Inauguration Offered the Online Video Industry a Chance to Shine, Reassess
Streaming video of yesterday's inauguration played out both behind the scenes and in plain sight, with multiple production companies, content delivery networks, and news outlets banding together to push the inauguration feeds out to an audience some estimate to be four times bigger than the on-the-ground audience.
With potentially record-breaking attendance for any Washington, DC, event, estimated at 2 million persons, actual attendees across the entire Mall area were able to view the swearing-in ceremonies via a plethora of outdoor monitors set up from the Capitol building all the way back to the Washington Memorial.
Likewise, streaming media viewers had plenty of choices.
The official video stream, available live at PIC2009.org, was presented without commentary, graphics, or commercials. The PIC2009 stream was a combined effort of iStreamPlanet, which built the user experience and did the live encoding, and Microsoft, whose Silverlight streaming technology was chosen by the Presidential Inaugural Committee as the official streaming technology. Novell also rolled out Moonlight, the Linux Silverlight player, for which iStreamPlanet added supported live streams, in an attempt to make the official stream accessible on all major computing platforms.
The official stream wasn't the only option, however, as the major CDNs, according to Dan Rayburn, pushed out approximately 8 million simultaneous streams."Limelight said they peaked at around 2.5 million streams," Rayburn posted on his Business of Video blog, "Highwinds say they saw about 625,000 and my estimate is that Akamai did around 5 million."
All the major news portals, from CBS and CNN to AP and The New York Times, had streams. Some were shared feeds, while others had their own camera crews and encoding, providing an opportunity to control the stream and its contents from acquisition all the way to the CDN's delivery point.
CNN, apparently the only site to insert advertisements into the stream, instituted a "waiting area" for its overflow guests, limiting the number of viewers who could watch the cnn.com live stream at any one time. While this may have been a limitation of the bandwidth or number of streams in to which CNN could insert advertisements, anecdotal evidence from a number of potential viewers I talked to shows it had the unintended consequence of driving potential viewers to other sites—or back to television.
The New York Times’s coverage was produced by Quality Technology Services, a group of former Globix employees who have kept up the tradition of live production streaming work.
"We worked with the Times to get a pull-feed," said Edward Warner, Quality Tech's Vice President of Media, explaining that the Times used a feed from DC that came into a broadcast provider in New York City. "We used The Switch as the location to receive the pull-feed, then we did the in-house encoding at our Jersey City facility and used Akamai as the CDN to push the content out to viewers."
The User Experience
So, on this day when streaming came to the forefront, what did first-time viewers experience? Faced with all the options, and a desire to watch a history-making event, many first-time streamers I spoke to expressed delight at being able to watch the streams from their desks while working. Others expressed frustration at not being able to view the streams easily, feeling the plethora of technology options that a potential viewer could use was a bit overwhelming.
The CDN reported a record peak of 8.7 Tbps on Friday, serving 4.6 million concurrent live video viewers for its broadcast clients.