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What Networks Should Know About Live-Streaming an Event Online

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Something special happened during the 2018 World Cup. People tuned in from all over the world to watch the countries they were supporting compete, but what changed was their means of getting the matches to their screens. In 2014, FIFA raved about its record-breaking streaming numbers. Within 10 days of this year’s Cup, the 2014 numbers were doubled.

This event is a testament to the growing popularity of live streaming. Technology has advanced to the point where events can be seen live at high quality, and people are noticing the trend. The Cisco Visual Networking Index forecasts that live video will account for 13 percent of all internet video traffic by 2021. Furthermore, it estimates that live video will grow 15-fold from 2016 to 2021.

However, accessing the live streaming world comes with its own drawbacks. In Australia, for example, the FIFA 2018 rights were owned by Optus. The telecommunications company was slammed with criticism due to its inability to handle the heavy traffic, which caused disruptions and dropouts for customers who paid to watch the soccer matches.

If networks are setting their sights on live streaming, then their heart is in the right place. In order to set up a service that customers can enjoy, it’s important to understand that there are challenges and obstacles to overcome.

At my company, Unreel, we’ve taken part in the enormous undertaking of live streaming an event across multiple over-the-top (OTT) channels including the 2018 Daytime Emmy Awards and the Dew Tour. We want to share the challenges and tips we have from these experiences with networks that might want to stream their next event live online.

  1. Tackling Advertisements With Live Video Streams

When it comes to OTT streaming services, most advertisements are either pre-roll, post-roll, or mid-roll. In pre- and post-roll, the ads appear before the video plays or at the end. In mid-roll, the ads appear at some point during the stream. This could interrupt the service completely while the ad airs, or appear in a small box in the corner of the screen to avoid a full interruption.

The reality is that advertising in a live-stream is difficult. People want to watch the entirety of the event as it is happening, which means that they are against a full interruption. In a survey of U.S. internet users who stream online, over 72 percent said seeing an ad negatively impacted their viewing experience. Mid-roll ads are the most effective of the three options. Statistics show that viewers watch mid-roll ads 90 percent of the time, compared to 78 percent for pre-roll ads.

Networks looking to monetize their event online by serving ads need to take the following into consideration: Test, test, test to make sure the mid-roll ads you serve allow for the live stream to return after the ad is complete. For the Dew Tour, we did six tests for ads on each platform in which the live stream was to be broadcast. Remember, just because the ad works correctly on an endpoint like Apple TV, doesn't mean it will work on a different endpoint like Roku.

  1. Understanding Your Feed and Your Outlets

In order to reach all markets with OTT, networks need to reach all platforms and endpoints. This can present challenges, as the network needs to consider factors such as the different aspect ratios for each outlet. Facebook is the most popular platform for live-streaming events, but YouTube still has 1 billion users, making it necessary to consider both outlets, among many others.  

Many networks that have done traditional television broadcasts might be used to having one satellite truck on site to feed video back to the network for transmission over the airwaves. With digital distribution, not all feeds are compatible with all endpoints. For example, an HLS stream will work with Apple TV and Roku. However, a Real-time Messaging Protocol push (RMTP) is expected for social media such as YouTube and Facebook. Different methods and processes need to be implemented in order to push them. For example, networks would do a direct RTMP push to those platforms, or use the tools they provide to make said push.

Networks may have to manually create a feed that is optimized for each outlet to overcome this issue. A network would have to set up an RTMP stream for each bandwidth quality over to a receiver hosted on the cloud. The output HLS stream needs to be a playlist that hosts various bitrate formats with HLS-capable players on the end-user device that can automatically/manually switch between different streams. For each endpoint you'd have to follow their own protocol for pushing a RTMP stream and it gets tricky to manage multiple depending on the number of end points.

Another solution would be to create the content and then work with a third-party distributor to send it out to viewers’ screens. Simulcasting providers specialize in the distribution of content to multiple platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. In essence, they make one feed compatible with multiple outlets.

With our Dew Tour live stream experience, we spent a lot of time tweaking the quality of the streams. We eventually decided to stream in 2 formats: 960x540 at 1 Mbps and 1920x1080 at 5 Mbps. Testing for video smoothness and audio quality was tricky to make work across multiple endpoints. Many changes were made over a half-dozen tests to prep for the live event. The exercise was worthwhile, as the event streamed without a hitch. This allowed viewers to access the Dew Tour on any device without experiencing a delay in the action.

  1. Hype on Social Media, But Stream on an Owned and Operated OTT Service

As I mentioned earlier, Facebook is the top live-streaming platform, with over 2 billion users. This makes it a great outlet to reach widespread audiences. Although recent shifts to Facebook’s algorithm have slightly diminished the importance of video in favor of more interactions with friends, Facebook’s Adam Mosseri, vice-president in charge of the newsfeed recently told Wired, “We think video is going to continue to be a more and more important part about how people communicate with each other, and how publishers communicate with people.”

Yet, when it comes to monetizing, streaming on social media may not be the best bet. For starters, when streaming on Facebook, networks can’t collect robust data about their audience. Also, Facebook live ads are still very limited, making monetization difficult. Lastly, networks don’t provide the viewer with their own network’s branded experience; there’s little to no brand recognition when viewing on social media. Even though Facebook is making improvements in distribution and monetization, networks are better off streaming on their own OTT app.

Networks should use social media to draw people into the event, then funnel them into their own OTT streaming app in which they can properly collect data on their audience, monetize using ads, and promote the brand.

One effective technique to draw in audiences to an OTT streaming app is to live-stream the pre-event as a way to build hype, and use that to drive people to the owned and operated endpoint. Then, if there is a pre-event host, make sure he or she often mentions where the main event can be viewed. Finally, keep the stream going during the main event but include a link to the OTT page where a viewer can watch the complete event.

This is a technique that broadcasters have used in the past. For example, in boxing, pre-event fights are broadcast on cable networks and drive people to the pay-per-view channel to watch the main event.

Valuable content is still one of the major contributing factors to successful live-streaming of events. Audiences are seeing the value of paying for a streaming service, as most people now prefer having a streaming service over a cable subscription. Approaching the live-streaming world is no easy task, but taking the appropriate precautions is the gateway to the future of television.

[Editor's Note: This is a contributed article from Unreel.me. StreamingMedia.com accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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