A late but very exciting addition to an already sparkling TV Connect line-up, here Martin Wahl, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft Windows Azure, talks the Cloud, the Olympics, and more, with IP&TV News…
IP&TV News: The recent Winter Olympics proved the largest online sporting event to date. Microsoft was a big part of this. Can you give on overview of its involvement there?
Martin Wahl: Microsoft and its partners played a big role in the successful streaming of the Winter Olympic Games from Sochi. Microsoft has been a key enabler in the last eight Olympics but this was the second time we handled massive streaming from the cloud and the largest and most successful to date. Overall, Microsoft and our global partners helped deliver more than 200 HD streams to an audience of over 900 million, 100 million of whom watched on PCs, mobile phones, tablets and other devices from 22 different countries on four continents.
For the 18 days of the Games, from Opening Ceremonies to Closing, Microsoft provided five different broadcasters and their in-country audiences with cloud-delivered access to over 10,000 hours of live Olympic programming as well as on-demand access to event highlights and full replays. And as you might expect, the streaming quality, device flexibility, guaranteed uptimes, monitoring and redundancy, innovative user experiences and players, sponsorships and advertising, channel branding, and user authentication were all essential components of what was delivered.
The entire solution was a joint offering combining Microsoft’s Windows Azure Media Services platform along with several of Microsoft’s key technology partners including iStreamPlanet, Adobe, deltatre, and others. From the aggregation of all the multiple IOC and broadcast feeds, live encoding systems, advertising insertion, cloud storage, dynamic packaging to multiple adaptive bit rate protocols, massive scale live streaming and the interaction between all the various clients and provider authentication systems, the delivery of the Olympic Games has certainly proved that the Windows Azure Media Services platform was capable of meeting not only the needs of the largest online sporting event, but ready for any other kinds of cloud-based live broadcasting that our customers and partners want to offer.
In terms of live streaming, what are the major recent technological advances in the area, and what new advantages do they offer to consumers and operators?
Several key advancements made streaming a world-class event like the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games both technically possible, and perhaps more importantly, cost-effective.
First, having a global cloud platform capable of scaling up to meet the needs of broadcasters across six different datacentres was essential in order to handle the intensive ingesting, encoding, storage, and streaming requirements for an audience of hundreds of millions. As we saw at the Olympics, our global cloud platform allowed broadcasters, operators, and content distributors to build a “just-in-time virtual infrastructure” in minutes without the significant cost of buying, installing, and maintaining hardware that might only be used for short period of time. A cloud platform like Windows Azure that scales up and then scales down again has tremendous cost management value.
Other key advances included: Highly available, geo-redundant live streaming workflow in the cloud with dynamic adaptive bit rate streaming support that provides for an improved playback experience across all device platforms; seamless Live to VoD transition, Cloud DVR and improved dynamic advertising insertion, that helps monetize the investment operators and content owners are making in their own content.
It’s just been announced that you’ll be appearing at TV Connect in March. Can you give us some idea of the influence Microsoft’s Windows Azure Media Services is having on the connected entertainment ecosystem?
It’s certainly the case that the cloud is having a profound impact on the overall entertainment ecosystem. A substantial number of hardware and software companies, Microsoft included, long time vendors and service providers to the media industry that in the past have been selling their technologies in “on premises only” packages, are now offering their solutions as virtual instances from the public cloud. This significantly lowers to cost of entry for new content distributors and significantly reduced the cost of growth for established players. You can see now why Windows Azure Media Services was conceived in the first place: to be a partner-friendly environment that is highly agile, scalable (both up and down) and cost-effective. To date, the partners we have attracted and are working with include various on-demand and live encoding vendors, content encryption and DRM providers, automated metadata creation tools, file sharing and high speed file transfer solutions, content management systems, audience analytics and advertising engines, and many others are now available for use on Azure Media Services
This growing ecosystem is in turn driving lots of interesting use cases for the platform across our customers and partners. Many broadcasters, cable networks, sports organizations, live event producers, and other video licensors and distributors are using the cloud for streaming their high value content to the widest possible audience. We are seeing a lot of interest from advertising agencies, brand managers, e-publishers, mobile app developers, and others who want to use the cloud to simplify their video distribution workflows and cut the overall costs of their operations. And even the small and medium businesses and large enterprises are looking at the cloud for the management and delivery of their growing video libraries.
What services can you offer brand managers and advertising agencies?
Clearly these organizations want to reach the greatest possible audience for the content while maintaining the highest quality and control for how and when their content is accessed. Some of the key services these types of customers are interested include support for streaming to all available devices such as mobile phones, tablets, connected TVs and game consoles, as well as the browser and set-top boxes. For subscription based services we have the ability to support authentication and content protection with DRM services. We also have integration across a broad range of video advertising platforms to help content owners monetize their assets hosted and streamed from Windows Azure.
How big an effect do you expect the cloud to have on broadcasting in the coming years?
We believe the impact of the cloud on broadcasting is going to be truly revolutionary. First just think about the extraordinary effort, length of time and hundreds of millions of dollars in transmission hardware, infrastructure, air rights and satellite facilities that it has taken in the past to create and launch even a single new high definition broadcast channel or cable network, or to broadcast a live sporting event, music concert, or public event from around the world – and reach an audience of millions of viewers. The costs have been staggering. But this is all changed when we can use the cloud to create a brand new channel, provision all the end-to-end capacity and start streaming a live event within minutes. That’s a tectonic shift that will have reverberating impact on the entire industry. It will drive down the overall cost of live streaming and drive up the availability and accessibility of live content across all devices. As the upfront costs drop, entire new types of live video channels and linear video services can be trialed and launched and new business models and opportunities will emerge. There will be more accurate reporting, more detailed analysis of audience composition and their viewing patterns. And we expect that more accurate and targeting advertising technology will lead to better monetization and fairer compensation for high value highly viewed content. We are very bullish about what lies ahead for our industry and we are very excited in what we have built with Windows Azure Media Services.
What’s the appeal of TV Connect 2014, for Microsoft’s Windows Azure Media Services?
We think the TV Connect show is a fantastic forum for sharing not only our Olympics experience but also various examples of how other global media organizations are using the cloud to optimize their workflows and expand their audiences. Network operators, advertising agencies, broadcasters, content owners, system integrators, and application developers will be able to learn what types of solutions Microsoft and our partners can offer them.
Martin Wahl will be appearing at TV Connect 2014 (March 18th-20th), for booking and more info go here.