UFC Goes the Distance With Aspera for Content Delivery

Broadcast in more than 145 countries and 28 languages, the once-niche Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has exploded onto the global stage, hosting more than 30 live events worldwide each year. To deliver video to on-site production crews prior to each event and to global distribution partners afterward, the UFC relies on Aspera’s high-speed–transfer software.

Aspera has been serving as the backbone of UFC’s digital-asset–management system, allowing field production teams to quickly pull existing content from venues all over the world for inclusion in the live broadcasts.

“We help them move things around between their different locations and also make the content available to the remote locations,” says Francois Quereuil, marketing director, Aspera. “Sometimes, they’ll be on-site during the broadcast of the event, and something happens, and they need to pull a piece of media that they don’t have on-site. They’ll basically pick it from their asset-management system, and Aspera will handle the high-speed download. [Aspera] is transparent to the user, so they don’t even know they’re using Aspera: they’re just picking and choosing assets and pulling them down when they need to.”

With only 20 years of content to handle, the league’s top priority when deploying Aspera was distribution. Needing to implement digital-transport technology that would overcome a wide variety of network challenges and distribute content efficiently over great distances, the UFC selected Aspera Connect Server and faspex. Connect Server enables contributors to upload content to the server via Web page or to download content from the server.

While Connect Server operates on a client-to-server paradigm, faspex facilitates person-to-person collaboration. Users can drag-and-drop terabytes of data, including metadata, into an interface similar to a standard Web-mail program and send that information to other users.

“Thirty thousand hours of footage sounds like a lot to mere mortals, but, to the production world and especially in the sports world, that’s not a ton of footage,” says Christy King, VP of digital and technology research and development, UFC. “We just don’t have that length of history yet, so we weren’t so concerned about storing and metadata and archiving first.

“Our first issue,” she continues, “was, how do we distribute all of our content not only to traditional television outlets but to all these new technologies like over-the-top, Hulu, Xbox, mobile phones, gaming devices, and all the ways that you can distribute video content these days? We have to get our stuff to all of those places as fast as we possibly [can] because our audience expects it to be on every new gadget that comes out.”

The UFC must broadcast large volumes of high-quality content from a wide range of venues around the world, some of which have poor connectivity. Rather than rely on FTP for file transfer, which must restart a transfer that fails midway through, Aspera can continue to transfer from the failure point.

“When you try to deliver a file and it doesn’t work, you’re in trouble because you basically have to start over, and most sports, most any kind of entertainment, don’t have time for that. You’ve got to deliver the file, and it has to get there. It doesn’t matter if it takes all night, but you can’t pay someone to sit there and babysit the file all night either,” says King. “The nice thing about Aspera is, of course, it compresses and delivers very quickly but, if something does happen or a line does get pulled for some reason, Aspera will ping and ping and ping until it reconnects and then continue delivering the file from where it left off.”

In addition, the UFC worked with Adept Mobile to build a custom video-ingest, -transcoding, and -distribution platform that leverages Aspera On Demand. The solution enables UFC to capture, edit, and transcode high-resolution video clips that can be embedded on the UFC Website or distributed to the league’s global partners.

After transitioning to a completely tapeless workflow over the past year, the UFC now encodes all on-site production to ProRes 4:2:2 and records to hard drives, which are transported back to UFC’s offices and ingested. Whether highlights of fights or full events, content is exported and distributed to nearly 200 locations worldwide via Aspera.

“We would not be able to do our distribution business the way we do today without [Aspera],” says King. “It was an absolutely paramount change for us to get our big, fat, TV-quality video files outside of this building and distributed across the world; there’s no way we could have done it without their delivery product.”