Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event – Liveblog Notes from Streaming Media West

I’ve been in LA for Streaming Media West the last couple of days, checking out what’s new in the world of live streaming. This morning’s panel session Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event was a good overview on what to think about when planning to live stream your event. Here’s my notes.

C201: ROUND TABLE: Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event

Moderator: Jon Orlin, Executive Producer, TechCrunch
Speaker: Alden Fertig, Product Manager, Broadcasting, Ustream
Speaker: Howard Kitto, Group CTO, PERFORM
Speaker: Adam Drescher, Partner, Suite Spot
Speaker: Jeff Varnell, EVP, Business Development, Livestream

Q: What did Ustream and Livestream do during Hurricane Sally?

Jeff V: We set up an event on Livestream. We combined user feeds. 2 million streams to all Sally content

Alden: Ustream combined national news feeds w/user feeds. Lots of viewers. Giants World Series post-win mayhem was interesting to watch.

Q: What are things you need to ask of clients before doing a planned event?

Adam: Find out what clients expectations are. Do they just care about numbers of tweets vs viewers? Location, location, location makes a big difference on what can be done.

Howard: What is the expected the production value? PERFORM does lots of downstream broadcasts of satellite feeds. Logistics as well.

Alden: Is this content that should be live vs on-demand? Is this the right event for live? Lots of aspects to live. Workflow, promotional structures need to be put in place.

Jon: Tuning into a 3-minute event probably isn’t best to do live. Just getting people to show up in time is hard.

Howard: Sports and news are best for live.

Jeff: What is the goal of the live stream? Pre-production is everything. Once live is there it has be to perfect. Only one shot to do it. Timing is important, need 2 to 4 weeks to plan things out right. Livestream has gone to event pages now, rather than channel pages. Allows us to extend campaign, mix in photos and updates.

Adam: Fashion industry also. Gucci saved money not having to fly in execs from Milan to NYC.

Q: How do you deal with producing a live event from a place with crappy Internet?

Alden: Ustream broadcasters age from home internet to fiber, satellite to dedicated bandwidth. Bundled cellular stuff is popular. It’s really good, we like it a like. We use LiveU. News and sports attract a lot of people so challenge can be that cellular networks are overloaded in those areas due to number of people present.

Jon: We’ve used bonded cellular solutions. Testing a week beforehand before people show up isn’t a good test. CES is an example.

Alden: We drove here from SF with a LiveU, didn’t lose our stream down the I-5 at all.

Adam: Test from the viewer locations is important. You don’t want customers congesting their own network while trying to watch the stream. You don’t want a surprise doing a live stream.

Howard: Old-school satellite is rock-solid, tried and true tech, works everywhere. Expensive.

Jeff: We all expect TV. Challenge is in the transmission business. 99% of importance is the encoding/uploading on the ground. Always recommend a dedicated connection on the ground.

Point-to-point internet, we can get that working in many places in the US. If budget allows, satellite. We use All Mobile Video. We are fiber-linked from the switch to our New York HQ as well.

Alden: Buy more time than you need for satellite. Recent example, Apple product announcement event went over time and got cut off right in middle of announcement. Was watching the feed and it switched immediately to bars and tones with satellite provisioning information slate.

Q: What bandwidth do you need typically?

Alden: Rule of thumb 2x what you want to stream. Really hard to say sometimes. Is it shared connection? ISPs throttle people. Might be 20Mbs all day then 400k for a few minutes.

Jeff: 2x is about right. We can do up to 4 bitrates in our player. Make sure you stream in lower-quality too.

Howard: 2-5Mbs is what we normally do.

Q: How do you make a webcast look like TV?

Adam: Work with professionals, people who have done this before. Work with broadcast directors, work with people who have broadcast industry experience. We’re working on a new climate reality project we are doing with Ustream. We have the director from the Red Bull Stratos event with us on that.

Cameras have gotten cheaper. Technology is out there that helps to make it look like a million bucks. Graphics is important, other content that can be cut in. Proper lighting, audio. Good graphics go along way.

Jeff: Most interesting is that people creating content exclusively for the web. Our Livestream Sessions in NYC – bands come in and do a live show with fans interacting with them. Kids today want to interact in real time.

Alden: It’s not TV. You have the luxury of extra time. You do want to turn on early so people can tune in and get ready. Don’t just put up a slate. Use video clips. Use a dynamic shot, maybe a wide shot of venue, slightly blurred.

Adam: Two-way conversations is key. People want to participate.

Jon: At our event, we have a GoPro to let people see behind the scenes.

Q: Sometimes the before is more important than the during?

