Flash Streaming Dying Out, Many CDNs Shutting Down Support For RTMP

fms4-0-mnemonicI’ve gotten a few inquiries lately from content owners asking which CDNs still support Adobe’s proprietary Flash streaming format (RTMP). Over the past 12 months, many, but not all, of the major CDNs have announced to their customers that they will soon end support for Flash streaming. Industry wide, we have seen declining requirements for RTMP for some time and with most of the major CDNs no longer investing in Flash delivery, it has allowed them to reduce a significant third-party software component from their network. Flash Media Server (FMS) been a thorn in the CDN service providers’ sides for many years operationally and killing it off is a good thing for the industry. HLS/DASH/Smooth and other HTTP streaming variants are the future.

Since it’s confusing to know which CDN may still support Flash Streaming, or for how much longer, I reached out to all the major CDNs and got details from them directly. Here’s what I was told:

  • Akamai: Akamai still supports RTMP streaming and said while they are not actively promoting the product, they have not announced an end-of-life date. Akamai said they are investing in RTMP streaming but that their investment is focused on ensuring continued reliability and efficiency for current customers.
  • Amazon: Amazon continues to support RTMP delivery via CloudFront streaming distributions, but the company has seen a consistent decrease in RTMP traffic on CloudFront over the past few years. The company doesn’t have a firm date for ending RTMP support, but Amazon is encouraging customers to move to modern, HTTP-based streaming protocols. 
  • Comcast: Comcast does not support RTMP on their CDN and chooses to support HTTP-based media and all formats of that (HLS, HDS, Smooth, etc.) The only principal requirement they see in the market that involves RTMP is for the acquisition of live mezz streams which then get transcoded into various bit-variants and HTTP-based formats.
  • Fastly: Fastly has never supported RTMP to the edge/end-user. Their stack is pure HTTP/S and while they use to support RTMP ingest, the company retired that product in favor of partnering with Anvato, Wowza, JWPlayer and others.
  • Highwinds: Highwinds made the decision to stop supporting RTMP back in 2012 in favor of HTTP and HTTPS streaming protocols and have since helped a number of customers transition away from RTMP delivery to an HTTP focus.
  • Level 3: Level 3 stopped taking on new Flash streaming customers a year ago and will be shutting down existing customers by the end of this year.
  • Limelight Networks: Limelight still supports RTMP streaming globally across their CDN. The company said their current investment focus for video delivery is in their Multi Device Media Delivery (MMD) platform which can be used to ingest live RTMP feeds and deliver RTMP, RTSP, HLS, HDS, SS and DASH output formats. Limelight is encouraging customers to move away from RTMP and to HTTP formats for stream delivery.
  • Verizon Digital Media Services: Verizon announced plans to no longer support Flash streaming come June of 2017. They are actively working to decommission the RTMP playout infrastructure based on FMS 4.5. Verizon has written their own engine to continue to support RTMP ingest and re-packaging for HLS/DASH playout that is more natively integrated with their CDN, but they will no longer support RTMP playout after that time. Verizon is no longer actively onboarding new RTMP playout customers (since June 2016).

While many of the major CDNs will discontinue support for RTMP, a lot of smaller regional CDNs still support Flash streaming, so options do exist in the market for content owners. But the writing is on the wall and content owners should take note that at some point soon, RTMP will no longer be a viable option. It’s time to start making the transition away from RTMP as a delivery platform.

Streaming Meetup Tuesday Sept. 27th: Great Networking & Free Drinks

maxresdefaultThe next meetup of streaming media professionals will take place on Tuesday September 27th, starting at 6pm at www.barcadenewyork.com – 148 West 24th Street between 6th/7th in NYC. Come network, drink and play videos games for free thanks to sponsors Float Left, Streamroot, and Zype.

Barcade has over 50 old school video games, 25 beers on tap and some great food. There is no RSVP needed or list at the door. Just show up with a business card and you are in! You will need a wristband to drink, so introduce yourself to me when you show up. All business cards will be entered into a drawing for an Apple TV, thanks to Zype!

These meetups are a great way to network with others tied to the online video ecosystem. We get a great mix of attendees from companies including AOL, NFL, Showtime, Omnicom, NBC, NBA, Time, HBO, Viacom, CBS, Twitter, WPP, Google, Nielsen, Facebook, FOX, R/GA, Twitch, Riot Games, American Express, Comcast, wall street money managers, government agencies, VR production companies and vendors from all facets of the video ecosystem.

I’ll keep organizing these every month so if you want to be notified via email when the next one is taking place, send me an email and I’ll add you to the list.

