Going Behind the Scenes at Grammy Live

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“We are the only place that showed that entire sequence,” Eggleston says. “Unfortunately, that’s the thing that’s been talked about the most after the show.” You can still see the footage on the Grammys YouTube channel, along with dozens of clips from the ceremony, and you can see even more clips from the ceremony, the Grammy Live webcast, and other behind-the-scenes footage at Grammy.com.

In fact, the AMV and Grammy Live teams were busy cutting and uploading VOD clips during the entire webcast and telecast, making sure that there would be plenty of footage (more than 30 clips) available to show both during the Grammy Live post-show immediately after the awards ceremony, on the YouTube channel, and on Grammy.com. All told, more than 15TB of footage were generated during the webcast.

While a team of four VOD editors prepped clips on one end of AMV’s Celebrity truck, Eggleston and her team of seven were busy selecting camera feeds, placing graphics and creating new ones on-the-fly, and displaying social media content, including Instagram photos and Skype questions, from fans (supplied by Grammy Live cosponsor Microsoft). Such an information- and social media-heavy webcast presented new challenges for the Grammy Live and AMV teams.

“The Grammy folks had a vision of an interactive stream,” says Steve Rippin, director of live events for AMV. “And not just interactive where users can click around a bit, but trivia, fun facts, being able to throw information at people in a way that’s not just a lower third. We definitely had a learning curve with the graphics this year.” Rippin says his team worked for weeks just on the graphics, and building a database with all of the hundreds of artist and celebrity names they might be called upon to throw up onscreen during the webcast.

Delivering the Goods

Beyond the challenges of producing the webcast, of course, are the challenges of getting the streams out to the audience. AMV took its four feeds, along with backups of each, through mezzanine-level encoders in its trucks, compressed them down to one circuit, then sent them out via the Staples Center’s dark fiber to AMV’s transmission operations center (TOC) in Marina del Rey, where the feeds were decoded back to HD-SDI using Harmonic and Ericsson decoders, checked for audio and video quality, then encoded on Cisco encoders for delivery to Akamai.

The heart of the Grammy Live production action: inside the All Mobile Video Celebrity production unit, with the audience cam showing Paul McCartney dancing during Ed Sheeran and Jeff Lynne’s performance of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Photo credit: John Agger/Akamai 

Akamai then took the four inbound RTMP streams, repackaged them into HDS and HLS for output, and delivered them for both the Grammy Live webcast and for CBS. com’s Grammy site, at nine different bitrates from 3.5Mbps down to 150Kbps—four camera angles, nine bitrates each—for a total of 36 streams each for Grammy Live and CBS.

For both Akamai and All Mobile Video, a tentpole event such as Grammy Live must not only come off without a hitch, but mustn’t impact the thousands of other events each company delivers each day.

“For these guys, this is their biggest event of the year, but for other clients that are running through our TOC, it’s their big event of the year, too,” Rippin says. “From our standpoint as a service provider, we have to treat them all the same. They’re all the Grammys. They’re all the Academy Awards. Then there are the full-time services we have running; they’re just as important as these services. At the end of the day, it’s all exactly the same. If there’s one point I’d stress, it’s the fact that everything just has to be good and perfect, with both this event and all our other clients, for 9 hours.”

All told, Akamai had more than 100 people working on the Grammy Live webcast delivery. From the Akamai standpoint, Wheaton says it comes down to working with AMV to make sure that there is enough diversity of path to ensure that no matter where somebody is watching, they’re getting the best stream possible. Multiple layers of redundancy were afforded through the use of primary and backup entry points into the Akamai platform and seamless switching among edge delivery points, along with the use of Akamai’s Site Shield solution on Grammy.com for an added layer of security. According to Akamai solutions engineer Sameer Vasanthapuram, there was an unusual spike in concurrent users at the beginning of the webcast, which might have been the result of DDoS activity. The spike stabilized quickly and customer servers did not experience any issues, the spokesperson said.

So what does the future hold for Grammy Live? From a technical delivery standpoint, Wheaton says Akamai is looking at moving from RTMP ingest to MPEG-DASH ingest for a more efficient workflow. On the content side, Madeira says the number of camera angles is likely to stay the same, but viewers will see more informational content and social media, possibly with more user interaction.

This year, not only were there more total viewers than ever before—1.2 million, up 35% from 2014—but viewers watched more content, with an average of 5.89 views per user, something Madeira and Eggleston attribute to that emphasis on information and social media.

“It’s all about making the viewer feel like they’re part of the event,” Eggleston says.

The most popular Grammy Live feature is red carpet interviews with almost all of the nominees and artists performing at the awards, in part because it offers spontaneous, unscripted moments like Weird Al Yankovic crashing an interview with Gwen Stefani. Photo credit: John Agger/Akamai 

This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "Behind the Scenes at Grammy Live."

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