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Producing Live Streams for Red Bull Creation

Red Bull Creation was a fun project that I recently had the pleasure of coordinating the live stream production for. The project called for an extensive video live stream production that included 14 live feeds from around the country, over a 72-hour period, non-stop.

Here’s one description of the project:

Think of it as the world’s coolest science fair – Red Bull Creation asked makers, inventors, and hackers to participate in a 72-hour frenzy of innovation, madness and ingenuity as 12 teams from around the USA engineered mind-boggling creations centred around a single theme.

RBC Live Control Center

The theme was ‘a game of games.’ Each of the 12 teams had to design and build their own physical game that could be played and exhibited in a public space. The winning team got $10,000 and a trip to this year’s World Maker Faire in New York. Three other top teams also won slots at Maker Faire.

At the TechShop Annex in San Francisco, we setup a live studio set that would act as the “nerve center” for the RBC project. Over the course of the 72-hour challenge, hosts Mike Senese and Tyler Hanson would go live, talk show style, checking in with the 12 teams to see how their builds were coming along. To accomplish this, we used a combination of Skype and Facetime conversations with team members that we fed into and switched live using our Newtek Tricaster 850.

Here’s the technical rundown.

The 12 competing teams around the country were each sent a kit that contained a Logitech C920 webcam, a Blue Snowball microphone, a tripod and a getting started guide on getting it all set up. The 12 teams each had their own Livestream channel to broadcast their builds over the 72-hour period. We had a dashboard at the nerve center that allowed us to see all 12 streams at any given moment, giving us a bird’s eye view on all teams progress.

Red Bull Creation - 12 teams

The Tricaster 850 sat in the center of our production. It was our live video switcher, graphics source, lower thirds titler, DVR, Apple AirPlay host, encoder, streamer and recorder. All content we were producing locally and remotely ultimately flowed into it before we sent it back out live on the primary Red Bull Creation Livestream feed. Two studio cameras were set up sending us 720p HD video. A Mac Mini and a PC each fed HDMI out into an AJA HDMI to SDI mini-converter, giving us HD-SDI inputs into the Tricaster. Tyler was also able to VJ music videos using his iPad. He’d cue up a YouTube video and send it to the Tricaster as a network input via Apple AirPlay over the wifi network.

When Tyler and Mike were not on set checking in with the teams live, we would pipe in various team feeds and switch them live to the main feed. We did this using the same Mac Mini and PC we used for Skype and Facetime conversations during the live shows.

Here’s a thorough accounting of the technology we used:
– 1 NewTek Tricaster 850
– 2 Sony EX1 video cameras
– 1 TVU Networks TM8100 remote cellular broadcast pack (with 10 cellphone aircards across 4 networks)
– 3 Apple Mac Minis
– 2 modern home built PCs w/Intel i7 processors
– 1 Apple iPad
– 14 Livestream channels on 2 network accounts
– 20Mb/s bi-directional Internet connection by awesome local ISP
– 2 AJA HA5 HDMI to SDI Mini-Converters
– 8 various LCD and LED monitors
– 1 Mackie Onyx 1620i recording mixer
– 2 Sennheiser ew100 ENG G3 wireless lav mics and 1 handheld mic
– A variety of Kino Flo Diva-Lites and ARRI studio
– 1 Gamelatron Robotic Orchestra
– 3 days of setup and testing

Glenn, mobile broadcaster

Some things we learned:

