Low-Latency Streaming + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with Per Lindgren, CTO and Co-Founder at Net Insight
While in-person events have been curtailed by COVID-19, innovation continues to advance in both tech and media and entertainment. I’ve been sitting down (virtually) with leaders of some of the leading AWS Partner Network (APN) Technology Partners involved in the M&E ecosystem—and their insights can offer a lens into the future of the industry.
Per Lindgren has been a leader in the digital M&E world for over 20 years. He co-founded Net Insight over 20 years ago, defining new ways to deliver media at the leading edge of ever-changing technology.
In this interview, Per and I chat about production for live events, enabling media consumers to become their own producers, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your company.
A: Net Insight has been in the media industry for over 20 years. We are leaders in the production workflow: ingesting live events—big sports events, like everything from the Olympics to FIFA to big national football or hockey leagues—bringing the camera feeds and the data from those arenas back into the production workflows and then distributing that out to the playouts for further distribution out to the consumers.
Q: When did you guys get involved in the AWS cloud space?
A: That started five or six years ago when we realized live streaming had really big issues when it came to live sports and live content. Every time you look at the OTT content today, you’re typically half a minute to a minute behind the normal broadcast feeds. The promise of IP streaming and video has always been in the interactivity and enhanced user experience.
So we started building the next generation — CDN technology for low-latency streaming—all the way out to the consumers. So, while we traditionally had been transporting feeds from the cameras to the playouts, we now took full responsibility: end-to-end, glass to glass.
Actually, we sold that part—the B2C streaming, low-latency streaming channels—to Amazon Video Prime this January.
A: Thank you! It was very good. We have a really good partnership with Amazon, and they were a lead customer for this. They're buying more and more rights, sports rights and live content, for Amazon Video Prime.
Where we are going now, is using the architecture that we built for the B2C streaming for more B2B streaming. We’re doing everything for more business media.
What we realized when we did live OTT, is that to create the next-generation user experience or viewing experience—call it “sports fan experience”—you want that interactivity. But also, what’s allowed by low latency is for the consumer to become their own producer.
So we started doing things like car cameras for Formula 1 and NASCAR. The viewer could choose their favorite driver, and we would add notifications and metadata for that driver. Also, if there is something happening further down—if you have your favorite driver in the top three but you were also following some other drivers and there was a duel or an overtake for them—you get a notification. You could click onto that driver, and you got into that camera feed.
But then we realized—for football or soccer or any of those— that you can also follow your favorite player cams. Or in golf, that you can follow many different balls at the same time—and you could get notifications when there was a birdie putt, or someone was on the tee and already teed up.
But that requires that the production—and the multi-cam production—is there. And a problem with live production today is that it’s one of the biggest content wastes that we have. Because at many of these big events, you might have 20, 40 cameras—but you only get one produced feed to the viewers.
And what we want to do is enable that. We can get much more and better content out to the viewers and handle the whole chain—not just that final part with low latency—but also their whole production workflow to create that new experience. Whether it’s for metadata or multi-camera environments or synchronization—the whole flow.
Q: Yes. I have a ton of questions. First one: when you talk about the advantage of cloud versus latency, was it a processing power question or a distance-to-the-edge question? What was the advantage there?
A: I think the latency problem with OTT today is the segmentation. The big problem lies inherently in the technology—whether HLS and even in DASH segments—that you typically buffer up to three segments in the players, but also buffering happens in the edge caches of the CDN. They're built around that, it’s a store and forward technology — which makes it really reliable, but really not optimized for latency.
For any VoD content, it doesn’t matter, but for live content, of course, it becomes a problem. You and I—even if we start the game at the same time—after buffering and after losing packets, the mechanism is that we are drifting in time. So after the first half of the game, you might be ten seconds behind, and I might be 45 seconds behind. The interactivity or social interaction can really be destroyed.
Q: Right! “Hey, did you see that goal?” “No, I didn’t see that goal. Still waiting for the catch-up.”
I can imagine, especially in sports or anything live. And that is really what entertainment companies are looking for, in many cases: how do you drive those eyeballs to that event, make the recording less valuable.
It sounds like you’ve really been able to take advantage of the decrease in cost for the equipment. I'm curious, when did you see that coming into the professional-grade? So, the ability to have player cams or car cams—what year was that, when it became available? And maybe it wasn’t the equipment that was the blocker.
