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Bleacher Report: Live Video Pain Points Are Encoding and Android

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Bleacher Report might be the fourth largest sports site, but when it streams live video is has the same hassles as anyone else. The site's vice president of video programming and production, Bill McCandless, was at the recent Streaming Media West conference in sunny Huntington Beach, California, to talk about live streaming, particularly the problems that Bleacher Report has with it.

"It's a chain with a lot of links, all of the links are really weak," McCandless noted. "Hardware/software encoder, that's really the bump in the road for pretty much everybody right now. You can come up with a really great reason to go hardware, I can come up with a great reason to say, 'Yeah, but you need to have a guide, they have to be full time, they have to be on-site,' and suddenly you're building out a physical facility. Anybody want to do that?"

Besides encoding, Bleacher Report finds it hard to support all the versions of Android installed on various mobile devices.

"Android presents its own problem, so if you think of streaming from a reverse engineer, start with your audience and work back and how you produce the content how you distribute it and how you socialize it, that screen," McCandless said. "That Android screen forces a lot of decisions upstream. 'Oh, I have to use this because I got to make sure I deliver that right flavor back out to Android.'"

Scroll down to watch the full red carpet interview.

 

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Hi I'm here at Streaming Media West in Huntington Beach, California and I'm talking to Bill McCandless who is the VP of Video Programming for Bleacher Report. And Bill, you were on a panel earlier today all about live streaming and we're going to talk about that in a minute. But first of all for our viewers who might not know, what exactly is Bleacher Report?

Bill McCandless: We're the fourth largest sports site on the Internet so we've been around for about seven years. The video business inside Bleacher Report is much younger than that, it's around for about two years. So I joke that we're a start up in a start up except we're now a part of the Turner Broadcasting family. And as a sports site we have a little different approach, we're very much customized to the teams that you love and we allow you to follow those and customize that, best known through our app which is known as Team Stream. And that philosophy guides a lot of what we do around content creation and letting people focus on the teams that they really care about and sort of ignoring the other things that they don't want. They really want to go deep in loving their team, getting really passionate behind the players, the news and the topics behind that and Bleacher Report does that through not only original content creation but curation at the same time. And so we see a lot of the sports players not reaching out to other sources they only focus on their sources. We're wide open, we're agnostic, we just want to put the best stories in front of our users.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: So how much live streaming does Bleacher Report do?

Bill McCandless: Not a lot, it's really very sales driven, it's part of a custom content strategy we have on how we sell on the site. Our largest streaming event to date was for the NFL draft this year. We covered all three days, every single pick, live. So that's 257 picks and the reason was, the strategy was, the broadcast networks pay a lot of attention on the first day, a little less on the second day and by the third day they're done. They're not telling you about the offensive linemen with the 150th pick.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right.

Bill McCandless: But if you're a fan of a particular team, you're all the way in; you want to go all the way down. So I call that narrow and deep and that allows us to go narrow and deep. We had analysis for every single pick and every single player and we had content to match each one of those players that had pre-produced ahead of time. Massive project, we did it live in New York City in Times Square, it was a lot of fun, we'll do it again this year. On a regular basis we do live streaming around fantasy football. So Sunday morning we do an hour show that sits on the front page of our website, it's available on mobile and then it's available on our NFL channel and it's an hour show prepping people for fantasy football. Again, it's a lot of passion, people want more information, they can't get enough and there's a tremendous amount of opinion. So those are the big drivers for us for live stream right now.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: All right. And our readers are the kind who always want to know about what's going on behind the scenes, so tell us a little bit about Bleacher Report's live streaming workflow.

Bill McCandless: <laughs>. It's very start-uppy. So the NFL draft, we did straight through YouTube. We wanted the simplest -- the one thing we didn't want to worry about was that chain, from my camera to my encoder to my, you know, transcoder, to my OVP, we just wanted a plug and play solution. It increased our ability to be on every platform, just based on the way YouTube delivers and there were some product issues. It really was a giant test and learn for us, and that's the beauty of being nimble inside that system. With our fantasy show which has a sponsor, State Farm, we needed a little more rock solid, we needed a little more data, we needed to be able to deliver that stream, you know, eight flavors, so that you could get in on Android. And anyone who streams knows Android is the bump in the road on streaming.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right.