Livestream’s plugin for Tricaster is buggy. We experienced major audio sync issues when enabling this. Livestream’s premium support was immediately available but unfortunately didn’t have a fix, so we just went with the old fashioned way of using a single bitrate Flash Media Encoder profile. The plugin would have allowed us to offer multiple bitrates to viewers.
– AJA’s HA5 HDMI to SDI Mini-converter doesn’t work with the latest Mac Minis with Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 chipset. AJA’s support was very responsive, but this wasn’t a known issue until we brought it to them. Apparently this model of Mac Mini has an HDMI port that is actually a DVI connection, not true HDMI. This is fine when the port is used for monitors but sucks for applications that actually require true HDMI spec video such as these mini-converters. Apparently, the higher end Mac Minis with the AMD Radeon HD graphics chipset output true HDMI, thus work fine with the AJA HA5.
– We had some serious line noise coming from one of the Mac Minis that we couldn’t readily eliminate. We acquired an inline noise filter device and that pretty much did the trick.
– The TVU Pack is a great product and worked as advertised, though we should have spent a bit more time testing it before we went live with it. We had some issues with 16:9 aspect video being squeezed to 4:3 on the other end.
– Not every YouTube video plays nicely over Apple AirPlay for some reason.
– Skype and Facetime are great ways of patching in remote guests, though quality really varies among locations and networks. Still, it was better than our initial expectations.
– Sleep really is helpful sometimes.
– You won’t explode from drinking too much Red Bull. Really.

Here’s some nice press from Wired. Continues to Reinvent Itself

Fast Company just published this great piece on the evolutionary path of

The TL;DR version: In 2007, began simply with Justin Kan lifecasting himself from his startup’s dorm style living quarters in the Y-scraper. It didn’t take long for Justin’s audience to start directing the show. The founders were able to get the cost to deliver one hour of video down to half a penny, so pivoted to an open, ad-supported live streaming platform. Traffic grew immensely, aided by some users illegally simulcasting blacked out pro sports events from around the world. A boxing promoter and UFC went on the attack, while Michael Seibel,’s CEO, had to answer to Congress. Overall traffic declined as video game streaming traffic increased. Taking this cue, TwitchTV was spun off to create a streaming platform built exclusively for video gamers to broadcast game competitions. With the rise of mobile apps, Socialcam soon became another successful spin-off. Socialcam is a mobile video sharing app that leverages’s infrastructure, now with 44 million users. Not to be outdone, Justin had to go and found yet another startup. Exec is a service that helps match users with personal assistants to get specific tasks done.

Here’s a Geek Entertainment TV episode we did in 2007 when Irina and I visited at the Y-scraper in their early messier lifecasting days.

Interviewed for the Sound Design Live Podcast

I was interviewed recently by Nathan Lively for the Sound Design Live podcast. We cover the state of live streaming, what it takes to get started, remote wireless live streaming and how to communicate with potential clients about streaming. Detailed show notes are over on Nathan’s post. Here’s a link to the SF Bay Area Webcasters and Live Video Streamers Meetup group I mention.

Streaming Music from SXSW

It’s that time of year again, when geeks of all stripes gather in Austin, Texas for SXSW. Once again, I’ll be among them for Interactive and Music. To keep myself busy during Music, I’ll be live streaming several musical performances from various showcases throughout the week. I am going outfitted with a TVUpack, an interesting piece of hardware from TVU Networks. The TVUpack is a wireless video broadcast encoder and transmitter. It works by aggregating multiple off-the-shelf USB cellular data modems. Up to 10 of them can be mixed and matched across different network providers to create a robust, low latency, high bandwidth wireless pipe for transmitting full 1080p high definition video.

I’ve teamed up with Livestream to create a dedicated channel where these live performances will live. I’ll be on location in downtown Austin, streaming gigs from Wednesday, March 16th to Saturday the 19th. A full schedule will be forthcoming shortly. If you love live music, and really who doesn’t, and you can’t make it down to Austin, tune in to the live streamed broadcast and discover some kick ass new music.

Watch live streaming video from austinlive2011 at

5 Answers for NewTeeVee

5 Questions With…Livestreaming Pro Eddie Codel: Video «

Liz Miller, over at NewTeeVee, asked me to participate in this week’s 5 Questions With… feature. I mostly focus on the idea of portable bandwidth, something I’ll dive into more detail about later.

