Wowza Streaming Cloud Eases Live Event Setup

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One of the more interesting announcements at last week’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas was the immediate availability of Wowza Streaming Cloud. The announcement signals Wowza Media Systems’ intent to get in to the pay-as-you-stream cloud service space.

Wowza Streaming Cloud allows users to easily set up a live event, either for immediate use or scheduled for a future date, and then deliver this event via a customized player. We’ll look at each of these steps, plus the integration with Wowza’s GoCoder, a bit later in the article.

The new Wowza Streaming Cloud is indicative of the company’s move towards overall simplification of live event setup and delivery. It’s also both a natural extension of the company’s Wowza Streaming Engine for Amazon Web Services EC2 and a departure from it.

Several years ago, Wowza moved away from selling only perpetual licenses of Wowza Media Server that were used on customer-premise servers. For those who did not want to invest in multiple perpetual server licenses, or who needed to scale up server instances for particularly high demand during a major event, the EC2 approach offered a way to use AWS instances for one-off live events or larger video-on-demand (VOD) delivery needs.

The use of EC2, though, required quite a bit of setup. Users had to launch an EC2 instance pre-configured with a Wowza Amazon Machine Image (AMI), configure the Wowza AMI, access the Wowza Streaming Engine Manager in the Cloud, and run tests of the VOD application instance before adding content to the EC2 instance. The effort was worth it for larger-scale live events or peak demand of key VOD content, but it wasn’t easy enough for the average user.

Wowza Streaming Cloud makes it much easier to set up and deliver live events. Once a customer signs up for an account, the online interface walks through each step of the way. Anyone familiar with the web-based user interface in Wowza Streaming Engine, which has both step-by-step setup and contextual help, will find the Wowza Streaming Cloud very familiar.

Prior to any dollars being spent on the actual encoding session, Wowza Streaming Cloud allows for setup and customization of the player, scheduling the event, and even generating a countdown clock for the event.

This last feature, which can be rather helpful for a national or even international event that spans multiple time zones, lets potential participants know whether they’ve arrived at an event too early

“You either set it up in advance,” said Wowza vice president and streaming industry evangelist Chris Knowlton, “or you can go into your channel configuration—without needing to start the stream—a few minutes before you want the counter to appear in the embedded player. It’s as easy as setting the Countdown Clock option to Yes and specifying the event day and time.”

Knowlton did mention that the player update may take a few minutes to propagate to the CDN edges.

After setup is complete, the Wowza Streaming Cloud customer has the option to begin the encoding session. A warning appears, noting that service fees will begin to accrue at this point, based on the number of encoding hours for the particular live event.

A further configuration is also possible, if the customer chooses to use the Wowza GoCoder application. Knowlton and I tested this option during a recent demonstration, and it worked relatively flawlessly. Wowza Streaming Cloud generated a unique URL, which Knowlton emailed to my iPhone. I then launched the URL, which in turn launched the GoCoder app, and my iPhone’s stream soon appeared in the Wowza Stream Cloud as the primary stream.

What’s interesting about the GoCoder app integration with Wowza Streaming Cloud is that Knowlton was able to generate a second unique URL for himself, and then launch GoCoder from that URL, superseding my GoCoder stream.

While this isn’t a feature, per se, it could be useful for a quick-and-dirty switch between devices if the only encoding devices available are mobile phones.

We found that GoCoder on the first device didn’t know it was no longer being streamed via Wowza Streaming Cloud, but that starting and stopping GoCoder on the first device overrode the second device’s stream in terms of what was being presented to the audience in Wowza Streaming Cloud. So use this carefully.

Speaking of audience, the other portion of the service—delivery of the live event to the customized player—is the second area where the Wowza Streaming Cloud customer will incur charges. Where the service charges a flat rate for the encoding session hours, live stream consumption on the customized player is charged based on the number of gigabytes delivered.

Both charges are clearly marked during the live event session, allowing Wowza Streaming Cloud customers to manage their event budgets. Lower bitrate live content, of course, would consume a lower number of total gigabytes, which means that some Wowza Streaming Cloud customers may choose to lower the overall encoding bitrate if they expect a large audience.

All in all, Wowza Streaming Cloud offers a very easy method of setting up and delivering a live event.

Wowza has a history of making media servers that are easy to use, especially in the last year with the addition of the graphic user interface, and Wowza Streaming Cloud continues that tradition. Whether other online video platforms—many of which use the Wowza Streaming Engine for their own live and VOD content delivery—consider Wowza Streaming Cloud unfair vendor competition remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Wowza is setting a high bar for ease of use that other OVPs should emulate.

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