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Making History One Webcast at a Time

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The New York Philharmonic’s historic concert in North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang, during which music director Lorin Maazel led the orchestra, was transmitted from the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in HD via satellite on Feb. 26, 2008, at 4:00 a.m. EDT. Permission was granted to tape the concert and to rebroadcast it, but nothing was permitted to be broadcast live in the U.S.

At the last minute, the North Korean government approved the request to stream a live webcast over the internet at the time of transmission as long as it was restricted to a U.S.-only audience.

Daniel Greenberg, director of production for interactive and broadband at Thirteen/WNET says, "We got permission to stream the New York Philharmonic live from North Korea at the very last minute. We were very excited about this historic event, and we knew we would get lots of interest and traffic. However, we did not have time to debate best practices or testing. We just needed someone with expertise to help us execute the event."

This would be the first-ever live video stream for the noncommercial station. No pressure.

The Challenge: Five Not-So-Easy Pieces
There were several discovery conversations with stakeholders in the project, and after rationalizing the various streams of information, recommendations were devised.

The first recommendation favored Windows Media as the end-to-end platform; however, there were much greater challenges than selecting a player and codec ahead.

1. Georestriction: The live webcast required georestriction, which meant that a method for limiting access so that only users originating in the U.S. could connect needed to be devised. In addition, syndication was a possibility, and quality assurance (QA) in multiple environments (development, production, etc.) was also in the scope of the project, which meant multiple publish points. Because of this, georestriction also had to be imposed on the CDN level.

2. Firewall: The webcast originated from a facility situated behind a firewall. As such, a solution to navigate the streams from the encoders through the firewall would be key and would require redundancy. Multiple hot failover solutions would need to be devised. The "behind-the-firewall" scenario can be especially challenging when going in to a quick-turnaround situation, as approaching an IT team to open ports on a firewall can be a daunting task.

3. Scalability: Estimating webcast participation has always been a hit-or-miss proposition, as no one ever really knows how many users will tune in for a webcast or for how long. This webcast was no exception. And regardless of what the actual numbers were, we knew that it had to work and that some very important eyes would be checking in.

4. Syndication: We were required to provide the client with an easy method to integrate the media player with any potential publishing point to which it wanted to syndicate. The implementation had to look and function exactly as expected across platforms, meaning it had to look the same and work the same, regardless of where the player was published.

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