Live streaming sports are all about delivering the action to fans. A large part of the appeal is the shared experience of exciting events unfolding in real time. Virtual events need to be as close to the real thing as possible.
Over the years, the methods for viewing live sports have changed from purely watching on television to watching on mobile devices and tablets. The increased distribution of 5G will further expand these portable viewing habits as it makes more data available to users for streaming more video. Furthermore, users are looking to improve upon the passive viewing experience with interactive features such as fan walls, viewing parties with friends, and alternative camera angles.
An experience delivery network (XDN) is designed to meet those live streaming needs. Using technology that supports cross-cloud autoscaling for multi-way communications, XDNs are the infrastructure necessary to distribute synchronized video for advanced live streaming applications. Customer expectations are evolving; they want to stay up to date with the latest news but don't want it to spoil the excitement.
This post covers the various components and advantages of XDN.
Perhaps the most important aspect of live sports streaming equipment is maintaining interactivity and keeping up with events as they unfold. This requires the lowest latency possible as any delay means the fans are further from events as they occur in real life. Live events happen in the moment, so live event coverage must reflect that.
Red5 Pro uses WebRTC to create a latency of under 500 milliseconds. Such high speed allows for the delivery of video streams as fast as technologically feasible.
High latency, on the other hand, creates risks for spoilers. Our phones are always on, even while watching the game. Staying connected with others is part of the fun, but that also exposes the chance that someone who is at the game or watching with a faster connection can tweet or text a spoiler ruining the drama for everyone. The drama of a last-second, game-winning point, will be lost.
Not only does high latency affect the user experience, but it also opens the way for cheating. If someone had advanced knowledge of the game outcome they could potentially place what should be a high-risk bet on the now victorious underdog. Especially with the rise of live, in-game betting, making sure that no one is gaining an unfair advantage due to latency is very important.
Additionally, real-time latency ensures that everything synchronizes properly, safeguarding against bets coming in late and getting registered incorrectly. Data synchronization makes sure that when the bet is placed according to what a bettor sees, it goes into the system at the right time as well.
Sports are hosted the world over. As teams travel to play each other, their production teams travel with them adding to costs and complexity. Now with the pandemic stubbornly lingering, travel has been made even more cumbersome which accelerated the need for remote production. Now that the shift to a virtual workplace has been executed, the benefits of such setups have fully revealed themselves. In other words, once this pandemic subsides, the changes that came with it will be sticking around.
Smooth communication is essential to creating a fully operational remote workflow. This makes real-time latency an important aspect so you can have natural, free-flowing conversations. The real-time transmission of dynamically updated data elements with video and audio frames ensures that everything will be synchronized so that all team members can see the same thing and discuss it as needed. In other words, your team should be able to clearly comment on a particular scene or switch to a new camera angle at the right time.
Furthermore, remote collaboration enables the development of extra features, interactive applications, and new types of content. This is due to the fact that effective off-site production will capture the raw A/V feeds, including on-site announcers' commentary.
There are additional benefits to using home-based production facilities. Processing video flows from the field, avoids the additional expense of costly, latency-burdened satellite uplinks and driving production vans out to the physical location of the event. This is a new level of versatility with faster turnaround times and significant cost savings.
XDN technology is customizable as well. Flexible APIs support multi-view cameras, security configurations, the collection of information on viewing habits, custom graphic overlays, and the control of your own back-end infrastructure. Depending upon your needs, there is the consideration of ad insertions as well.
A good live video streaming technology stack requires supporting a wide range of media players while also handling the ingress and egress of live streams coming from publishers. Having access to cameras and being able to send that stream out adds important versatility. Supporting a variety of camera sources also supports new features like user-selected camera angles where they can choose which view they want to see while the game is happening.
Furthermore, there is also the idea of adding VR integrations with third-party software and hardware support. As this is still an evolving technology, customization is very important so it can be flexible enough to adapt to future requirements. The streaming software must be able to handle the large amount of data that VR applications require.
More information on the importance of live streaming for remote production can be found in our white paper.
Live sports can have gigantic audiences. Just take a look at all those stadiums — heck, even the Romans had the Coliseum. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional fans that would like to watch as well. Ensuring that everyone who wants to watch the game can subscribe to an uninterrupted live stream is the first step to a successful user experience.
While the concept of streaming to a large audience is rather straightforward, the way to implement scaling is a little more complex. By leveraging cloud-based autoscaling, servers (compute instances) can be dynamically spun up or down as needed.
