thePlatform, a subsidiary of Comcast and a provider of customizable video publishing solutions, has unveiled a new Web-based software suite and common interface designed to simplify the processes involved with scheduling and managing live signal acquisition and encoding, while also automatically archiving live broadcasts over an Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure to quickly create video-on-demand (VOD) clips or replays.
“Delivering quality, live online video broadcasts of major events is more technologically and economically feasible than ever before,” said Ian Blaine, CEO of thePlatform. “Given the rise in popularity of online viewing for events, especially sports, companies are looking for a scalable, enterprise-class system that seamlessly manages live events, as part of their broader video portfolio.”
The new live video service is the latest addition to the company’s mpx video publishing platform. Using mpx, broadcasters and service providers, cable programmers, and other media companies can centrally manage on-demand and live video content for playback across computers, tablets, smartphones and other IP-enabled devices.
Since 2000, thePlatform has facilitated live video distribution for major TV sports networks by embedding URLs to specific video streams that were scheduled and managed via third-party systems. With mpx, media companies can manage live events in real-time, from a single Web console, and use thePlatform’s Player Service to view live events on computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices.
The mpx platform is now using embedded cloud-based software transcoding technology from Elemental Technologies, although Marty Roberts, senior vice president of sales and marketing for thePlatform, said other third-party technology would be implemented throughout the year. Instant encoding is available directly through the mpx file transfer management interface.
“Our job is to help our customers get video content ready for all of the various video platforms they want to target and to make sure that content is monetized (and copyrights rules are respected) in the most effective way,” Roberts said, adding that they focus on the high-end of the TV industry (content owners like NBC Sports Regional Networks and distributors like Comcast and even its competitors like Time Warner Cable), those with massive amounts of content that must be served reliably and quickly.
As a division of Comcast, thePlatform manages all of the content, both live and on-demand (on any given day there are more than 200,000 videos available), served up to Comcast’s Xfinity service subscribers.
“Across our customers we manage billions of video views in a typical year,” he said. “That’s not easy to do, and that’s why our media companies desperately need fully integrated services such as ours.”
As more and more live events (sports and entertainment) are cleared for re-distribution across multichannel system operators, Roberts said the need for an automated video management platform is critical to ensure that the event is being viewed under the correct set of pre-determined guidelines. It also enables the event to be seamlessly viewed on the TV as well as on a tablet or smartphone. And once the event is over, thePlatform’s solution sends pre-edited clips to a VOD archive for future viewing on demand and sends cue points to instruct video servers when to insert an advertisement or on-air promo.
In fact, while the live event is airing, the media file and its associated cue points for ads, chapter breaks, and associated metadata are automatically saved and archived within mpx for VOD consumption. This lets programmers and broadcasters quickly publish or syndicate the video to third-party sites or their own websites, and make the footage easily discoverable for search and recommendations.
These cue points are important to this automated process, as live event production typically lacks predictable triggers or breakpoints. The mpx solution eliminates the need for operators to manually insert ads, graphics or alternative programming while taking advantage of the brief time delay inherent in online broadcasts (about 10-15 seconds) to allow customers to insert ads, statistics or other graphics at given cue points in the video. Customers use applications like FreeWheel to insert dynamic ads in-stream, thereby ensuring high-quality, TV-like viewing experiences on the Web and other devices.
During the live event, customers can also easily insert metadata and accompanying graphics in real-time — such as stats for the player who just scored a goal, or biographical information for the celebrity who just received an award. The mpx platform also enables customers to model content rights obligations in advance (i.e. set geo-restrictions ahead of the live feed, or insert alternate programming during a restricted half-time concert performance).
Roberts said managing live events is particularly tricky to get right, relying heavily on metadata to ensure that viewing and business policies are strictly adhered to. Playback is supported in thePlatform’s customizable video player.
“The idea behind this new service is to simplify the live event publishing mechanism,” Roberts said, adding that each “live” event is delayed (cached) about 10 to 15 seconds as it passes thorough a content distribution network. “If we make this easy to implement, customers will gain the full benefit from their live events, and viewers will enjoy a rewarding experience.”