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Wowza's Anthony Lazaro Talks ClearCaster and Pro 1080p Streaming to Facebook Live

Jan Ozer and Wowza's Anthony Lazaro discuss the development, strategy, current features, and product roadmap for the Wowza ClearCaster, including support for professional 1080p streaming to Facebook Live.

Jan Ozer: I'm Jan Ozer from Streaming Media. I'm here today with Anthony Lazaro from Wowza Systems and we're going to talk about their ClearCaster streaming appliance. Anthony, thanks for joining us.

Anthony Lazaro: Glad to be here, thanks for having me.

Jan Ozer: My pleasure. So tell me about the ClearCaster. Let's start with what you do with Wowza, and then go into why you guys built the ClearCaster.

Anthony Lazaro: I'm the product lead for Wowza ClearCaster and the ClearCaster was a really fun project that actually started with Facebook about a year ago. So Facebook approached us and talked about helping improve broadcast success and quality going into Facebook Live, the fruition of that was this encoding appliance that is Wowza ClearCaster.

On our side it was a really interesting opportunity because we talked to streaming event producers and big broadcasters all the time. We ask them about how often they're going and ask, "Where did you go to your last event?" Over 50% said they're going to Facebook. But at the same time, we hear that a lot are having problems. So we found out that 76% said they've had a problem going to Facebook Live. So it's a strategic platform, we want to help people get there, we want to help people publish successfully and that was kind of the genesis of Wowza ClearCaster.

Jan Ozer: It's a $6,000 product which is a lot of coin for an encoder. Who's it targeted to and who's using it?

Anthony Lazaro: That's right, it's an investment product. It's not meant to be a small camera-top, have-fun appliance. It's built for people who are serious about broadcasting, it's built for big-time event producers. Recently we did really big New Year's Eve shoot in New York, a 70+ person production. We did the Justice League World Premiere Red Carpet. We've done big car auctions, just really big, heavily produced events that want quality, they want reliability going in.

There's also a lot of high-volume publishing outlets that really like the product. That's another segment that it's really built for, where you can empower your social or your digital director to be doing more live content on Facebook and really taking advantage of the platform. So your technical operations director might install the ClearCaster for your company and then enable these other users to use it and not have to rely on streaming engineers.

In terms of the value that you're getting, it's 4K-ready, it can do 4K 360. Facebook isn't ready yet for that, but it will be soon, and the product's going to be there for you when it is. So that's who we're going after in terms of a segment, who finds it interesting so far and a little bit of the value of that product.

Jan Ozer: Let’s talk a little more about the features. Let me say, we reviewed it at Streaming Media, so there's a review of ClearCaster up on the site as well as a video that I produced using the ClearCaster. Talk about some of the features, particularly the formats that you're supporting and the redundancy features and recovery features.

Anthony Lazaro: The product is built with the new live encoder API on Facebook, and that is just a different way of streaming into Facebook Live. So it pairs with Facebook, but instead of you setting encoding settings and kind of tuning those and being prone to maybe use something that's suboptimal, the product will see what type of video you're doing. It talks to Facebook, Facebook sends back how it wants the video encoded for the best-quality video, and then we send that video to Facebook.

The pairing also allows it to be very persistent and reliable and also adaptive to what's going on. So, if you were to completely lose your network connection, we will hold those frames and then we'll continue to deliver those frames when the network recovers.

Jan Ozer: When you say “hold,” what do you mean? You store it in buffer somewhere?

Anthony Lazaro: They will stay on the box, on the appliance and then they'll deliver when your connection recovers. Alternatively, let's just say you're having fluctuating network issues. We'll throttle down the bitrates of doing adaptive encoding to battle through the conditions. And then another form of resiliency is a power outage, so someone trips over the power cord, I know it sounds silly, but we were actually streaming at CES and this literally happened.

So the box gets unplugged and everyone freaks out for a second, but then you plug it back in and it will reboot and start streaming to that event because it knows that event is still on, you're still trying to publish into it and it will continue to broadcast to those viewers, so you don't lose anything in terms of needing new video URL and all that stuff.

Jan Ozer: I actually tested that during the review and I tested a lot of these features and it was really interesting how well it worked. You know, sometimes you never know what to expect, you turn it off, you turn it back on and it automatically reconnects. You lose your internet connection by pulling the plug and plug it back in and it picks it back up where it stopped without any break at all. It was pretty interesting. Where do you see the features down the road?

