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Now Streaming: Video for the Government and Public Sectors

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From the living room to the boardroom, the appetite for live and on-demand video has spiked dramatically. In fact, next year it is projected to account for 80 percent of global internet traffic. Viewers today are familiar with streaming technology whether they were first exposed to streaming video at work or at home. However, they’d be surprised to learn that the government and public sector have been driving the adoption of streaming video for many years before it hit the mainstream and are continually pushing the limits to how video can add value. Overall, these sectors use streaming video to provide entertainment and educational services, expand the reach of public safety agencies, and enhance internal communications.

Elevating Entertainment + Education

Video is a means for distributing entertainment and educational content within the government and public sector. In fact, because the U.S. military brings televised entertainment to troops and civilians overseas, it’s considered a large-scale global cable provider. These opportunities began back in the 1970s, when the first initiatives by the Armed Forces Network grew into what became called the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS). And before you ask, yes: the acronym is commonly pronounced “A-farts.” The AFRTS is one of many activities operated by the Defense Media Activity (DMA), which falls under the Department of Defense (DoD). The DMA runs the American Forces Network (AFN), along with the Stars & Stripes Magazine, Hometown News, Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), and more.

Today, the primary goal of the AFN is to bring audiences uninterrupted media content in order to improve morale and military readiness, while keeping their audiences informed. Broadly, the AFN is the primary means for disseminating DoD internal communications to U.S. Armed Forces serving overseas (including those at sea), as well as to DoD civilian and military family audiences.

On the entertainment side, the AFN is in charge of negotiating, acquiring, scheduling, and broadcasting American radio and television programming in 17 countries across 28 broadcast affiliates. Oftentimes, this means scheduling delayed broadcasts so that night programming or morning cartoons air at the corresponding local time.

Another thing to note is that AFN broadcasts are ad-free, since the ad experience isn’t targeted towards deployed troops. Of course, there is one time during the year where the ad-free broadcasts garner complaints: the Super Bowl. Even viewers abroad want to watch the funny ads and talk about them on social media. Integrating the ads can be daunting on the technical side, and requires creating a cable headend/IPTV solution as well as DVB-S/S2, DVB-C, and IP ingestion into a master control. From there, they are a distribution point—sending, in many cases, mixed-up IP streams to local distribution points or to delay servers. The video is usually MPTS (MPEG 2 or 4) at this point; however, the streams will be converted to MP4 for delivery. It's mostly HLS, but in some cases they use set-top boxes so some locations work with RTSP (with FEC), RTMP, and MPTS streams.

No surprise on this next broadcaster, as it's one of the most widely known providers of public streaming video: NASA TV! NASA streams video nearly 24/7. Its content includes educational videos for schools, immersive video feeds from the International Space Station, live streams of launches and landings, and more. Some of NASA’s most impactful and highly viewed content has been from eclipses and Mars landings. Interestingly enough, a few years ago, there was a reported UFO sighting on one of their channels. But let me reassure you, no UFOs or aliens have been officially recognized as of today!

NASA continues to equip the International Space Station (ISS) with the latest in imaging and video technology, from 360° cameras to 8K video. Last November, it published the first 8K ultra high definition (UHD) video taken from the ISS. The video was created in partnership with the European Space Agency, and features astronauts working on a range of scientific experiments. This content is not only important in educating all of us on Earth, but also creates engaging historical records for future generations.

The NASA network provides an array of live programming, such as 24-hour coverage of Space Shuttle missions, ISS events (spacewalks, media interviews, educational broadcasts), press conferences, and rocket launches. These often include running commentary by members of the NASA Public Affairs Office who serve as the "voice of Mission Control," including Rob Navias, Josh Byerly, Nicole Cloutier, and Brandi Dean.

To get technical, in the United States, NASA Television's Public and Media channels are MPEG-2 digital C-band signals carried by QPSK/DVB-S modulation on satellite AMC-3, transponder 15C, at 87 degrees west longitude. Downlink frequency is 4000 MHz, horizontal polarization, with a data rate of 38.86 Mhz, symbol rate of 28.1115 Ms/s, and ¾ FEC. A Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD) is needed for reception.

