Technological Innovations in Live Video Over IP
Producing and distributing live video events has evolved. A move to increased live event production and new audience experiences that had already been underway was greatly accelerated with the pandemic.
Audience demand, emerging technologies and service differentiation have driven content companies to increase the number of live news, sports, music and event driven programming that they produce, and to distribute that live programming to a growing number of rights holders. Improving operational efficiency and reducing costs and carbon footprints; as well as offering new, novel audience experiences and responding to changing commercial models requires modern production techniques, remote collaboration and flexible distribution platforms.
Scaling Remote Production
Live event production has always been a resource intensive investment. For larger events, this may include shipping hundreds of distinct resources and dozens of staff. Modern production tools allow for sophisticated signal backhaul, low latency live collaboration, stream conditioning and delivery workflows so it is now possible to effectively replicate entire broadcast chains as virtualized software-defined platforms. With increased cloud adoption and availability of intelligent orchestration tools, operations teams are now able to dynamically spin up a complete live video production and distribution environment in minutes. This flexibility is unlocking new audience experiences, enabling media organizations to differentiate with exponentially more live event driven content while providing the business agility to launch entirely new licensing models.
In the past, it was prohibitively expensive to lease satellite or fiber time to deliver audience selectable produced and raw live event feeds at scale. Dynamic cloud enabled workflows, automatically provisioned and configured, can now be programmatically launched at a moments notice. Rolling and staffing trucks, provisioning bandwidth and configuring, testing and operationalizing a live production has traditionally been costly and complex. It would be unthinkable, for example, to shut everything down at the end of the 1st day of an event just to get everything back online the next day, but by virtualizing more of the broadcast chain in the cloud with intelligent orchestration and leveraging bonded bandwidth across commodity routes including 5G, LTE and unmanaged internet, live video operations teams are empowered to dynamically scale a broadcast quality live event production with the push of a button. This leads to significant cost savings, more flexible and frequent event schedules and the confidence to support new commercial and audience engagement models.
One thing that cannot be virtualized is the acquisition of video. At the start of the live event production chain is a camera or other source, which, in order to effectively benefit from virtualized remote production environments, must be backhauled. While this is often handled with leased fiber or satellite, an increasing number of live events are being produced leveraging commodity network connections, including 5G, 4G/LTE and unmanaged internet. This is the result of IP video routing technologies that have emerged which ensure continuous uninterrupted delivery of very high-performance mezzanine quality live video. Architecting a dynamic, scalable, and resilient live video backhaul for remote production has some unique considerations.
Consolidating multiple egress paths into a single coherent route enables video operations teams to increase the available bandwidth at the venue and signal diversity necessary for redundancy. Intelligently bonded backhaul feeds are continuously optimized across distinct delivery paths, identifying performance degradation and actively routing around it appropriately. Routes delivered over bonded networks maximizes available bandwidth, so it is now common for camera feeds and other sources to be continuously delivered through multiple 5G, LTE and ISP egress networks from the venue, effectively enabling greater utilization of the total available bandwidth while ensuring uninterrupted backhaul.
Live events are very time sensitive and identifying where latency is introduced and mitigating it within the broadcast chain is essential. Being able to deploy infrastructure and dynamically tune workflows to minimize introduced latency is a primary focus for any event. However, latency is one part of a complex equation. Modern IP video protocols can provide global distribution with measured latency less than 50ms and for remote production it is vital that all audio and video data is always delivered. Even infrequent delivery glitches can have devastating impacts on production quality and disrupt the end user experience. Therefore, being able to dial in latency so that performance is consistent and synchronized across the backhauled feeds while ensuring error free delivery is crucial. Solutions include dynamic FEC and ARQ to algorithmically reconstruct data lost in transmission, dramatically reducing network overhead, and mitigating unnecessary roundtrips that can add to latency.