A Detailed Look At How Net Insight Syncs Live Streams Across Devices

With last week’s live NFL stream on Twitter, we were all once again reminded of the delay that exists when it comes to streaming over the Internet. And as more premium video goes online, and more second screen interactivity is involved, syncing of the video is going to become crucial. Two months ago I highlighted in a blog post how Net Insight solves the live sync problem and I’ve been getting a lot of questions on how exactly it works. So I spent some time with the company, looking deeper at their technology in an effort to understand it better.

Net Insight provides a virtualized soft­ware solution that can be deployed over private, public or mixed cloud. The terminating part of the solution is the client SDK that has pre-support for the most popu­lar connected iOS and Android devices. The SDK contains the media distribution termination part, but also me­dia decoding and rendering, i.e. a player. The client SDK enables application developers to add next generation TV to their apps, cross-platform, with a uniform API.

Net Insight’s product is called Sye and it uses an optimized streaming protocol made for real-time applications. Sye operates directly on the video stream avoiding the inherent latency incurred by the packaging. The benefit of using Sye is a higher utilization in the distribution network which directly translates to a better viewing experience by providing and maintaining higher profile viewing for a longer period of time compared to legacy HTTP streaming. In legacy HTTP streaming TCP inherently forces back-offs and slow starts when packet loss is encountered. Sye uses an enhanced packet recovery protocol as the first defense of packet loss. When there are longer periods of bandwidth degradation, an ABR profile level change is enforced with a unique perspective. That perspective is the knowledge of the currently available client side bandwidth. With the server-side network aware function, restoring the highest possible ABR quality level is as fast as the IDR interval defined in the transcoder.

The receiving part of the system consists of a client binary to be included into existing apps for resource requesting, network termination, media decoding and rendering. The back-end server components are split up into two different functions: data plane and control plane. These functions are responsible for distributing streaming media as an overlay network on top of any type of underlying network infrastructure.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-8-10-18-pmThe control plane functions consist of controller, front-end and front-end balancer. These functions are responsible for client resource requests, load balancing of data and media, configuration, provisioning, alarming, monitoring and metrics, all presented and handled through their dashboard. The system is a pure software solution which Net Insight says is “hyper scalable” and therefore deployable on bare metal, a fully virtualized environment or in a hybrid physical/virtual approach. While a fully virtualized cloud based solution is supported, the egress of the data plane will utilize most of the network I/O provided, thus dedicated I/O is suggested for the best and most predictable performance.

While a lot of what is going on in the backend that makes it possible to sync live streams is complex, this is one of those solutions in the market where seeing is believing. I’ve seen the solution in-person and it’s amazing how well it works. The ability for Net Insight to sync the same stream, across multiple devices, to be in sync with the broadcast TV feed is amazing. Premium content owners that stream live, and especially sports content, are going to have to address the sync problem soon. It’s becoming too much of a problem when consumers are purposely staying away from the social element of a live event, just so their experience isn’t ruined. Synced live streaming is the next big thing.

Here’s A List Of Best Practices and Tips For Successful Webcasting

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about tips and best practices for putting together a good webcast and what pitfalls to look out for. While live webcasts about sports and entertainment events seem to get all the exposure, more live webcasts take place each day in the enterprise market than in any other sector. But no matter the vertical, or use case, the same skill set applies. The way I see it, there are two different sets of skills involved—the soft skills and the hard skills. That’s not to say that the soft skills are easy, but you really need both of them to be successful and as an industry, we will always be evolving the medium. There is always something new to learn, tweak, or implement to get the most out of the webcast.

So with that in mind, I wanted to outline some of the little things that make the difference between a good webcast and a great webcast. Thanks to Kaltura for sharing with me the questions they get most often from customers.

The Devil is in the (Non-technical) Details

  • Test your delivery outside the office. You’re already testing your equipment, right? Make sure your tests include mobile. These days, it’s a good bet that at least some of your audience is going to tune in while on the go; make sure they have a quality experience, too.
  • Promote internal webcasts as much as external ones. Yes, your employees will dutifully log in because they have to. But if you put the same effort into engaging employees as you do into engaging customers, they’ll be a lot more receptive to your message. Attractive invites, a great title (not just “Q4 Forecast”), short and punchy slides, and a strong call to action will have just as much of a positive effect on your internal audience as an external audience.
  • Think about the experience. There are a lot of cool tools on the market these days that can make webcasts a little more interactive. Find a platform that will keep your viewers engaged.
  • Remember your asynchronous audience. DVR and catch-up isn’t just for TV. Be realistic. People will be late, people will get distracted, people will need to watch this again later. Make it easy for them. Ideally, make sure the recording is easily searched for and navigated. You’ve spent this much time creating this content—increase the ROI by extending the shelf life.
  • Get feedback. You’re going to do this again; specifically reach out for feedback so you can improve.

