Industry Insights

The many complexities of online video

Paul Skinner, Senior Software Engineer, Switch Media.

 

At Switch Media we often speak to clients who assume putting video online is no more difficult than adding a new webpage to their site. Yet, the reality is that Google bought YouTube for over 2 billion dollars… that figure was unheard of in 2006. Just look around at how many websites contain really good video that consistently works across all devices… it’s certainly not many. That’s because putting video online can be a complex operation, but why?

Let’s go through some of the challenges businesses who want to put video content online face.

 

Royalties. Web standards tend to be more of a consensus system. When Adobe flash animations ruled the web, Steve Jobs led the charge against its inefficient vector based system that would slow down his iPhones. In that particular case, the problem was clear and the world agreed on royalty free standards like HTML 5, as they allow for far more efficient animations on phones and tablets.

Video is a different animal. With video we are not reaching a consensus on how we explain an animation. Video standards require researchers at institutions like Germany’s Fraunhofer Society, or possibly even Australia’s CSIRO, to test mathematical Fourier transforms, compression algorithms and colour spaces to find the most efficient ways to compress video. But someone has to foot the bill for their efforts.

This leads to several competing standards. The most recent high profile battle was when Google bought the VP8 codec to compete against MPEGs H.264 codec as the standard of choice for the web. Google intervened because of the royalties MPEG was charging. Which horse would you back in this race?

 

Hardware decoding in devices. This is where the algorithms to decrypt video are baked into the client’s CPU with low level software that ‘cannot be changed’. This allows the power efficient CPU in your phone or set top box to play video. Although due to royalties, every device supports different video technologies. A phone manufacturer may license a wide range of technologies for their high end devices. And yes, you guessed it, their cheaper devices may not be so lucky. This leads to the video supplier having to support a myriad of codecs, bitrates, muxing formats etc. which can be a complex and lengthy process.

 

Doing it all live! Live streaming presents its own challenges. Typically the TV shows you watch on Presto or Netflix have been encoded with a piece of software that unfortunately is too slow to produce good quality video in real time. A common solution is hardware encoding appliances, which can easily cost over $100K! This is a huge expense for any business, but there are other options that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Switch Media can help you to understand these other options, as well as how much redundancy you require and how much bandwidth you need to reserve for your live feeds.

 

Video processing infrastructure. Video is a trade-off between processing power and the amount of data required to transmit and store it. By using more CPU cycles to encode multiple renditions of the video, the result is quality video that is quick to transmit and is supported by even older devices. But who’s got multiple spare multi core servers lying around to encode videos, or terabytes of redundant storage to store the multiple renditions? That’s why using online video specialists like Switch Media is a smart option. We have the equipment and software ready to go, with the skills and experience to manage them.

 

Securing content. The content you wish to share on your site may need to be licensed and is often only for a specific audience – so it’s important to secure your content. To do this you can go through Digital Rights Management providers, also known as Conditional Access Vendors, who can help to control who can watch your video. But this is just one piece of the puzzle, these guys cannot encode your video or ensure it plays across all devices. Going with an online video specialist that can cover all elements of your video is a much easier option. At Switch Media, if we do the encoding then it’s our responsibility to ensure all security requirements are met so that our client’s content is as secure as it can be, and where possible we avoid going through a CA vendor to avoid unnecessary costs.

 

A globally competitive technology leader in delivering online video content, Switch Media understands every facet of online video, from hardware and infrastructure to royalties and security. Our in-house team of strategists, architects, programmers and technical staff can provide expertise and management of all elements around placing video online, so that businesses can reap the benefits of implementing this new technology without having to become sudden experts in the many complexities that are involved. 

Feel free to contact us  to discuss how we can assist you with your online video needs and queries.

 

Paul Skinner, Senior Software Engineer, Switch Media.
Paul has worked from video engineer to lead software engineer. He has worked for 8 years with customers that include tier 1 broadcasters in Australia and Africa.

The future of online streaming in broadcasting and beyond

CEO and Co-Founder of Switch Media, Christopher Stenhouse appeared on the Sky News Business Switzer program to talk about the background, expertise and direction of the company as well as the future of streaming in the broadcast space and beyond.

Christopher founded the company in 2006 with business partner CTO Luke Durham. A globally competitive technology leader in delivering online video content, the company has achieved an average annual revenue growth rate of 50 per cent over the past 7 years.