Each cluster consists of a system of distributed server instances, or nodes, and includes origin, relay, or edge nodes. Within this topology, an origin node ingests incoming streams and communicates with multiple edge nodes to support thousands of participants. For larger deployments, origin nodes can stream to relay nodes, which in turn stream to multiple edge nodes to scale the cluster even further to realize virtually unlimited scale.
The brains behind this operational cluster is a stream manager, which controls the nodes, performs load balancing, and replaces nodes should they fail for any reason. The stream manager is also responsible for connecting participants in a live-streaming event: it connects publishers to an origin node and subscribers to an edge node that is geographically closest to them.
In order to support a wide distribution of fans from around the world, autoscaling server clusters configured in different geographic regions will ensure access to the broadcast stream. Further expanding on this utility, the use of a cross-cloud hosting solution will enable you to take advantage of the best data center regardless of the hosting provider. Red5 Pro supports platforms such as AWS, Azure, GCP, and DigitalOcean as well as more than a dozen other IaaS providers using Terraform. Bare metal server installations can be integrated as well by installing a cloud-like API such as vSphere in a private data center. Having this variety of virtual server hosting platforms maximizes flexibility for full scalability and geographic dispersion.
The ongoing expansion of 5G networks will increase the demand for widespread distribution as well as remote production capabilities. With expanded network coverage events such as surfing competitions, mountain biking, off-road races, alpine skiing, and other events that take place in remote locations, live streaming those events is more of a possibility. Making sure your platform features software with the flexibility to meet those advanced uses is important.
Supporting a large number of viewers (especially for really popular performers) is only half of the equation. All the fans watching the stream need to have the same experience. That means that all subscribers should see a real-time latency stream with the highest quality possible.
Fans are watching games from a variety of places as well as a variety of devices — browsers, mobile apps, tablets, and smart TVs to name a few. As such, a high-quality 4K or 8K stream that looks great on a giant screen, will completely crash the smaller CPU power of a mobile phone, let alone dealing with that amount of data through a mobile network. While a 480p stream works fine for a mobile phone, watching that on a giant wide-screen TV will be so blurry you'll think there's a weather delay.
Thus your live streaming feed has to cater to the streaming conditions of subscribers delivering high-quality streams to those users with outstanding bandwidth and processing power, while also accommodating those lacking in the speed and power department.
The best approach is to use adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR). The process involves publishing a single high-quality stream to a transcoder node which then generates multiple variants at lower quality with configurable bitrate and resolution settings. Many applications will use three variants — high, medium, low — although any number can be generated. These variants are then streamed to an origin that re-streams to the edge server(s). As with all Red5 Pro setups, the entire process is orchestrated by a stream manager. Thus the subscriber receives the best quality stream for their current conditions. If anything changes, the stream will automatically adapt as everything is monitored in real time.
Traditional video distribution models normally focus on the content delivery network (CDN) infrastructure. Based on an HTTP infrastructure, CDNs are really good for higher latency, unidirectional live streaming from broadcaster to subscriber. Being confined to only streaming in a single direction blocks the creation of interactive live events. Most of the excitement of live activities stems from participants' connections. Otherwise, it's basically just like streaming a movie from your couch.
XDN — a much better alternative — offers real-time latency as well as multidirectional delivery latency meaning that communication easily flows back and forth from broadcaster(s) to subscriber(s). Multidirectional streaming unlocks the ability to handle user-generated streams, thus achieving true interactivity.
Other uses for multidirectional streaming are hybrid applications such as watch parties where groups of multiple people gather in a video chat room to watch the same broadcast at the same time. Data synchronization between all parties ensures that chat messages or audio frames stay in sync with on-screen events. For venue-based live events such as music or sports, a video wall can be set up where spectators stream video of themselves watching the event which creates a more similar atmosphere to that of in-person crowds.
A CDN is like an escalator — effective at moving you up or moving you down, but the same machine can't do both. An XDN is more like a bank of elevators — capable of traveling in both directions.
Effective software is the most important piece of live sports streaming equipment to support a fully interactive experience with fans cheering with each other and supporting their favorite teams. Meeting fans wherever they are on whatever device they are using creates an effective user experience. Remote production workflows have proven their value and will continue to be in demand. In short, live streaming sports like everything else is an always-evolving marketplace with changing customer expectations and technical considerations.
While athletes can practice in order to improve their performance, live streaming applications don't have that option. Unlike cardio, running code again and again won't improve anything — either your app supports your needs or it doesn't.