Getting into the Nitty-Gritty
What about the actual technical requirements? It turns out (unsurprisingly) that there is no one-size-fits-all set of specs; a lot of best practices vary depending on what kind of event you want to produce. I talked to some experts, who offered a list of points to consider.

  • Physical venue. Where are you going to put everything? Make sure you have a physical schematic and plot it all out. It’s not enough to just plot your lighting design. Make sure you know exactly how much cabling you’ll need to connect the cameras to the mixer, for example. (And make sure it’s the right kind of cable for the distance you’re trying to cover; HDMI has length limitations, whereas 3G SDI can be run for 250 feet or more without issue. A truly massive venue might call for fiber.) While you’re at it, check on your power requirements—all those lights can add up in a hurry. If you’re not shooting in your own facility, you have additional issues to consider. Check on load in and load out restrictions as well as elevator access. And don’t forget to see if the venue has insurance or union labor requirements.
  • Network. You’re going to want to consider your uplink speed first. Are you doing a simple feed? Or are you going to do multi-bitrate feeds from your encoder to both a primary and backup publishing point? You’ll want to reserve an uplink capable of 30-40% higher output speed than what you actually intend to send. Make sure to test the uplink speeds in the venue itself, and check latency while you’re at it. You’ll also want to ask for a static IP—you don’t want to hook up your encoder and then get kicked off the network. This is particularly critical when using a hardware encoder that doesn’t have a monitor attached, since if you access your encoder over a browser, you can’t afford to lose contact. If you’re not on your home network, make sure you can get open access without authentication. Again, a hardware encoder isn’t going to be able to interact with a login screen.
  • AV equipment and team. Here, you have a lot of decisions to make. How many cameras are you planning on? How many speakers onstage at any given time? Will you use fixed or wireless microphones? If wireless, are you planning to just pin lav mics to someone’s tie, or are you going to be taping equipment onto people’s skin? Where are you placing your lights—from the back or up against the stage? Are you going to project from the front or the back, and with a dual projector or a single? Each decision will have its own ramifications and precautions. For example, if you’re using wireless microphones, make sure that no one else in the building is using the same frequency.
  • Output. Are you planning to use interlaced or progressive output to your mixer? For broadcast, the standard has been to take interlaced output. But for the web, viewers may be watching on relatively high-resolution screens, which means they may be able to see that interlacing. In that case, you may want to consider progressive output over an SDI port.
  • Encoder. The most common question is which encoder is the best. It depends on circumstances—how mission-critical the webcast is, the budget, how many bitrates you want, and what inputs you need. Software-based encoders are relatively inexpensive, and generally fine. They can handle multi-bitrate output, but SDI requires a third-party capture card, which can add complications. The big problem is reliability and redundancy. If your OS crashes, you’re out of luck. The lower level of hardware encoder is prosumer, like Teradek. These offer single bitrates, with no power supply redundancy and relatively few input options. These are particularly good if you need a mobile unit with a roaming camera. The top of the line encoders, like those from Elemental and Harmonic, are incredibly reliable, with redundant power supplies and multi-bitrate content in whatever output you might want. They’re also expensive, rack-mounted and can require cooling. Your needs will determine which encoder is best for you.

If you’re looking for significantly more details, Kaltura recently held an interesting webinar on the topic where they gave out a lot of really good tips and best-practices, which you can access for free. You can find the recording here. If you have specific webcasting questions, put them in the comments section below and I’m sure others will help answer them.

Twitter’s NFL Stream Looking Good, It’s Business As Usual For MLBAM

img_3243Updated 9/16: The Twitter NFL numbers are out. There was a total of 243,000 simultaneous streams, average viewing length was 22 minutes, 2.1M unique viewers in total. Very, very small event.

Twitter’s live stream of the NFL game tonight is looking very good, with no signs of any quality problems. I’ve tested the stream on ten devices including iPhone’s, iPad’s, Apple TV, Xbox, Fire TV, MacBook and various Android hardware. I’m seeing a max bitrate of almost 3Mbps on the MacBook and Apple TV. So far there has been no buffering issues, although the sync on some of the devices is a bit off, with the each stream a few seconds ahead or behind. Overall for me, the streams are about 10 seconds behind the TV broadcast.

The fact there aren’t any streaming problem is really no surprise because Twitter hired Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) to manage the stream. And for them, it’s just another day in the office. MLBAM is the best at what they do, having executed live events for over a decade. The stream is being delivered by Akamai and Level 3 [Updated: and Limelight Networks] and while the companies aren’t discussing traffic numbers, I estimate at peak, they are pushing around 4-5Tbps. We will have to wait to see if Twitter puts out simultaneous stream count numbers after the event, but I would be very surprised if it’s above 2M.