon S3 cloud storage in Europe, and allow Elemental Technologies to transcode those streams on the fly for different playback devices. From there, Akamai took over delivering World Cup coverage to millions of fans around the globe via its content delivery network.

In terms of throughput, EVS needed an aggregate of 240 Mb/s from the venues, said Munson. That’s 10 Mb/s for each of the six mezzanine-level HLS-encoded content streams, times two because of doubleheaders, times two for system redundancy. Latency ran between 200ms and 250ms and packet loss varied from a few percent to 9%, according to Aspera’s post-tournament logs. “So [those were] really challenging WAN conditions,” she said.

TCP-based transport, which could only support one-fifth to one-twentieth of the real-time rate needed for each feed, was out of the question, said Munson.

Providing a transport solution for World Cup transport was a bit of a departure for Aspera. Unlike traditional media applications of its fast and secure protocol, FASP, where large files are delivered via WANs to support production or post requirements, such as submitting dailies from a remote movie shoot for review, the World Cup application was live.

The problem using FASP for live delivery is that it was designed to make a “best effort” attempt to deliver blocks of data in order. “We want to go in order as much as possible to avoid random seeking on the disk and inefficiency, but we can deliver the first or the last block in a file, really, at any time,” she said.

“Best effort,” however, just isn’t good enough for live streaming applications, such as the one EVS needed. Fortunately, Aspera’s new third-generation FASP architecture provides for in-order byte stream delivery, said Munson.

What needed to happen to ensure the new FASP transport was up to the demanding application required for World Cup second screen coverage was to quantify the transport efficiencies it could attain given the playout rate of streaming video from C-Cast and the anticipated degree of loss on the WAN.

Here is where it becomes possible to take a quantitative look at the probability of a glitch in the streamed video, said Munson. Aspera has modeled the probability that there will be a need to wait a given number of retransmission time outs, RTOs, for the next expected data packet to arrive given this new ordering constraint feature and other properties of FASP.

Munson showed how it is possible to build a model to find the probability of a glitch when smooth playback is the goal. Components of the model include the video play rate in bytes per second, a packet size made up of a given number of bytes, a known packet loss ratio for the network in use and the probability of waiting greater than or equal to the number of RTOs needed for the next expected data packet.

Once the probability of a glitch is known, it is possible to build in a small buffer to accommodate the glitch and deliver a smooth stream. “That is the secret of doing it over these lossy networks with high quality,” she said.

For a very bad network — far worse than the network used for the World Cup application — such as a bad wireless or satellite network with 500 ms of latency or 5% packet loss, a buffer of 3.5 to 4 seconds guarantees playback with no more than one glitch per hour — essentially glitch-free playback, she said.

“As the play rates go down, it gets easier and easier — less buffering [is required] to guarantee that [no more than one glitch per hour],” she said.

For the World Cup, this approach made it possible for Aspera to plan for the probability of a glitch, buffer accordingly and ultimately transport EVS streams into Amazon S3 cloud storage while Elemental’s live transcoding system read what was being written and performed the live transcoding needed for Akamai to distribute to different playback devices, like smartphones and tablets.

“The net result was 660,000 minutes of video ingested using Aspera; 2.8 million minutes of video generated out of Elemental, and 15 million hours of video watched, most of which was distributed by Akamai, and the whole system was, of course, brought to you by EVS for broadcasters,” said Munson.

More U.S. Households Go Broadband-only, Says Report

Snip, snip, snip –the pay TV cord is slowly but surely being cut. That’s one important takeaway from a new report by The Diffusion Group, TDG.

Broadband Househols that Do Not Subscribe to a Traditional Pay-TV ServiceThe report, “Pay-TV Refugees, 2014,” finds that 14% of adult broadband users do not use a legacy pay-TV service. That’s up from 9% in 2011.

“Today, residential broadband services are used in 75% of U.S. households, meaning 13 million broadband households are currently doing without a traditional pay-TV service,” said Michael Greeson, TDG president and author of the report.

For TV broadcasters, who deliver the highest quality HD signals to the home with their over-the-air transmissions, the findings of the report once more raise a question commonly asked in industry circles: Will television broadcasters ever actively promote their OTA strengths, specifically image quality and price, while consumers increasingly demonstrate they are open to new alternatives to access pay-TV programs?

Free, high-quality HD paired with over-the-top a la carte viewing may be an attractive alternative to many more people -if only they knew TV was transmitted over the air.

Marathon’s Livestream Highlights Threats, Opportunities

Television broadcasters –as on display last week at the SMPTE Annual Conference & Exhibition in Hollywood, Calif.- are grappling with what to do about new competitors and technologies.

Witness Mark Aitken, SVP of Advanced Technology at the Sinclair Broadcast Group, who declared during his SMPTE keynote that the TV industry is at war with wireless companies and over-the-top content providers, who wish to win over broadcast audiences and revenue.

On the other end of the continuum is Bob Seidel, VP of engineer and advanced technology at CBS, and president-elect of SMPTE, who welcomes new media entrants. SMPTE is trying to adapt to changing industry realities, such as the arrival of Netflix and other OTT providers as major content distributors. Perhaps that along with the fact that CBS rolled out its own All Access over-the-top service a couple of weeks ago are helping to shape his perspective.