With major clients that include FOXTEL, ABC, Network Ten, Seven West Media, RMIT and the Australian Federal Parliament, Switch Media are world leaders in innovation and delivery of content online.

Switch Media’s extensive body of work includes Foxtel GO, Foxtel PLAY, Enhance TV Direct, and online streaming and broadcast for the London 2012 Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and the 2015 Formula 1 series.

The company’s depth of experience, spanning close to a decade, has allowed them to set the standard for delivery of online content with leading edge capabilities such as the ability to simultaneously broadcast 18 live streams on the one screen and for in stream, on-the-fly ad insertion during live events.

Watch the video to hear Christopher’s opinion on the future of streaming in broadcasting and beyond.

5 Questions to ask a video app vendor (in Australia) before signing a contract

By Dominic White
Head of Engineering, Switch Media.

Whether you need to deliver a live sporting event over the Internet or you want to launch the next catch-up streaming service, partnering with the right video app vendor will be key to your success.

Switch Media take pride providing tailored IP video solutions to suit the unique needs of each client, but with no shortage of video application suppliers and platform vendors in Australia, it’s smart to explore all of your options. So how do you go about choosing the best vendor for you? One that will make you successful.

Some video platform vendors are built for the cloud with a “one solution fits all” model. Most vendors are head quartered outside of Australia where all of their engineering and R&D takes place. Some of them provide only applications and some provide a full end-to-end solution.

In this post we will share with you how to properly evaluate your needs, as an Australian business, against the strengths and weaknesses of the vendors in the marketplace.

These are the 5 questions that every Australian client should ask before hiring a video application vendor.

 1) Is your sales, engineering, test and operations team based in Australia?

When you are considering which video app vendor to choose, one of the first questions you should ask is where their teams are located. Some vendors have their technical and operational teams overseas, with only sales and marketing in Australia. Others may have some technical presence in Australia but outsource their development and test overseas. Some vendors don’t even have an operations team and will be unable to support you once your application is live.

If you want a team that is responsive to your needs and able to provide technical solutions that are high quality, then they need to be local to you. You often require your vendor to work in an Agile way and it’s proven (even written into the Agile Manifesto) that you can’t run an agile team unless they are all sitting together in the same room.

When it comes to support, there is no better operations team than one that has been sitting with the technical teams as they build the solution. No handover or training is needed, as they have been part of the team from the beginning.

2) Do you provide the same solution to everybody or can you provide a custom solution for me?

A lot of video solutions are built for the mass market. They provide a cloud based “cookie cutter” solution that works well, if you are happy to have the same application as everyone else.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, integrate into other systems or if you simply want the application to reflect your brand, you need a vendor that can write custom code and applications.

Check the previous work that the vendor has done to get a good idea of the scope and quality of the customisations they are capable of.

3) Can I visit your office and meet your staff?

The vendor tells you that they have a team of architects, engineers, testers and operational staff in Australia. Ask to visit their office and meet the team that would be working on your project. It’s important to understand how they work together, the processes they follow and how they will interact with your team to make sure they can support your way of working.

Once you have visited them in person, it will be clear to you the level of expertise and support you will receive.

4) Your video platform looks great, but can you integrate with the software “I use for this” and the system “I have for that?”

A solution is not a solution if it doesn’t allow you to use the systems, software and tools that you need to run your business. A standalone solution that will not integrate into the rest of your systems is exactly that – standalone.

How flexible is the vendor? Can they swap out their analytics for the ones that you use? Can they provide feeds into your data warehouse? Can you use them for the live play out, but use your own solution for VOD? Can they integrate parts of their system with parts of another video solution provider? Can they aggregate all of your metadata that you currently receive from different suppliers?

The flexibility of your vendor is key to the success of your project. Make sure that you fully understand the scope of the integrations that they can perform.

5) Do you only build apps or do you also have a video platform?

In order to deliver video over the Internet, you need two main components; the video platform that will manage and deliver the content and the application that the end user will view it on.

Some vendors provide an end-to-end solution that delivers the platform and the applications whilst other vendors provide only the applications.

If you choose an application only vendor, ask yourself who is going to integrate it into the video platform? Application vendors will work against the video platform API, but any issues that arise from this integration need to be resolved by somebody.

