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How to Build a Multiscreen Online Video Workflow

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Kyle Long, owner of Digital Fridge, provides some insight on the idea that all your audience members should walk away from the multiscreen delivery with a similar experience, which means that the production needs to be tailored to multiple viewing workflows.

“For the last several years I have worked with a local university to provide live IMAG for their graduation ceremonies,” says Long, referring to image magnification, in which the live camera feeds are mixed together with graphics and projected to one or more large screens for the local audience.

“Recently the university requested that the ceremony be streamed over the Internet,” Long says, “in addition to the way we’ve always done it, with video being sent to 2 large LED screens on-site.”

Long says the seemingly simple request added additional complexities: “I quickly realized that there would now be two distinct audiences. Although the demographics of these two separate audiences would be similar, their viewing experience would differ greatly.”

The lessons learned from that one simple request led Long to explore ways to make his multiscreen delivery service offering better.

“After the event, I kept notes on key factors to be aware of when delivering video content to audiences who will be viewing it in two distinctly different ways,” Long says. “One area had to do with audio placement. For this particular graduation ceremony there was a symphony performed inside the stadium. The audience inside the stadium could hear the symphony play just fine without the use of many microphones. However, without proper mic placement there was no way the audience watching online would ever hear the symphony.”

Chapman agrees, but says his biggest issues have to do with what’s shown in the venue versus what he can show on a small screen.

“While we don’t stream everything on the local screens to our smartphone or tablet audience,” Chapman says, “I have our local presentation computer linked in through the iVGA Pro plug-in to the TriCaster, so that we can have the option of switching to whatever is playing on the local projection screens. “For instance, we run PowerPoint for announcements before service across a number of televisions and digital signage installations around the church campus. In addition, we have a custom video at the start of many services. By switching over to the presentation computer input, it frees up a camera position to be ready for the next shot.”

Kyle Long, who owns the video production company Digital Fridge in Johnson City, Tenn., says it’s important to remember that each audience member needs to have a similar quality of experience, whether on a smartphone or a giant IMAG production screen in a venue.

“In addition, it keeps us from having to do any post-production work after our live stream,” he says. “If I don’t have to add all the graphics later, for our on-demand video archives, it’s one less thing to worry about.”

Long also says that even simple things, such as speaker placement, are important to balance. “Framing a person speaking on the stage with an extreme close up shot may be fine for the audience watching on their laptop or phone,” Long says, “but it may be very unflattering for the keynote speaker in a large venue to have a close-up of their face displayed on a screen that is over 10 feet wide.”

Plugging In to Protect Yourself?

Blogger Nicolas Weil, also a contributing editor to Streaming Media magazine -- check out his “State of MPEG-DASH Deployment” article elsewhere in this month’s issue -- wrote about the complexities of building out a multiscreen delivery solution in 2012.

In that two-part blog post, Weil covers a variety of topics, but one of the most intriguing is a series of tables discussing digital rights management (DRM) and the impact of plug-in architectures for multiscreen delivery. One table in particular deals with the PlayReady DRM scheme and how it -- and Smooth Streaming -- are implemented across a variety of device types.

“Netflix made a substantial investment on [HTML5] technology as it conveys a definitive advantage as regards developments mutualization and flexibility of UI repackaging,” Weil wrote. ”They proved that on controlled environments, the HTML5 user experience has nothing to envy to native apps.”

I asked Weil for an update on the DRM/ plug-in tables as we enter 2014.

“Probably the only change is some extension of PlayReady to new device types,” says Weil, noting that PlayReady is now available on Xbox One, Chromecast, and some Linux-based set-top boxes.

In addition, while noting that he’s not privy to specific information, Weil felt that plug-in architectures are moving rapidly towards the exit.

“From Netflix perspective, they want to have a maximum of native HTML5 streaming,” he says, “so it’s basically just a question of time before they drop plug-ins everywhere.”

Monitor Yourself

Another portion of your workflow is monitoring the delivery on a number of target devices. For those who are monitoring in-house on an enterprise-issued device, a part of the challenge will be to monitor on an external network.

During a Streaming Media West panel on enterprise live streaming, Eric Hards, manager of digital experiences at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, noted that his team would send members to a local coffee shop to watch the stream on public Wi-Fi as well as via cellular data, just to make sure the quality of the stream delivery was acceptable on both.

The same is true for spot-checking your work after a live event. Chapman notes that having an iPhone in his pocket lets him do just that during downtime.

“I love the fact that I can go to my smartphone device and pull up any media quickly and on the go, including my own,” he says. “Websites where we host our content -- sermon.net, Vimeo, YouTube -- are becoming more mobile friendly, with apps that allow users to reach the media readily available to video our content.

“The quality watching on a mobile device is great, and the convenience can’t be beat for monitoring the way our work looks to viewers. In the past, once I got home in front of a desktop computer, it usually meant cutting into other work or family time. So I prefer watching streaming from my mobile device because of it being available to me when I have down time to view.”

Time and Money

The end goal of a multiscreen delivery is to push content out to as many audience segments as possible, wherever they may be. Yet the complexities of doing just that -- when it comes to content preparation and, to a lesser extent, content distribution -- can be daunting to a content owner.

“Any issues with incoming content are costly,” Nann says, “both in financial terms and the timeliness of content availability. Going back and forth with the content provider to resolve the issues takes time, and time is money, so standardizing on a contribution format helps ensure a certain level of quality, compatibility and ‘future-proofness’ to allow transformations for future consumer targets.”

Nann’s point about future consumer targets is a mantra we heard time and again, and one that harkens back to Covey’s axiom: It’s not just about getting content to play today, but rather about making sure the content can be played to a variety of audiences today and tomorrow.

“A content provider needs to be prepared to provide content in as high a bitrate as possible,” Nann says, “while providing a comprehensive set of descriptive and technical metadata, along with all audio tracks, language tracks, subtitles, and captions. Even if some of those attributes might not be used initially for consumer delivery, the distributor will want them for potential future purposes.”

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Building a Multiscreen Worfklow."

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