The Current State of Live Video Streaming

As I’ve got some time on my hands since being laid off from Ustream, I thought I’d take a look at the current state of live video streaming on the web. I will concentrate on the three most popular free services, Ustream, Livestream and I’ll focus on core service features, ad support and removal, social network chat integration, desktop broadcaster applications, mobile integration and revenue. I’ll also touch briefly on the 800 pound elephant in the room, YouTube.

Core Features

Ustream, Livestream and are all similar in that anyone can broadcast full-motion live video for free on the Internet, using a Mac or PC, to millions of viewers. They’re also similar in that you can archive any broadcast for playback later, as well as embed any live broadcast or archived broadcast on to your own website. All three platforms also have interactive chat features and easy ways of sharing a live broadcast over Twitter and Facebook.



Free, If You Don’t Mind The Ads

All three streaming platforms provide free ad-based video streaming services with the ability to archive any broadcast for future viewing. This means that when a viewer watches a live broadcast, they will see pre-roll video ads, in-player bottom banner and pop-up ads, bottom text ads, banner and sidebar ads. Watching a recorded archive broadcast will also trigger similar ads. This is a primary way streaming platforms are able to offer free streaming.

Here’s the way the platforms differ. Ustream offers unlimited streaming to as many people as can you can get to tune in. There are no restrictions on broadcast length or number of viewers. Livestream also offers unlimited free streaming, though you must go through a verification process to allow more than 50 concurrent viewers and to be listed in their directory. This is a mechanism Livestream uses to limit potential piracy. also allows unlimited streaming and does not require any sort of verification process. seems to host a lot of unlicensed content, though they do respond aggressively to DMCA takedown notifications. By contrast, Livestream and Ustream take a stated zero tolerance approach to unauthorized copyrighted content and have content monitors and automated systems to implement this policy.

Paid Option, If You Do Mind the Ads

The platforms differ when it comes to broadcasting an ad-free experience. Livestream’s premium service allows you to opt out of having ads served on your content (or plug in your own ads and monetize your content). As a premium Livestream broadcaster, anyone who views your content can do so without seeing ads. Livestream charges $350 per month to broadcast ad free, for up to 3,000 viewer hours (# of viewers x average # of hours watched = viewer hours) and 1TB of archived content. You can also pay $1250/month for up to 15,000 viewer hours monthly.

Not to be outdone, Ustream just rolled out their ad-free broadcasting service. Ustream offers three tiers of service to remove ads, also based on a monthly subscription fee. Each tier includes an increasing number of viewer hours. At $99 a month, Ustream is now the cheapest option to conduct an ad-free broadcast, as long as you don’t go over 100 viewer hours. Ustream charges an overage fee of 50 cents per viewer above that, which decreases with their $499 (4,000 hours) and $999 (9,000 hours) tier plans. Ustream also offers a paid, ad-free, white label service called Watershed. also allows for an ad-free viewing experience, but throws the onus on the viewer to buy a Pro account for $10 a month. Pro account users will see all broadcasts without ads. If you’re a broadcaster, you can’t pay to have your content ad-free for your viewers, such as Ustream and Livestream do.

Chat and Social Stream

All three platforms have a real time chat feature, while Ustream and Livestream also have what they call a “social stream.” The chat features on all platforms are embedded to the right of the player and are essentially modified IRC clients. On the chat feature can be minimized by the user. On Ustream and Livestream, the chat feature can be switched on or off by the broadcaster.

Ustream’s Social Stream
Ustream social stream

The social stream allows viewers to post status updates to social networking sites while watching a live broadcast. Ustream’s social stream is an aggregated stream of updates from Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and AIM usually appearing to the right of the video player. A user logs into any or all of their social network accounts to post an update, which embeds a short URL back to the live broadcast channel page in the update. Status updates appear in real-time as they come in.