Marathon Equipment

Endless Potential Media Group relied on multiple Dejero LIVE+ 20/20 IP transmitters and HD cameras in lieu of a traditional OB setup to cover the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

In another sign of the changing times, IP newsgathering specialist Dejero issued a press release today about Endless Potential Media Group foregoing television distribution of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, STWM, in favor of streaming the race on the STWM website and Canada Running Series YouTube channel. The release points out that TV coverage of the race was discontinued in 2011.

The coverage of this year’s marathon Oct. 19 was no small feat. Nine HD cameras, eight of which were paired with eight separate Dejero LIVE+ 20/20 IP transmitter on motorcycles, were used to cover the event.

“Covering outdoor events used to require big, expensive trucks to transmit satellite or microwave signals to television. Dejero has put the TV truck in a box with the LIVE+ 20/20 Transmitter, which can be set up anywhere in seconds to broadcast live or recorded video from the field at a fraction of the cost of a truck,” said Matt Hortobagyi, executive producer, Endless Potential Media Group, in the press release.

The production appears to raise the same fundamental issue more broadly on display at SMPTE. Namely, is over-the-top a threat to broadcasters and their business? Or, is OTT an opportunity broadcasters can leverage to shore up their existing business, better serve their audiences and find new revenues?

In the case of the marathon, the race clearly is no longer being broadcast. But could a TV broadcast station have leveraged its existing production technology and the same IP newsgathering transmitters to narrowcast the race to marathon enthusiasts and in the process find new revenues?

Clearly, identifying the right path forward will take time, and there is nothing to say that every time narrowcasting via a livestream online makes sense that broadcasters should get involved.

However, exploring these sorts of opportunities may help broadcasters –especially local broadcasters with a unique focus on their communities- find new ways to reach niche audiences with content to their liking without creating conflicts with regularly scheduled on-air programming. In the process, they may also find new revenues.

Munson Advises Industry To Do Cloud Security ‘Right’

Michelle Munson

Michelle Munson, president, CEO and co-founder of Aspera, says media companies must be willing to spend what it takes to ensure cloud security.

When it comes to securing assets in the cloud, skimping on budget is a non-starter for any media company truly interested in preventing the bad actors on the Internet from stealing content, sabotaging work or worse.

Those were the among the thoughts of Michelle Munson, president, CEO and co-founder of Aspera, a company specializing in fast file transfers used, among other things, to enable new, more efficient workflows in the media and entertainment industry.

“You can’t cut corners in security and have it right,” said Munson, during a SMPTE Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition session on the cloud last week in Hollywood, Calif.

When asked by the session chair about the biggest impediment to broader adoption of the cloud in this industry, Munson identified the desire of some media companies to pinch pennies as the culprit.

“A common tension, which I consider a barrier, in this industry is that between doing it right, really, and keeping it cheap. I will re-emphasize that. Doing it right, really, and keeping it cheap,” she said.

“It [the biggest barrier] used to be that it was all about the perception of security. Now, I think we have shifted. People are using cloud-based technology…. But the willingness across the industry to go deep into some of these harder areas to be safe and do it well is not always there. And I think that is a challenge,” she said.

Details Emerge About New SMPTE Fund

The Walt Disney Co., Panasonic and Dolby Laboratories have made contributions totaling $1 million to the new SMPTE Next Century Fund.


Those attending last week’s kickoff celebration for SMPTE’s Next Century Fund look on as society executive director Barbara Lange announces Disney, Panasonic and Dolby have made initial contributions that together total $1 million.

As I reported last week in my wrap-up of the annual Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE) Conference & Exhibition, the contributions will be made over the next three to five years.

A few more details have emerged since last week’s report about how the money will be spent.

According to a press release from SMPTE, the new fund will support the creation of standards that “speed the development, adoption, use and understanding of new industry standards” and the establishment of a test material repository needed to certify new IP-based workflows.

SMPTE also has set the goal of developing membership abroad by expanding international sections, improving the program the society offers and providing a forum for students to network. The society also will create educational programs that reflect the evolving needs of the industry and setup regular conferences around the globe.


LG, GatesAir Test Futurecast At WKOW Madison

GatesAir, LG and its subsidiary Zenith early this morning with the help of Quincy Group’s WKOW Madison, Wis., conducted an on-air test of Futurecast, a contender for the next-generation digital TV transmission in the United States.

The test, broadcast on WKOW’s ch. 26 (PSIP 27) is discussed in a press release issued this morning. A Web video recaps a low-key test of Futurecast from the station conducted during the summer.

In a telephone interview before the test, Brady Dreasler, chief engineer for Quincy Group, said he was impressed this summer with the robust nature of the Futurecast signal, which allowed mobile reception of the signal at 70 mph.

He also expressed enthusiasm for Futurecast’s ability to deliver a 4K signal throughout the Madison market — even to difficult indoor areas, such as inside a metal structure, including a local WalMart tens of miles from the transmitter.