Driving Public Safety Messaging

Most use cases of video within the government and public sector are centered around keeping citizens informed and delivering public safety messaging. As an example, the New York State Senate and Maryland Court of Appeals both stream hearings and court cases to the public, bringing a sense of transparency to all judicial proceedings. This kind of streaming is executed via RTMP from the locations at 720p resolution 1.5Mbps to the video platform. In addition to these sessions being live streamed, archives are posted to a public video portal where citizens can search and find relevant content. All archived videos can be enhanced with AI to convert spoken words to text and automatically add closed captions to the on-demand videos, improving search and discoverability.

Public safety agencies commonly use video throughout command and control centers. Cameras mounted on fire engines allow incident commanders to quickly look for images to help identify a plan of attack during an emergency. How so? A ruggedized video camera or IP camera sends out RTSP or RTMP either point-to-point or through a video platform. These videos are then used for post-event training to understand how to more efficiently tackle similar situations in the future.

Public safety agencies also use streaming video in conjunction with AI to flag potential threats or help in search and rescue missions. For instance, security personnel can use AI technology to flag disturbances or anomalous movement in their live video feeds. This helps them to be more efficient and proactive in their surveillance. And who knows—perhaps with AI, the cast of Ocean’s 8 would have never pulled off the Met Gala heist!

Reinforcing Internal Communications + Training

Within the government sector, streaming video has truly leveled up internal communications across agencies. Departments like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Department of State, as well as local agencies like the office of the Governor of New Mexico all use video for internal communications and public outreach. About four years ago, the U.S. Architect of the Capitol replaced all of the old CCTV systems in the Senate and House of Representatives. Both were operating with older standard definition QAM infrastructure, so the agency decided it would be beneficial to build a Closed Network IPTV system. The new infrastructure added more services and capabilities than before, enabling these bodies to tune into proceedings and other news via their office TVs or mobile devices. This connectivity helps keep members up to date with important information.

During the 2015 zika virus outbreak, video was the primary means for connecting the CDC with doctors around the world. Using video, the CDC was able to get timely information on the latest symptom patterns, diagnoses, and treatment options. The video streams provided a visual aid, keeping all parties in the loop and informed. Years ago, the CDC took an interesting approach (for a government agency) in regards to the technical side of video: It built out several flypacks with monitors, an audio mixer, a switcher, camera controllers, and a mobile video encoder. This allowed it to do a complete multicamera switch with graphics, connecting via cellular or Wi-Fi anywhere in the world. More commonly, we see public safety video used to relay urgent updates to the public on disasters, diseases, and local emergencies.

Beyond internal communications, video is a valuable tool for training and development. Video simulations are used to train and prepare Air Force pilots to navigate a variety of scenarios, which ultimately better equips them to handle an array of in-flight situations. Across government agencies, the use of training videos on ethical practices and operations is critical. Using video, these agencies can instruct teams on the ethical guidelines unique to government employment, including handling confidential information, using government property, and seeking special privileges. The flow of this information needs to be seamless, digestible, and well-understood, and video offers an engaging medium for that.

Integrating the Latest Technology Advancements

Looking ahead, AI and emerging technologies will continue to augment the applications of streaming video for government agencies across the board. The manual processes of editing, cataloguing, and distributing video are resource-intensive. AI can help support these activities, making the overall process more efficient and useful.

Technology like automatic speech-to-text can create transcripts and closed captioning in near real-time, helping to make content more accessible for all audiences. Additionally, AI adds a layer of metadata to video, making all the content more searchable. And we’re not simply talking about basic descriptions and titles. True metadata extraction and creation allows for scene and theme detection, object recognition, neural language understanding, and sentiment analysis. With more information about what’s actually inside video, agencies will be equipped with better search and discovery capabilities.

Video and streaming technologies have proven value across industries and use cases. The government and public sector will continue to use streaming video for entertainment, public safety, and internal communications. Whether it aids in search missions, entertains troops, or relays urgent messaging to constituents, streaming video is an incredibly valuable, and cost effective tool to keep our world connected. You will come to see advancements in new technologies such as 360° video, VR, AR, and AI adopted to help achieve this mission.

 [Editor's Note: This is a contributed article from IBM. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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