Livestream’s Social Stream
Livestream social stream

Livestream also has a social stream, though currently they only support Facebook and Twitter. The Livestream social stream is broken out into seperate tabs for each social network, rather than aggregated into a single stream like with Ustream. Similar to Ustream, the user logs into their Facebook or Twitter account from the broadcast channel page to be able to post updates.

The social stream is quite an ingenious way of driving engagement and traffic to a broadcast. Moderately popular broadcasts can quickly go viral as viewers post updates to their networks, thereby bringing followers into a broadcast.

Desktop Broadcast Apps

A differentiator among streaming platforms is the desktop broadcaster application. Using a desktop application to live stream is generally more robust, results in better quality and offers more features than using a platform’s web based Flash broadcaster (which can often crash because, well, it’s Flash).

Ustream Producer

Ustream has Ustream Producer, a Mac and Windows based application created by Telestream, the developer behind Wirecast. Producer is actually a slimmed down, custom branded version of Wirecast that is designed to only work with Ustream’s platform. Producer comes in two flavors, free and $199. The free version allows you to broadcast from a single camera, either a webcam or external standard definition DV camera over firewire in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. The coolest thing about the app is that you can mix in canned pre-recorded video clips, photos, audio and even virtually capture the desktop from another computer on your network. The $199 Pro version does all this with the addition of being able to switch between multiple cameras, add overlay graphics and bottom third titles. The Pro version also has a number of presets for higher quality streaming, though does not let you specify your own custom bitrate, frame rate or encoding format. One thing to note, Ustream claims that Producer Pro supports source input from HDV cameras, which is true. What is not noted is that you’ll need to pay an additional $99 on top off the $199 you’ve already shelled out for Pro to use your HDV camera. A work around, is to put your HDV camera in SD mode and you’ll avoid this, but of course, be limited to SD resolutions.

Livestream Procaster

Livestream has its Livestream Procaster application, available for Mac and Windows. I’ve only used the Mac version, though it appears that the Windows version has some additional features not yet available in the Mac version, such as VP6 encoding and custom aspect ratios. Procaster, a free app, is comparable to Ustream’s free Producer app. Procaster, which only works with Livestream, makes it super easy to broadcast from a single camera to your Livestream channel. Your camera input can be a webcam or external DV or HDV connected firewire or USB camera. HDV is supported natively, no costly plug-in needed. Procaster let’s you set a broadcast to auto-record, allows you to switch between a camera and your desktop using several 2D and 3D transition styles. Similar to Ustream Producer, Procaster lets you choose between several presets for encoding & broadcast quality. Unlike Producer, you can also specify completely custom bitrates, frame rates and resolution.

That’s essentially where Procaster ends. There is no multi-camera option, or ability to drop in lower third titles. For this functionality, you would need to purchase something like Telestream’s Wirecast ($449). Wirecast is platform agnostic, will work with Livestream, Ustream, Justin or your own CDN or Flash Media Server. Wirecast will also let you record a full resolution DV copy of your broadcast to a local hard disk, while also streaming. does not have a custom desktop broadcaster application, though as mentioned above, works with Telestream’s Wirecast as well as Adobe FMLE.

Mobile Broadcasting & Viewing

All three platforms have free mobile applications to broadcast and/or view live streams for iPhone and Android devices. They differ in some subtle ways. Ustream’s Broadcaster application allows anyone to broadcast live and interact with the social stream over wifi or 3G. It works fairly well, though if you’re in AT&T’s notorious horrible coverage areas, you’ll get a rather choppy experience. Ustream also has a separate Viewer app for viewing live broadcasts, so long as they are being broadcast in H.264/AAC or with Ustream Producer. has a combined broadcaster and viewer app for iPhone and Android. Like Ustream, you can broadcast over wifi or 3G and send a tweet out when you go live. You can also interact with viewers in the chat from your device while broadcasting. The viewer side of the app has an extensive list of current live broadcasts which you can easily click to view.