Jeff: Live blogging element of Livestream platform lets fans socialize before event goes live. Can happen weeks before event. Add pix, videos, comments. Cool way to add content prior to event to build hype,fan interaction. Create highlights live to add VOD clips. After event, it’s all about analytics. All clients want that.

Howard: Our ultimate case study. Our live content goes our on betting sites prior to going live. People are betting prior which builds interest. Filipino Basketball is one of our biggest events. Tons of betting. Tennis as well.

Adam: Post-production is important. We did a 3-minute sizzle reel for Macy’s, over a million views.

Alden: Get VOD up as quick as possible. Right after is when it’s still hot, people still showing up.

Howard: Our stuff has to be up straight away. Adds logistical challenges.

JON: Let’s take some questions from the audience.

Audience Q: Do you use portable satellites?

Howard: We use almost exclusively. One camera + satellite.

Audience Q: What can we do before end around the player, with the player?

Alden: Social stream is big for us. Talent can request tweets.

Audience Q: What is your take on a simulated live event?

Howard: We do some of those. We will do a full match replay at a certain time broadcast as live.

Jeff: Our preference is always live content. Good social experience around a live event.

Audience Q: How do you deal with an event that went horribly wrong?

Jeff: Most common is Internet connection problems at the encoder. We had a concert where Internet was fine for 3 hours leading up. When it came to event time, it died.

Alden: We did an event with American Idol. Building lost power. Took a long time to get powered back up. Internet was down, but We had a LiveU cellular pack on-hand.

Howard: Lots of logistical things… audio track switching. Power failure, weather.

Jon: One user complaining might not be accurate. Validate that it isn’t just a single user problem.

Adam: Make sure a backup plan is in place. Backup plan with audio, video and Internet.

Audience Q: What about insurance for problems?

Adam: Buy production insurance. Find out what are they trying to insure against. Is it for the production or media side?

Celebrating the Giants Win with Fire and Mayhem

I threw together this quick montage of what I saw transpire in San Francisco’s Mission District shortly after the Giants clinched the World Series last night.

Who Broke Today’s Live Streaming Record, YouTube or Akamai?

Today was the day that Felix Baumgartner set several records for ascending to 128,000 feet in a balloon capsule and jumping to earth 4 minutes and 20 seconds later. An epic day of achievements for Red Bull Stratos for sure.

Red Bull Stratos | YouTube screenshot

YouTube is also claiming a new record of serving up more than 8 million concurrent live streams for the “most concurrent views ever on YouTube.” Also amazing to be sure. The previous record for this achievement goes to Akamai for serving up close to 7 million concurrents during Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration in 2009.

What’s interesting about this is that Akamai also served up a good chunk, if not all, of the live streams for today’s event. What a lot of people don’t know is that YouTube often relies on Akamai’s large footprint live CDN to handle big events. It’s not uncommon for live stream services to off-load capacity to third-party networks if an event is bigger than their own network can handle. YouTube has stellar capacity for the on-demand videos we all love, but when it comes to live events, they often extend their reach by using Akamai’s live streaming network services.

This begs the question, if Akamai served up all of YouTube’s live requests for today’s record breaking event, did Akamai just break their own record from 2009?

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 MonkeyBrains.net
– 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
lights
– 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.

Justin.tv Continues to Reinvent Itself

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

The TL;DR version: In 2007, Justin.tv 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 Justin.tv 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, Justin.tv’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 Justin.tv’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 Justin.tv 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.

Eddie.com Endorses VoteforEddie.com for Congress

We don’t normally endorse candidates here at Eddie.com, but it’s time to make an exception. There’s this guy in Florida, his name used to be Eddie Gonzalez, until last January when he had it legally changed to VoteforEddie.com. Yes, that’s right, when voters in the 25th US Congressional District in Florida go into the voting booth on November 6th, they will see VoteforEddie.com listed on the ballot. As an Eddie.com that’s been on the Internets since 1996, we know our people.

VoteforEddie’s going up against five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami who ran unopposed in the last election and has raised over $600,000 in this election. VoteforEddie has raised about $2,400. VoteforEddie is running as an independent, mainly on the platform of ending American’s oil dependency and lower taxes. What’s not to like about that? After seeing his slick campaign video, we knew we had to throw our hat in the VoteforEddie.com ring.

The Internet says no to SOPA and PIPA

Yesterday, a large portion of the Internet rose up against two horrible bills making their way through Congress. These bills, SOPA in the House and Protect IP Act or PIPA in the Senate, would fundamentally change the nature of the Internet in misguided attempts at stamping out copyright infringement. Many websites voluntarily went dark for the day to show the public what things could well look like if these bills become law. Wikipedia, Craig’s List, Google, the Internet Archive, Reddit, Tumblr all participated, educating users and encouraging them to contact their congress people. Physical protests happened in San Francisco and New York where many lolcat fans, entrepreneurs, reddit users and first time activists turned out to lodge their opposition.

