Elemental Live Takes WWE Pay-Per-Views Online

The debate over whether professional wrestling is a “sport” is irrelevant. The fact is, WWE remains a wildly successful media machine.

Expected to launch its own network sometime this year, WWE is as popular as it has ever been, drawing tremendous revenue from its live events and its effective use of pay-per-view (last year’s Wrestlemania 27 raked in more than 1 million buys).

With one of its legendary icons, The Rock, back in the fold and set to face modern-day star John Cena at this year’s Wrestlemania on April 1, the WWE could be poised to shatter its previous pay-per-view records.

Don’t be fooled, though. Vince McMahon’s conglomerate hasn’t remained stuck in its ways, having expanded beyond the basic pay-per-view platform over the past couple of years into the digital space.

For more than a year, WWE has partnered with Elemental Technologies to develop a pay-wall–protected live stream of its biggest pay-per-view events, allowing viewers who purchase the company’s marquee events to view them streaming online, even without a cable subscription.

Elemental Live is a video processing system that provides professional content producers and distributors with video and audio encoding for live streaming to new media platforms.

Elemental Live, Elemental’s video-processing system, provides professional content producers and distributors with video and audio encoding for live streaming to new-media platforms. It creates multiple adaptive-bitrate streams, sending live streaming video to a Brightcove Flash Player that resides on the WWE’s Website.

“Using Elemental Live encoders, WWE is able to offer seven different bitrates for adaptive video streaming,” says Felipe Negron, VP of interactive technology at WWE. “This includes HD-quality streams and support for multiple formats, platforms including Android and iOS devices. Elemental’s robust and scalable technology allows us to run 20 active profiles per server for streaming and archiving our live events. In our deployment, we’ve been able to replace eight existing encoders with two Elemental Live systems.”

The WWE charges upwards of $45 per event per subscriber, using both the traditional pay-per-view window and the online digital platform made possible by Elemental Live.

According to Keith Wymbs, VP of marketing at Elemental Technologies, one of the distinguishing factors in establishing the partnership was Elemental’s ability to handle WWE’s video content, which can be incredibly difficult to encode and compress.

“It’s pretty well known in the video-content–processing space and in the video-encoding world that sports content in general is challenging,” says Wymbs. “But professional wrestling takes it to a whole other level because you have that same combination of fast-motion content as well as all of the production that happens at an event, with lots of flashing lights, glitter, and pyrotechnics. [These are] things that, from an encoding standpoint, are challenging.

“A lot of encoding is anticipating in your algorithms what is happening to the individual pixels,” he continues. “So, when a flash goes off, that’s not something that can be predicted, and, when you have a lot of horizontal lines, like the ropes and the turnbuckle, it is really challenging content to compress.”

As seen in the image above, the workflow is relatively straightforward. The video is taken from the camera through an HD-SDI source and sent directly into the Elemental Live server. There, multiple live H.264 streams are created, ranging from as high as 1.3 Mbps to a low as under 600 kbps. The varied streams are than sent to an Akamai CDN before being transmitted for Web delivery.

Elemental Technologies’ next major event with the WWE will be WrestleMania 28, which will be held in Miami Gardens, FL, on April 1.