The level and kind of compression to apply to backhaul feeds can impact latency as raw uncompressed video formats are not suitable for remote production. Encoders are often deployed at the venue to acquire source feeds and compress to suitable proprietary, and standards based backhaul compression formats. Modern codecs such as HEVC provide excellent compression, enabling high quality ultra-low latency encoders to deliver pristine mezzanine-level feeds to remote production environments using less bandwidth. It is important to ensure that the encoders continuously optimize for latency, resilience and quality, so modern solutions include encoder backpressure support, which dynamically adjusts compression settings to maximize performance even as network conditions change.
Another latency consideration is where virtualized infrastructure is provisioned is. 5G networks and deployment of processing infrastructure in the Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) operating environment are an exciting and recent development that offers the highest performance, lowest latency video production available; exemplified with highly time sensitive financial news workflows recently adopted by Bloomberg, AWS and Verizon.
Sequenced Hitless Failover
Within production and distribution environments, it is now possible to ingest live source streams across geographically diverse signal paths, algorithmically constructing a single coherent stream from the data in two or more source feeds. If any single path or live video route fails, the streaming output remains uninterrupted. While this requires more egress bandwidth from a venue, it is the most effective solution for ensuring continuous uninterrupted delivery. Dynamic configuration enables operations teams to choose what feeds require hitless failover and which do not, optimizing the production footprint to match the commercial and technical requirements of the event.
While transmitting high value live mezzanine quality feeds over unmanaged networks, operations team must consider security. Multiple layers of security provide comprehensive coverage and can be easily adopted in the broadcast chain.
Content encryption is regularly used to scramble the signal, so that any potential unauthorized receivers would not be able to consume a viable stream without the appropriate key, so AES-256 encryption is commonly used to maximize content security.
Connection security is achieved via secure handshakes, password exchanges and the whitelist of authorized devices, which prevents unauthorized endpoints from being able to establish connections and ensures that only known devices and services are able to view the live programming. Modern IP video transport solutions now support enhanced validation and session security leveraging DTLS, based on TLS (Transport Level Security), the same robust technology used for securing popular applications such as online banking. DTLS permits video streaming systems to exchange data with authorized, validated systems while eliminating eavesdropping, tampering or message forgery.
When combined, a layered security approach provides operations teams confidence to enable robust collaboration across production environments. Secured delivery also provides the flexibility to offer dynamic authorization, unlocking commercial opportunities for an increasing number of late binding rights offerings and pay-per-view engagements.
Media companies are increasingly prioritizing sustainability, and there are significant efforts underway to create efficiencies throughout live event productions. Perhaps the single biggest impact is the ability to reduce the travel and shipping overhead when provisioning live events.
John Wastcoat, SVP Alliances & Marketing, Zixi.
While virtualized environments do contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of ways, the impact of increasingly leveraging cloud environments is showing a dramatic reduction in the overall carbon footprint for live production. The IBC Accelerator ‘Sustainability in Live Production’ project concluded in 2021 that switching to virtualized cloud environments reduced the technical infrastructure requirements for some broadcasters by up to 70%. Enabling operations teams to dynamically “spin up/shut down” video infrastructure can have an enormous impact, along with reduced travel, staffing and shipping costs.
A new class of processing infrastructure is offering greater efficiency as well. Modern video delivery infrastructure that can take advantage of next generation ARM (Graviton3 for example) processors can manage increased throughput per compute core while reducing GHG emissions by as much as 40%. Even better, cloud resources that are more environmentally friendly also tend to be economically friendly, often delivering equivalent performance at reduced rates.
Agility, Efficiency, Scale: Live Event Production Has Evolved
The proliferation of ubiquitous high-performance networks being ushered in by 5G, an ability to deploy complete architectures on a moment’s notice, and the operational efficiency that collaboration on remote productions unlocks are enabling media organizations to easily produce high quality live event programming more frequently. The agility to launch novel audience experiences and the potential commercial opportunity with new paradigms like late-binding rights agreements make it an exciting time to be in live production.