I grabbed my Z1U and ran down to City Hall here in San Francisco to catch up with the happenings. Several notable Internet people showed and spoke out about SOPA/PIPA including Craig Newmark, Caterina Fake, Ron Conway, MC Hammer, Brewster Kahle, and Elizabeth Stark. I recorded some of the soapbox action and grabbed some interviews asking two questions.

The first question, What is the worst part of SOPA and PIPA to you?

The second question, How will SOPA and PIPA affect your organization?

Interviewees: Jonathan Nelson, Sam Stoller, Caterina Fake, Tantek Çelik, Adina Levine, Seth Schoen, Rick Prelinger, Jen O’Neal, Jessica, Anders Nelson and Kim Dowd.

Dead Drop in Former NSA Spy Station

While in Berlin, I had met up with @tbx for a dead drop install. Documented in photos and this video.

Dead Drop Installed at Abandoned U.S. Spy Station in Berlin from ekai on Vimeo.

MakerBot TV Launches!

I’m proud to announce the birth of MakerBot.TV, a new online web video series that I co-produced covering all things awesome in the world of MakerBot.

I spent most of July and August working out of MakerBot’s Brooklyn Headquarters (the BotCave) to concept, staff and launch this new series. Working with long-time pal Bre Pettis, MakerBot’s cofounder, CEO and former video superstar himself, we set to work on coming up with a new 12 to 14 episode weekly series that would appeal to current MakerBot owners and non-owners alike.

The show has to be entertaining, informative, tell great stories and appeal to a wide audience. The first thing we did was set about finding the perfect person to bring in full-time as MakerBot’s Video Superstar. This was not an easy search as the role demanded not just a great on-screen presence, but someone who can think creatively, quickly, knows online video production, is a great editor and isn’t freaked out by deadlines. After almost a month of searching, we hired Annelise Jeske.

MakerBot.TV just launched, the new weekly online video series I co-produced about all things MakerBot.

Annelise is perfect for the role. She’s got a cool sense about things, is very creative, driven, and didn’t freak out when I threw Final Cut X at her and said “you’ll be using this.” Once Annelise was on board, she and I set to work to concept out the various segments, branding, music and story ideas.

MakerBot’s 3D printers aren’t just a product, they’re a lifestyle. While still arguably in the early adopter and hobbyist days, these robots are part of an ecosystem that is exploding with creative use and potential. To own a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic isn’t to just own a machine that makes replacement parts for your home. It’s about being part of something much bigger. It’s about being part of a fast growing segment of humans who are using shared ideas, designs, software and hardware to build upon the greatness of others. Call it the DIY movement, the maker movement, whatever. It’s about solving problems, learning, creating and ultimately sharing knowledge with others like you.

MakerBot has spawned a growing community of people who share their 3D designs on an open website called Thingiverse. If you design a bicycle mobile phone mount or coat hook, you can share those designs on Thingiverse and others will build upon them to improve or make variants of them. This is exciting stuff, because that means as a new MakerBot owner, you have access to thousands of products that you can print out at any time. There’s new models posted all the time, so we’re doing a regular segment called Thingiverse Roundup that focuses on cool stuff found here.

MakerBot TV launches!

Annelise has experience doing stop motion animation, so we quickly decided that the opening sequence and segment IDs should be animated using printed models and letters. We saw Tony Buser‘s Bob the Bobblehead robot appear in the office one day and knew we needed to incorporate him into the show.

As a result of Bre’s appearance on the Colbert Report, MakerBot has been scanning the heads of friendly hackers, thinkers, writers, artists and musicians with a high resolution 3D scanner. These scans can be printed out to render a perfect plastic bust thus giving us our Notables segment.

There’s so much more to come. I’m really happy with our debut episode, which features much head scanning when the organizers and artists from the AfroPunk Festival stopped by MakerBot’s workshop. Angelo Moore from the band Fishbone and Reggie Watts are two of the artists who are featured. An excellent model of Yoda and a multi-piece Sword of Omens are featured in the Thingiverse Roundup segments. Future episodes will focus on interesting creators, artists and events in the ever expanding universe of affordable 3D printing.

My role was primarily getting MakerBot TV off the ground. It’s in Annelise’s very capable hands now. The show has tremendous momentum, support from the whole MakerBot staff and a universe of stories that have yet to be told. I’m proud of what we’ve produced and very excited at what’s to come. Please tune in, subscribe and tell your friends. It’s going to be an awesome ride!

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