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Streaming Media West Panel Offers Live Streaming Tips and Tricks
A panel of online video veterans presented their best live streaming advice. The difference between a free and a $40,000 encoder isn't just the cost.
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“There’s not one way to stream a live event,” said Jon Orlin of TechCrunch, kicking off the Streaming Media West 2013 panel, “Best Practices for Live Streaming.”

“In fact, the folks on this panel probably use 15 ways to stream,” he said.

Chris Mangum, senior digital media manager for live and on-demand video streaming at Yahoo, told how Yahoo live streamed the Catching Fire premiere in Los Angeles.

Multiple satellite dishes were used to uplink 12 streams: 6 streams for the desktop, for bitrate switching from a maximum of 3.1mbps to just below 500kbps; 5 streams for iOS devices; and 1 stream for Android devices.

“We do one stream for Android since there’s no bitrate switching for Android,” Magnum said.

Alden Fertig, senior manager, product marketing at Ustream suggested a rule of thumb for calculating needed bandwidth: “Make sure you have a solid internet connection,” said Fertig, recommending a dedicated data drop in a venue like a hotel. “I recommend you have at least two times the birtrate of your stream. Chris said his highest stream for last night’s event was 3.1mbps, so that means at least 6mbps.”

Jack Ferry, an independent director and producer who works on a number of projects with YouTube, agreed even for events with a small budget.

“I’ll echo what’s been said: Make sure you have at least 1.5 times the bandwidth,“ said Ferry.

Another key theme of the session was redundancy, including hardware, software, and data pipes.

“Every product in the market fails at some point,” said Fertig. “Even the most expensive encoder. I’ve been on the phone with people when their $40,000 encoder failed.”

“Always, always run a backup encoder,” reiterated Mangum. “At Yahoo, we backup everything.”

“Software encoding can look awesome,” said Fertig, but was quick to add that the main difference between a free encoder and a $40,000 encoder is not quality but reliability.

“The more expensive encoders are built for super-reliability and 24/7 operations,” he said.

Bill McCandless, vice president of video programming and production at Bleacher Report, noted that redundancy even goes to having multiple data drop into a venue. For a recent NFL draft event, his company did a primary drop and a secondary drop.

“We did that so we could switch over, if there was a problem,” said McCandless, adding, Iit starts to sound a lot like broadcast.”

Ustream provides a redundant ingest for its enterprise customers to allow failover in the event the primary data pipe goes down, Fertig said.

Orlin asked whether or not social media plays a role in audience feedback about potential issues.

“Audio out of sync is the first thing they’ll yell at you for,” one panelist said, noting that for big events, a production assistant may be sent to a local coffee shop to test the stream outside the production environment.

“We always start our encoders two hours before the live event,” Mangum added, noting that for big events they’ll put up a slate so viewers know they’ve come to the right place. “That gives us time to troubleshoot.”

“The only number that really matters for most people at this time is the top-line number,” Fertig said, adding that starting the encoders early means the overall number of viewers rises. “The number below a YouTube video is what everyone uses to judge a video’s success.”

Yahoo’s Mangum also added that it’s good to embed the player hours ahead of time, while another panelist noted that many viewers may show up several hours early due to time zone differences.

“We will replay our big events immediately after the live event,” said Mangum. “By replaying it once, that gives us time to get the on-demand version up so that we never have a dead page.”

For more tips and tricks, watch the full video below:

 

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