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The Future Is Real Time, and It Starts Now

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We're on the precipice (aren't we always, in this streaming world?) of advanced real-time collaboration and the melding of traditional video workflows with new, real-time tools. Last night, I was in a hotel room in Seattle using my phone's hotspot over LTE to tech-direct a live-streaming event for one of my clients. All of the tech hurdles were anticipated, and contingencies were planned. I wasn't going to do a traditional video switch on my laptop or use dedicated video switcher hardware in my studio office. We set up an Amazon Web Services (AWS) instance running Windows 11 and vMix, controlling the instance via Microsoft Remote Desktop. Thankfully, I didn't need more than a couple of megabits up and down, as the AWS instance was doing all the heavy lifting, and the 2-hour event was a success. 

So where and how does "real time" fit into your workflows in this "COVID and beyond" era? Similar to global wars accelerating advan­ces in medicine such as plastic surgery, COVID has pushed all of us working in streaming media to rethink, innovate, optimise, and rebuild many components of our day-to-day responsibilities. 

And the big players are recognising it too. Adobe just announced a $1.275 billion acquisition of Frame.io, a video editing collaboration service. Last year, Verizon acquired BlueJeans Network, a real-time conferencing platform, for $400 million. This summer, Zoom added NDI support to its desktop conferencing apps, allowing remote contributor feeds into any NDI-enabled video switcher to be more easily shared. Real-streaming CDNs such as Millicast, nanocosmos, Frozen Mountain, and Wowza Streaming Cloud are growing at a faster pace than ever and are constantly adding new features to address the needs of their customers. The list goes on and on. It's hard for me to keep track of how many people have approached me during the last 18 months for advice on building out new real-time collaboration tools or enhancing existing systems with the injection of real-time data. 

As you and your company's services evolve, keep in mind that you don't need to focus on a quick sellout of your company as so many have attempted to do since the inception of the "dot-com" business world. There are real dollars to be made without raising millions and pouring nearly all of it into R&D. If you're reading this column, chances are, you have existing clients and services that could benefit from some aspect of real-time collaboration or data services. While I've already written other columns that discuss project planning and "build-or-buy" approaches to tech development, here's my short list of important factors to consider for real-time development:

  1. Open source isn't "free." While there are many open source codebases to enable real-time applications, such as FFmpeg and Janus WebRTC Server, you'll need to have the developer chops to make those tools work with your own services. You won't likely launch a new service from scratch within 30 days using open source if your dev teams aren't familiar with the trials and tribulations of WebRTC, video and audio codec transcoding, and so on. 
  2. Utilise existing real-time services from other vendors. Most real-time streaming CDNs have intentionally built their platforms to address a wide range of business requirements for their customers. While some price tags for monthly enterprise services may seem steep to small or startup businesses, there's a lot to be said for everything you get with those monthly subscriptions: software development kits, application programming interface documentation, support services, and tech stack management. 
  3. The cloud is diverse and not a singular entity. Admittedly, the vast majority of the cloud development my team and I perform is on AWS. But there are many companies that may offer cheaper hosted services and servers, such as Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure, DigitalOcean, Liquid Web, Vultr, and more. Be sure to explore the best “bang for the buck” to stretch your development dollars.
  4. Develop a long-term road map.I can't emphasise this last point enough. Too many of my single stakeholder clients feel they need to own the IP of everything they want from Day 1, and I firmly believe that this is largely impractical and nearly impossible for most small businesses and startups to achieve. Get your proof of concept (PoC) for new services up and running as the first phase in the road map, utilising whatever resources are readily available, and have as many “knowns” (vs. “unknowns”) as possible. After you've got the PoC done, head into Phase 2 and define your MVP (minimally viable product) to get to market as soon as possible, again utilising and piggybacking other vendors' services. Then, if necessary, build a plan to take over and assume the responsibilities that other services were providing in Phase 2. 

I hope you're as excited as I am about the near- and long-term potential of our real-time streaming media tech.

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