Livestream does not have a mobile broadcaster app, only an iPhone app for viewing broadcasts. Another option, don’t bother getting the app and just point your mobile device’s browser to Livestream’s mobile site. Broadcasts are in HTML5 (encoded as H.264/AAC) and will play natively on an iPhone (and presumably Android devices).

Where the Money Is

If you take a look at the front pages of Ustream and Livestream, you’ll likely see promotions for upcoming broadcasts with notable brands, music artists and red carpet movie premieres. These events represent real revenue and currently Ustream and Livestream have a lock on this. Justin has declined persuing premium content revenue partnerships and is focused on user generated content, including lots of video game playing. Both Ustream and Livestream have, or are opening, LA offices to go after these premium entertainment deals (though based in SF, I was part of the LA media division at Ustream).

Also, pay-per-view (PPV). There’s a lot of potential here, if someone’s able to get it right. Currently, only Ustream has dabbled in a PPV service with a Dane Cook event back in January. Just recently, Ustream announced a PPV service they’re calling Open PPV. This will give approved broadcasters a way to monetize their channels. For some reason, many people are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money to watch people beat the crap out of each other.

The YouTube Factor

It’s no secret that YouTube has been building out live stream infrastructure and to date, successfully broadcast a number of highly trafficked events. Recently, YouTube experimented with four content partners in doing a week long series of live broadcasts.

YouTube - playbiennial_s Channel-5

A feature that YouTube has in their live player, that the other platforms don’t, is dynamic adaptive bitrate live streaming. What this means is the YouTube player is able to sniff your bandwidth and adjust itself according to how big your pipe is. If you’re viewing from a nice fat cable or fiber connection, you’ll see a high resolution, higher bitrate video. If you’re viewing from a crappy wifi or slow DSL connection, you’ll get a lower bitrate viewing experience that works with the slower connection. It’s similar to the experience you get while watching Hulu or a streamed Netflix movie. Why the current live streaming platforms have not adopted this, is a mystery, as adaptive bitrate streaming is nothing new. Adobe supports live dynamic adaptive bitrate streaming in Flash.

It may be too early to tell whether YouTube is going to roll out live streaming to the masses or whether they will continue to cherry pick select events and partners to work with in the future. Even if YouTube does not roll out en mass, they’ll likely be a formidable competitor to Ustream and Livestream’s premium content partner businesses.

The masters of live streaming at NewTeeVee Live

Ustream update – 10 months out

Well that was a fun ride. After 10 months of heading up Production Services at Ustream, I’m now back to contractor status. I’m still doing some work for Ustream, now as a consulting producer for specific events. The good news is no more project management, sales calls and contract herding. The bad news, no more free delicious daily organic lunches or stock options. I know, first world problems. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had over the last year and really enjoyed producing high profile live events for Ustream, some of which are listed below. The future is bright, though I’ve lost my cheap shades. If you’re looking for some help with streaming an event, feel free to drop me a line.

Here’s some of the notable live broadcasts I’ve produced or consulted on for Ustream:

Snoop gets ready to blow
Zynga Mafia Wars armored truck explosion with Snoop Dogg (2 million views)

Cloudy w/a shocking chance of Katy Perry
Katy Perry album cover art unveiling

Adriana Lima - Ustream
Russell James photo shoot with Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2010 week
Chad Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch
Taylor Swift 13 hour fan meet and greet in Nashville
PacSun Beach Ballyhoo festival in Santa Monica
SXSW Music 2010 showcases & Ustream party w/Gym Class Heroes
TechCrunch Disrupt conference
2K Games unveiling of Duke Nukem Forever at Penny Arcade eXpo 2010
Emmy Awards 2010 backstage live event
Deftones LIVE from Dallas album webcast
Damian Marley webchat at Ustream’s SF office

Ustream update – 2 months in

In the 2 months that I’ve been working at Ustream, a lot has happened and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some exotic locations. Part of what I do is to support Ustream’s paying customers and partners with production resources for their live broadcasts. Typically, this is someone or someones who can setup and operate cameras, switchers, audio gear and streaming computers. Some times, this is me, such as with the Le Web conference in Paris this past December.