A: We showcased synchronized driver cams already 2017. Blockers for the rollout have been a combination, I would say. A lot of the technology was there, but the end-to-end workflow wasn’t there. And it’s still not there all the time. Individual technology components have been there for quite some time, but end-to-end solutions haven’t been there.
What we’re doing now is enabling our part—more on the production and the primary distribution—and we let the big ones do the final distribution . But also, a lot of things have accelerated. I think, with what’s happening right now, that we’re moving more and more into the cloud. And that the prices in the cloud have come down, which allows for this—even for the big sports events.
Q: Yes, that makes sense, for it to be economically viable. And of course, now that Net Insight is here, the infrastructure’s available. I'm sure companies will want to get in touch with you.
You already answered one of my questions, which was, “How does your company fit within the media and entertainment ecosystem?” But I'm curious, are there any other cloud technologies, other than yours, that you’ve read about or you’ve heard about, that you find especially interesting?
A: I think more and more of the whole media ecosystem is moving into the cloud. And of course, we’ve been very much involved in the more tier-one sports and live events. But, through OTT and what’s happening on the distribution side, we’re also getting into the more tier-two and tier-three sports.
What’s interesting, I think, is that we also see a unification of sports and broadcast—and the enterprise. So the production workflows we’ve seen in the more traditional broadcast and sports—inside of professional segments—is moving now also into the enterprise.
I think especially now during the COVID pandemic, the enterprise—both for the big town hall meetings internally and also for the big launches and for big marketing campaigns—the production environment is becoming very similar to broadcast environments. And they are definitely unifying into more cloud-based workflow—more distributed remote workflow—for that.
Q: Yes, it does feel like the cloud really is enabling a lot of those workflows and processes that may have been media and entertainment before, but now maybe it’s education. You know, there are all kinds of industries that are finding themselves there, as a result of COVID.
That ties into the next question: what do you think the impact of the coronavirus will be, on either the media and entertainment industry, or perhaps industry as a whole, over the next 12 months?
A: We’ve been talking about cloud-based workflows, and as I said, we built a full CDN in the cloud with our OTT streaming. With COVID, I think a lot of these trends have been accelerated.
And there's also the need to be much more agile and flexible; having more remote and distributed workflows. Before, it was okay to send the camera men and production team out to the events or to the enterprise facility for doing a gig; now you can't do that anymore. So people are literally sitting at home doing their productions.
And even talent: you bring in commentators that are sitting at home. Right now we have a big Nordic rights-holder, a big broadcaster—they have a commentator that usually commentates Italian football. He was living in Spain, and he usually just took a flight for the Saturday and Thursday night football events. But of course, he can’t fly anymore, and from a climate perspective, it doesn’t make sense. So we hooked him up over the internet and through the cloud, and he actually could sit at home doing the commentary. We sent out a high-quality feed to him—he’s sitting at his home PC doing the commentary—and we brought back the audio feed and synchronized that into the professional distribution.
Those kinds of things are possible now, with much more agile and flexible workflows. As I said, all the traditional production workflows—whether that's Avid or Grass Valley or Simplylive or Grabyo—they are moving into the cloud, so you can find those workflows in the cloud.
And I think it’s also interesting to see that unification there with enterprise. Distribution that traditionally had been more broadcast or OTT, very often now has a social distribution to social media—whether it’s Facebook Live or Twitter or Amazon. Definitely, it allows for much more flexibility and agility, and it’s just been accelerated by COVID.
Q: Final question: take us out three years into the future—get out your crystal ball. What do you think the impact of the cloud will be on business over the next three years?
A: I think it will have a fundamental impact. Overall, I think we are moving into much more software-based, more virtualized production and development environments—and of course more and more SaaS type of models. And yes, by being in the cloud and in cloud environments, you have all those resources at your fingertips to create those end-to-end solutions. And really, as I said, the technology has been there for quite some time. Now we need to tie it together. The cloud is a great environment to do that, and to find new solutions, and find that new fan experience.
And that's why I think it’s important that we also work together as partners—from a technology perspective—to tie it together into end-to-end solutions. But also from the orchestration point of view, I think the control part of it will become even more important. And of course, that ties into the monetization capabilities—because I'm sure also the cloud allows for new monetization capabilities. That's going to be exciting to watch in the next coming years.
Q: Can't forget monetization! If somebody wanted to get in touch with you or Net Insight, what would the best way be?
A: We've been around in the industry for 20 years, and you can find us on our website www.netinsight.net. Or just send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.