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BitGravity and Episodic Partner with Showtime for International MMA Webcast

Over the past decade, mixed martial arts has gone from the fringes to the mainstream, and on Saturday the sport takes two more steps forward with the first women's headline event and a global, immersive streaming experience delivered via a partnership among Showtime, BitGravity, and Episodic.

The Strikeforce: All Access event "Carano vs. Cyborg," featuring American Gina Carano taking on Brazilian Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos will not only be broadcast Saturday, August 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime but will be available on pay-per-view and, more innovatively, to a global audience online for $24.95. Viewers will also be able to access replays on-demand through August 20.

Gina Carano (left) takes on Cris "Cyborg" Santos in a mixed martial arts bout to be streamed globally Saturday night.

As with the previous events, online viewers will be able to rewind and pause the action, as well as choose from five different camera angles at any time during the event. The event will also leverage social media, with Episodic player featuring Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr integration. Previous Strikeforce: All Access events have also been streamed using BitGravity's video delivery network and Episodic's video publishing platform, but Saturday's event marks the first time it will be available outside the U.S. "It's not an audience we usually reach," says Nicole Meola, Showtime Networks Inc.'s senior director of digital media, "and with the global appeal of the sport, we feel it will be a very unique experience for the fans in other countries."

The Strikeforce: All Access site from an earlier event.

Global Delivery, High Quality, Small Footprint
Meola says the network selected BitGravity because of its global reach, which includes a strong presence in Asia resulting from a partnership with Tata Communications. BitGravity also delivers content for Digg, Mozilla, and Huffington Post, along with several other high-profile off-the-record customers. "We felt we needed to offer the best possible quality for a premium experience," says Meola. "We were very impressed with the quality of the BitGravity streams both live and on-demand. While we did not initially utilize their global capabilities, it was an important factor in our planning.

"Since BitGravity encodes live on site with a very small footprint, they act as a second unit to our actual television production crew," Meola adds. How small is the footprint? According to BitGravity, the camera feeds are encoded on a MacBook Pro. The stream will be delivered in Flash H.264 with AAC audio at 700-750Kbps, says Chris Turner, BitGravity's VP of worldwide sales and business development.

Also important to Showtime was BitGravity's low latency, which according to Turner is no more than 3-4 seconds off live at the arena. "When you're offering an interactive experience, eliminating a delay is critical so fans Tweeting and posting on Facebook are in sync with the broadcast," Turner says, adding that BitGravity benefits from owning its complete network stack.

"We built our own 10GB system from the bottom up," adds BitGravity CEO Perry Wu, "which gives us performance improvements on the backend and lets us be a lot denser and a lot more scalable."

Quick Turnaround
Time was also of the essence in getting the first Strikeforce: All Access event online in April, and BitGravity and Episodic were able to pull things together for the first event in three weeks. Episodic CEO Noam Lovinsky says that everything was up and running "with four days to spare."

Levinsky says the Strikeforce: All Access site is built on top of the Episodic platform API and maintained and hosted by Episodic. In addition, Episodic is providing live analytics and quality of service metrics to Showtime and also the integrated credit card billing and live chat tech support. "We're a complete, one-stop shop for Showtime," Levinsky says.

And given that this is the third go-round for Strikeforce: All Access, BitGravity's Wu says he expects the first global version to go off without a hitch. "Our goal has been to become cookie-cutter, which we are at this point," he says. "The only difference is there will be a lot more viewers, and our team will spend ten minutes setting up instead of fifteen."

Viewers can get a sneak preview of the Showtime/BitGravity/Episodic solution today at 7 p.m. ET, when the fighter weigh-in will be streamed live for free at http://strikeforce.sho.com.

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