Anthony Lazaro: We have a lot of stuff that's really exciting. I think the one that has to be the most exciting is just continuing to help these big event producers get really great content onto Facebook and there are two things we're doing that are really interesting. First, we're going to do 1080p60 in a pass-through way to Facebook. So a lot of people contribute to Facebook and it's multi-generational encoding, so it gets re-encoded on the Facebook side with their resources and then delivered to the viewers and instead of that, we'll get pass-through workflow where you can fully leverage our compute power, use our highest possible presets with our X264 encoding and then get those to pass through the Facebook infrastructure.

So, this is potentially the same bitrates to your viewers, but a much higher version of that bitrate because of the way that it was processed. Think about 1080p60 gaming events. That's a really big deal for that audience. In addition to that, we're going to be enabling redundancy really soon so you're going to have a fully redundant workflow, be able to failover and have that stay keyframe-aligned, so do big broadcast events and have that kind of added security of, "This is a full redundant workflow, if I need to switch over I can use two networks, et cetera, et cetera."

We’re really driving success for those users. Additional features that are on the road include intelligent monitoring, to be able to see the real-time health stats of how your appliance is performing. Another one that's more for the producer, or for the social person, is advanced comment moderation. Today, the appliance enables you to have a talent view where you can have frame-accurate starts, you can have a confidence in monitoring in terms of feedback. You can also see comments coming in real time and they do come in real time.

If you have a lot of comments coming in that could be a bit overwhelming, so we're building out some advanced comment moderation to allow you to selectively choose which comments to show to your talent as well as even enable some producer comments to speak to your talent too.

Jan Ozer: I understand the unit can encode into HEVC and VP9 format, which would do a lot of good reducing the size of the stream you're trying to get out of the building to send to the cloud, when do you see yourself implementing those?

Anthony Lazaro: It is capable of VP9 and AV1, and I think there's a lot of great potential there for improving quality and being more efficient in your encoding and we do need to work with the Facebook infrastructure to get there. You know, there's stuff on their end that they'll need to implement, but I think testing those on our end and kind of seeing how performance does improve and then working with the new settings on Facebook as they launch them. I think it's exciting, it's something that's not going to be tomorrow, but I definitely see that's where the space is going. So it's exciting to think about the future in terms of the potential there.

Jan Ozer: Speaking of that, you know Facebook isn't the only platform a lot of people want to support. When do you see yourself opening up the product to support other platforms?

Anthony Lazaro: We are definitely in tune with how people might want to multi-destination publish for some events. Sometimes that's just Facebook and your website, so what we're building now--and this should be available in the coming months--is a method for you to have secondary destination.

So, the product is Facebook-focused; that's the core of how it operates. It's a Facebook solution so it's constantly talking to the Facebook API, et cetera, but we'll let you get a second destination out there so you can publish this into Wowza Streaming Engine, or Wowza Streaming Cloud, and then you could repackage that stream how you need to get to your websites.

So, do the adaptive bitrate renditions and send it off via your CDN. There are going to be some good possibilities for those workflows to open up with a syndication or a multi-destination pretty soon with the product.

Jan Ozer: Today, it's the only product that allows you to stream 1080p to Facebook Live. What are the other elevator-pitch features?

Anthony Lazaro: We did this big research last year on syndication. We compared the two major social platforms, YouTube and Facebook. We asked event producers, "What's the difference between the two?" With YouTube, they talked about quality, and when they talked about Facebook, they talked about reach and I think that's a very common thing you hear. It's really exciting for us to bring to market a product that gives you quality going to the Facebook platform that has the reach. We're really heavily focused on continuing to incrementally get Facebook quality to be better.

So that's a lot of the newer-term features: the high-quality coding, the resiliency of the product in terms of how it works with networks, and the redundancy that we're enabling with you to be able to have a redundant workflow.

It's also part of the product's core to be able to have simplicity in remote management. We do have a web-based portal. You can completely remote-manage the product with it so it can be miles away from you, and you're still confident in what's going on over there and being able to control it. So, a lot of those values that these big event producers or big broadcasters are looking for are in the product.

Jan Ozer: We talk a lot about those features in the ClearCaster review on the Streaming Media website, plus the video I produced with ClearCaster that tested some of the features we talked about. So Anthony, listen, I appreciate your time today and we'll talk to you soon. Thanks for joining us.

Anthony Lazaro: Thanks, Jan.

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If you absolutely, positively have to stream a successful live event on Facebook Live, ClearCaster is very definitely worth a very hard look.