TranSPORT: Open Internet Makes Gains as Reliable Sports-Production Tool

The use of the open Internet is increasingly an option for sports-production professionals to transport files and graphics; it even offers a backhaul option in a pinch. During the SVG TranSPORT forum on transmission last week, three experts from companies that rely on the Internet discussed their services, the future of the role of the open Internet in production, and more.

The question is, why now? The answer is that, in recent years, the desire for video over the Internet has helped drive service providers’ bandwidth speeds, which, in turn, allow more consumption of information. That factor alone has led to a doubling of transport speeds over the Internet in the past two or three years.

“We’re in a perfect storm where [all the technologies] are coming together and giving us another level of productivity,” says Dave Almstead, CEO of ONE CONNXT. “It is a lot less expensive for us to provide services and acquire [bandwidth].”

One of the big concerns for those who use open Internet for professional transport applications is reliability of service. But Internet-related production and transport systems are increasingly a part of the professional workflow environment.

For example, A-Frame’s cloud-based video-production platform works with full-resolution media that can be uploaded directly off a camera, along with metadata, so that production teams can collaborate in real time from different locations.

“We started three years ago in London to alleviate file-based workflows, and teams can access content in the cloud from any location in the world at any time,” said Mark Overington, president, North American operations, A-Frame. “They just need the Internet and a browser to get into the system and easily manage teams and have powerful collaboration.”

Two private cloud data centers in the UK and U.S. are at the core of the offering, allowing users to rent space on a system that A-Frame built from the ground up with its own proprietary technology designed to handle HD video files and metadata.

“It’s not simply a media-asset–management system,” Overington noted, adding, “We now manage HD video for more than 250 customers, including the UFC, ESPN, WTA, the Olympics, and more.”

Overington says that A-Frame mitigates risk by using dedicated lines over the open Internet, allowing the company to remain in total control of the transport process. And having data centers in both New York and Los Angeles ensures that content is replicated in two discrete secure locations for disaster recovery.

“We have a lot of control over the service we are providing,” he added. “While there is a cost to us, we’re able to make our offerings affordable.”

Alstead said that, although point-to-point dedicated lines can be set up, the Internet was configured for Web services and is self-healing. “We manage the routing of the content ourselves, or it can dynamically route itself,” he noted. “It can be point-to-point or point-to-multipoint with the [extra] cost of additional MPLS lines.”

ONE CONNXT is another relatively new company, born out of necessity when ONE Media Corp. needed a more cost-effective solution to transport programming from Asia to the U.S. for ONE World Sports. The methods of standard broadcast transport, satellite and fiber, were extremely expensive, and the only solution was to invent what the company considered to be a better delivery system. Launched just last year, ONE Media Corp. has been used for major sports events, including the 2011 Asian Open golf tournament. It proved its ability to transmit the event to the U.S. without degradation.

“Our compression ratios and capabilities allow us to take talking heads down to SD transport quality from Nigeria to Italy at only 670 kbps,” says Almstead. “The technology is moving forward very quickly.”

ONE CONNXT’s service is capable of handling NTSC, PAL, HD, and SD. “Whatever you put in comes out the other end at cost levels other companies cannot afford to do,” he explained. “This is terribly disruptive to satellite companies.”

Another possibly disruptive player is iStreamPlanet, which in 2011 and 2012 was best-known for its work as the online content-delivery network (CDN) for NBC Sports and NBC Olympics, providing the encoding for delivery of live and on-demand video streams to computers and mobile devices. It also handled streaming of both the 2008 Beijing Games and 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Cloud-based transcoding allows iStreamPlanet to take a live video feed in, encrypt it, and then simulcast its delivery to a host of devices.

“Compression algorithms, from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 and H.264 and now HEVC are causing a revolution where [content distributors] do not need as much bandwidth to reach consumers who want more content,” said Chris Carper, SVP, business development, iStreamPlanet.

Carper, like Overington and Almstead, believes that a desire by clients to cut down on infrastructure and costs of transport at sports events will make moving into a virtual environment more attractive. And the falling cost of storage, Overington added, makes cloud-based solutions even more affordable. And all the companies are ready to expand their relationships with technology partners that can help meet their needs.

“As live linear streaming becomes more important,” said Carper, “we can leverage outside partners to do that.”