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The “Other” Grammys Go Streaming

It’s Grammy Awards night and Coldplay, Adele, and Leona Lewis are among those battling it out for Record of the Year honors, just as Lil Wayne is taking on Radiohead, Ne-Yo, and Robert Plant and Allison Krauss for Album of the Year. Their dramas play out on an international telecast viewed by millions.

But suppose you wanted to know if StoneBridge will win as for his remix version of that Ne-Yo record? Or, more arcanely, you were obsessed with finding out if Walter Ostanek & His Band, Jerry Darlak & The Touch, and Bob Kravos & His Band would beat out Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra in the Best Polka Album category. Or if the candidates in the ’08 presidential debate—the 1908 presidential debate, to be precise, with William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft recorded on an Edison cylinder—would pull out a win in the Best Album Notes rubric.

Pre-Tel Goes Big-Broadband
The 51st annual Grammy Awards telecast this year had 24 artists performing nearly 30 songs over three-and-a-half hours. But the "pre-tel" awards ceremony, where more than 100 other awards are given to several hundred recipients, was traditionally an obscure, invitation-only affair, held in the Los Angeles Convention Center adjacent to the Staples Center where the televised show originates from. That changed in 2008 when the Recording Academy green-lighted a beta trial of live-streaming the pre-tel ceremony. Production company Springboard Productions, working with iStreamPlanet as webcast producer, had about 1Mbps of bandwidth streaming Windows Media through a Silverlight media player to test out the proposition that there was an audience for what heretofore had been Grammy Awards trivia.

"It did prove there was an audience for it," says Hank Neuberger, president of Springboard Productions, as well as the supervisor for the Grammy Awards’ conventional telecast. "Internet viewers stayed engaged a long time with the first webcast and it motivated the Recording Academy to OK another one this year, with much higher bandwidth and more advanced technology, integrated with the Grammy website."

The transfer rate this year is up to 1.4Mbps, using Move Networks’ Move Media Player, whose adaptive streaming technology will automatically query each viewer’s computer to determine its connection and processor speed and type, and then optimize the stream for that user. AT&T was the CDN provider.

Sounds Good
In the world of streaming, the focus tends to be on the picture, with smooth, unbuffered motion the ultimate goal. However, this webcast was part of the Grammy experience, the music industry’s most important yearly broadcast event. The audio would warrant some attention of its own.

Although Move’s media player is essentially a black-box solution, with the adaptive streaming and other parameter optimization taking place based on preset profiles, Mark East, director of managed webcasting for iStreamPlanet and the producer of the pre-tel Grammy webcast, is a fan of how Move’s player sounds out of the box. "They have a really nice mix of profiles in their default settings. In the upper ranges especially, it’s great-sounding audio," he says. The adaptive streaming adjusts for both audio and video. "The low-end will not drop below 64kbps and will scale up to 96kbps at higher profiles," David Rice, Move Networks’ v.p. of marketing, explains.

A 128-bit stereo audio feed comes to the webcast control room from the front-of-house audio console, which mixes the show’s live music and dialog during the awards presentations. East applies some equalization using a software-based parametric EQ integrated into his desktop production system. "We take the stereo mix and do the best we can," he says. The guiding principle is generally to cut back on the lower frequencies and emphasize the upper ones. "When you’re really heavily compressing the audio cutting back on the low-frequency information will improve the sound of the lower bit rates," he explains.

This year’s webcast will likely use the same four webcams as last year: three at the front-of-house audio mixer’s position and one in the orchestra pit. Move Networks video streaming uses a combination of its proprietary simulcoding (dividing large video files into smaller "streamlets" that are processed at various bit rates, then stored on HTTP web servers) and adaptive streaming, in which streamlets are transferred over the Internet to the client's web browser or client application where they are reassembled in the correct time-indexed order, using the bandwidth-appropriate set of streamlets for the speed of each user’s connection.

This webcast will be available in real time at www.Grammy.com, and as VOD after the show on the site for at least 30 days after the show.

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