Ustream command central

Often times, and will be more so, it’s finding reliable and available people around the world to work with to do this. We are doing more complex multi-camera switched broadcast productions, which sometimes involves working with local production companies in the cities we find ourselves in. I’m building out a global network of trusted streaming resources we can hire when events come up. People resources and equipment resources. If this something you do, you should get in touch with me.

Another thing we’re doing is streaming events with a completely portable, self contained “satellite truck in a box.” This is essentially a completely mobile backpack PC with 6 cell phone modems load balanced across 3 mobile network carriers and chock full of batteries. It can push a 1Mb out, making it ideal for roaming events or places without an Internet connection. I went to Vegas recently with one of these to broadcast a nightclub opening with Diddy. also uses one that he likes to use to crash LA parties with sometimes, as does Ashton Kutcher.

West coast is the best

Another fun highlight, Snoop Dogg stopped in to our recent company meeting to tell us what he likes about Ustream (direct interaction with fans) and what he wants out of it (more kinds of interactivity with fans). Snoop’s got his Wake n Bake show on Ustream where he smokes endless blunts while DJing music and interacting with his fans. Snoop told us he got into Ustream by learning from Soulja Boy, watching how he built his success using the Internet.

He also had our mobile Broadcaster app installed on his Android phone, which he was very stoked about. Snoop loves the tech, understands how it helps him do what he does better while making him more accessible to his fans. Very genuine player, in it for the love all the way.

Now, I’m in Tokyo. I’m streaming some events, one being a concert by the Japanese goth anime pop duo sensation Hangry & Angry.

Oh, also the Shiba Inu puppies are back!

A new frontier: Ustream


Big changes in the world. After freelancing as a videographer, producer & consultant for the last few years, I’ve settled down as the Head of Production Services for a little outfit called Ustream. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They’re one of the big players in the live video streaming space (what was once called webcasting back in 1.0 days). Rappers love ’em. So do tech conferences. I just finished up streaming the LeWeb conference in Paris, my first trip as an employee. I’ve worked with Ustream a bunch over the past year in a consulting capacity, which has been a lot of fun.

Ustream command central

So what does a Head of Production Services do? I’m still trying to figure that out. What I do know is that it’ll involve servicing the many requests we get for help from our customers. Ustream is super easy to use and free for anyone, though many people need or want a bit of extra help. Production Services will be that. You’ll be able to hire Ustream “certified” professionals to come out and make sure your event goes off without a hitch. You’ll hear more about that over the coming months as we get things figured out.

For me, this seems like a natural progression of things I’ve been doing over the past 10 years. Back in the early 2000’s, I worked for a small startup called Fast Forward Networks that had created an innovative platform for scaling live broadcasts across the Internet. Think multicast at the application layer. It worked pretty well and we had some early successes selling to CDNs, broadcasting the Super Bowl and a Madonna concert. That startup was acquired by Inktomi right before the dot-com crash. This meant a 1000+ person company was soon reduced to less than 100 and firesaled off to Yahoo! in 2003.

On the cusp of 2010, live Internet broadcasting is doing damn fine. It’s become disruptive and the major old-school TV broadcasters have a lot to fear. Some of the fundamental technologies have changed, such as Flash video being the ubiquitous way of viewing Internet video. Back in 1.0 days it was all about RealNetworks, Quicktime and Windows Media. Codec and platform compatibility problems were the norm and end-user bandwidth simply wasn’t there to provide the YouTube & Hulu like experience we have today. We’ve come a long way in 10 years and I have no doubt the next 10 years will be exponentially more interesting. I predict by 2020 all TV media consumption will be Internet based, cable will be dead, DVDs will be a relic and satellite will just be another avenue for delivering Internet. From where I’m sitting, that looks pretty good.

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