To receive the Futurecast signal indoors, LG built an outboard, portable test receiver-demodulator and connected it to a 4K TV setup at  different indoor locations. A special van was equipped with a Futurecast receiver for the mobile test.

The tests this summer and early this morning were conducted from the station’s main transmitter site. The only modification necessary to put the station on-air with the OFDM-based Futurecast system was a change out of the transmitter’s exciter, said Jay Adrick, an independent consultant and former executive with Harris Broadcast (the predecessor of GatesAir).

FUTURECAST Summer 2014 Test

This summer GatesAir, Zenith and LG quietly conducted a test of FUTURECAST from WKOW-TV in Madison, as a preliminary field trial to today’s test.

While Dreasler was pleased with the coverage of the Futurecast system, both he and Adrick said many broadcasters will find it desirable to deploy Single Frequency Networks consisting of as many as four repeater sites on the periphery of their coverage areas with highly directional antennas pointed back in at the centers of their markets.

At both the 2014 NAB Show and IBC 2014, GatesAir conducted a technology demonstration to show how an OFDM-based system, such as Futurecast, could be used by broadcasters to transmit to LTE mobile phones using Future Extension Frames, FEF, and time division multiplexing.

The WKOW test of Futurecast did not include an FEF component; however, Adrick said future tests of the system may indeed have the ability to transmit to LTE handsets in this fashion.

Futurecast is one of several systems under consideration for the physical layer of the ATSC 3.0 next-generation over-the-air digital TV transmission standard.

Broadcast, Media Tech Market to Reach $44 Billion Value in 2017, Says Report

The global broadcast and media technology market is expected to grow to $44.3 billion in 2017, according to a new report from a joint venture between the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers, IABM, and Devoncroft Partners.

IABM DC logoOver the past four years, the market has experienced a compound annual growth rate of 3.6%, achieving a value of $39 billion in 2012, the document, the “Global Market Valuation & Strategy Report,” found.

The report from the joint IABM-Devoncroft Partners venture, known as IABM DC, is modular with each of the nine segments containing market sizing data.  The segments include acquisition and production; post production; content and communication infrastructure; audio; storage; system automation and control; playout and delivery; test, quality control and monitoring; and services.

IABM DC is now calling for partner participation from the technology vendor community for the 2014 edition of the report.

Click for more information.

ATSC Loudness Work to be Honored

As reported in the Playout blog this week, ATSC will be honored with a Primetime Emmy Engineering Award by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in recognition of its A/85 ATSC Recommended Practice and the role it has played for broadcasters and cable operators in complying with federal law regulating commercial loudness.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee released a press statement following the announcement of the honor.

The statement provides a concise summary of the history of the commercial loudness issue and the work done to develop the recommended practice. Those who are unfamiliar with the issue will find the statement informative.

TV Academy to Honor Thorpe With Lifetime Achievement Award

The Television Academy has selected Larry Thorpe, senior fellow at Canon USA, to receive this year’s Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award.

Larry Thorpe

The TV Academy will honor Larry Thorpe, senior fellow, Canon USA, with its Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award in January at the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas.

The award, which will be presented Jan. 8 at a ceremony during the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas, recognizes the on-going contributions of an individual that significantly affect the state of television technology and engineering.

Thorpe, an expert in video acquisition and a leader in the development of HDTV, headed Sony Electronics HD market development efforts before joining Canon. He is a Fellow of the SMPTE and has served as an advisor to ATSC, the FCC and SMPTE.

The Academy also has announced the winners of its Engineering Emmys, which recognize an individual, company or organization for “engineering developments [that are] so significant of an improvement on existing methods or so innovative in nature that they materially affect the transmission, recording or reception of television.”

The Engineering Emmy winners are:

  • Philips Professional Broadcasting for the LDK6000, DPM CCD multi-format HDTV camera system
  • Sony Professional Solutions of America for the multi-format HDTV CCD fiber optic camera system
  • High-Definition Multimedia Interface
  • Intel Corp. for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP)
  • Advanced Television Systems Committee for its Recommended Practice on Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television

The Academy will also recognize the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers with its Philo T. Farnsworth Award for its contributions over time that have significantly impacted television technology and engineering.

Click to read more information.

Television Academy to Honor SMPTE with Farnsworth Award

Days before the opening of the 2014 SMPTE Technical Conference & Exhibition in Hollywood, Calif., the Television Academy has announced the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers will receive the Philo T. Farnsworth Award in recognition of its impact of TV technology and engineering.

SMPTE logo“While a number of admirable corporations have earned this distinction, we are proud to be earning this award as an industry organization dedicated to standards creation and education in the motion-imaging field,” said CBS VP of engineering and advanced technology and SMPTE president-elect Robert Seidel.

SMPTE has been responsible for a number of technological advancements and standards, including:

  • High definition television standards
  • HD-SDI interface
  • Ultra-HD standards
  • High dynamic range standards
  • Immersive audio standards

The award will be presented Jan. 8, 2015, at the 66th Primetime Emmy Engineering Awards Ceremony during the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas.

The 2014 SMPTE Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition will be held Oct. 20-23.

Click for more information.