Bill McCandless: So we use a live view, we take the output of our control room, it goes into our live view, that sends it to AEG in Los Angeles, hit's Akamai, Akamai makes the flavors, hits our player, and out we go. So it's a pretty decent chain, like everybody else, but it works really well for us, we get the DVR functionality through Akamai. Really happy with how that's worked for us this year.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Do you integrate social media into your live streaming efforts and if so, how do you do it?

Bill McCandless: Social media is such an enormous part of sports, it's how people talk to each other, it's how they listen to other people having conversations and how they follow athletes. So social really sits across everything that we do, we're an extremely social company; we have very large followings that are very active within those spaces. So what we do within social media is it really kind of plugs into our overall strategy in social media. There's a ton of fantasy questions that go on in our main draft channel and so -- I mean, excuse me, in our main football channel. So on Sundays we're activating that, "Hey, if you have questions, use this hashtag, tweet us back these questions." And then our talent who have large followings of their own, they're doing the same. So we're really sending those signals out to get back that information. We use it as a content driver and it really kind of validates where you are. Particularly when there's news, fantasy is one of those things if a player is sitting out at 12 o'clock on noon and you don't know if he's going to be available for your team there's this huge commotion that goes on in social that you can tap right into. That tells you right away, you need to be talking about this guy but in relation to these other guys, and how do those come together? As a producer and as content creators for our talent, it's great, it's awesome signal, they can go right at it. They eliminate all the noise. We don't think about laying it into the player or how it sits on the page, it's content to us, it's a way of contacting our audience, and it's a way for our audience to contact us.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right. Now on this panel you spoke on earlier today, you mentioned before the cameras rolled that everyone on the panel, no matter how big the company, said you're all running into the same pinch points when it comes to live streaming, no matter how many zeros you throw at the problem, like you told me. What are those pinch points that people are running into?

Bill McCandless: So it's funny, so next to me was the head of Yahoo streaming who last night had done The Hunger Games movie premier, and he had a satellite truck and he had this and he's sending it over there and over there, but at the end of the day he said, "Yeah, but if our encoder goes down we're done, we have a couple of encoders on the back end." Somebody else, "Oh, I got this over here and this problem." And what we came up with, the line we came up with was, it's a chain with a lot of links, all of the links are really weak. Hardware/Software encoder, that's really the bump in the road for pretty much everybody right now. You can come up with a really great reason to go hardware, I can come up with a great reason to say, "Yeah, but you need to have a guide, they have to be full time, they have to be on-site and suddenly you're building out a physical facility." Anybody want to do that? Yahoo did it. Okay that's makes sense, you know, back in the dark ages, you bought Cuban's joint, so you already have that. I'm starting out; I'm in for a year and a half now, when we start looking at encoders you have to talk me out of being in the cloud or to go software. And they'll -- well there's a problem, like yeah, but the guy who has to come tune my encoder and deal with the problem, that's just another problem. So I really feel like encoding is the problem right now. Android presents its own problem, so if you think of streaming from a reverse engineer, start with your audience and work back and how you produce the content how you distribute it and how you socialize it, that screen, that Android screen, forces a lot of decisions upstream. Oh, I have to use this because I got to make sure I deliver that right flavor back out to Android. Encoding is really that, Android is really the other. Those are the two big bumps that you run into because the other ones are things everybody deals with. Bandwidth, bad audio, you know, the things that, you know, this is out of synch, that's not out of synch, you know, how those things come together.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right, right. Let's close with this, if you had to give our audience two or three key tips or key things you have to keep in mind when you're doing live streaming, what would those be?

Bill McCandless: Over plan. And by over plan, to me what over planning means is, have somebody on your team who can imagine disaster scenarios and have a plan for those, but separate those from your content creators. Too often it's the team is too small and the content creator is the planner, if you can break them apart, break them apart. Have the disaster scenario for the stream, but let the content creators go be creative, don't let them get bogged down by the really horrible sausage making that we all have to go through to get this done, create an umbrella around that. I don't think enough people do that.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right.

Bill McCandless: I don’t think -- it's either because of dollars or it's because they don't have enough people but figure out a way to do that, even if it's physical, you have to go to a different room or whatever. That to me is really a big barrier for people.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Great point, thanks again Bill. I've been talking to Bill McCandless from Bleacher Report. If you're a sports fan, you're surely already familiar with Bleacher Report. If you're not familiar, check it out. And we've been coming to you almost live from Streaming Media West in California. Thanks again Bill.

Bill McCandless: My pleasure.

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