If the application is not working as expected against the video platform, where does the problem lie? You will often need a 3rd party, a solutions integrator to manage the two vendors and resolve issues that arise with the integration.

When the application is live, who resolves any problems that arise? Who is responsible for the support and operations? As the client, you shouldn’t have to manage the two vendors to find out where issues lie.

Before you sign anyone up, make sure that you clearly understand who has the responsibility for solution integration during the build, and which single party will be responsible for support and operations once you are live.

 

switch-media-iconWhen it comes to providing a tailored service for the delivery of digital assets online, the team at Switch Media have got it covered. Our sophisticated cloud based Media Management System, extensive experience and in-house expertise enable us to develop cutting edge solutions that meet the unique needs of each clients. Whether it be an end to end solution, or working with existing systems or hardware, our aim is help deliver the best possible online experience for our clients and their audience.

Get a life, get a bot with Hipchat Bot Will

By Dominic White
Head of Engineering, Switch Media

Want to know how you can tie all of your applications together to increase efficiency and reduce the need to login to countless programs each day? Dominic White, Head of Engineering at Switch Media tells you how to do this using Hipchat Bot Will…

Does this sound like your working life?

  • It’s easy to get things done at work
  • There is one simple system that I use for all my work needs
  • I use the same system to request leave as I do to log support tickets
  • I can find out the status of my expense claims in the same system that I message work colleagues
  • I only ever need to use one login

If this sounds like your everyday work life then you can move along…..nothing for you to read here.

Alternatively, you’re work life may be more like this:

  • I have different systems I have to log into to request leave, log a support ticket, log my time, check on my development tasks
  • If I want to find out how much leave I have, I need to talk to someone
  • If I want to know the uptime on our servers, I need to log into the monitoring system

Did someone say “Convergence”?

Imagine having an application that can integrate all of your disparate systems together? Imagine being able to post notifications into a single application and from the same application, query all of your individual systems?

For example, the following applications (that we use at Switch Media) would become even more useful, if they could be accessed from a single “convergent” application:

  • Xero for accounting, leave and expense requests
  • SalesForce for CRM
  • Celoxis for Project/Portfolio Management
  • HipChat for group chat
  • JIRA for defect tracking
  • Confluence for collaboration
  • Bamboo for CI and deployment
  • Stash for GIT repository management
  • Kayako for Help Desk management
  • Zabbix for system monitoring

The application that makes it possible

HipChat from Atlassian provides the possibilities to tie all of these applications together. On the surface it appears to be no more than a “good” chat program. It allows you to create rooms to stream your conversations, provides a history of all chat and supports audio and video calling. Nothing too earth shattering in that.

The really useful part of HipChat is that it has an API that allows you to integrate it with just about anything and by integrating it with “bots”, you can end up with a pretty smart personal assistant.

Notifications

In it’s simplest form, you can use the API to post notifications to rooms. For example:

  • you could create a “development” room and post notifications each time your CI server completes a build (pass or Fail)
  • you could post notifications to a “Sales” room whenever a new opportunity is created in SalesForce
  • Your monitoring system can post critical alerts to the “Infrastructure” room

Self-Service

The traffic doesn’t have to be all one way though. Within your chat window, you can interact with your other systems and display the results in the very same chat session. For example:

  • Query Xero about what your current leave balance is
  • Add new leave requests into Xero
  • Query JIRA for the details of a JIRA ticket
  • Create a new JIRA ticket
  • Query Celoxis for all the tasks you have assigned to you for this week

Bots

The ability to interact with your other systems is provided by “bots”. Helpful pieces of code that “listen” to the chat conversation and action commands and keywords. The bots that you create are limited only by your imagination and the API capabilities of the system you want to interact with.

I get very excited by bots and the possibilities they present. Bots are not new or unique to HipChat and as one of our development leads said to me “IRC was using bots 15 years, what’s the big deal?”.

Bots – what’s the deal?

So what’s the big deal about bots? What can you do with them?

Some simple examples:

  • Log a new support ticket in JIRA
  • Tell you what the weather is where you live
  • Return a list of development tasks that are assigned to you this week
  • Prompt you for the time you spent on your assigned tasks
  • Log a leave request
  • Tell you how much leave you have left
  • Display a random animated gif of a particular topic
  • Tell you who is on support roster for this week

It’s really only limited by your imagination and the systems you want to integrate with.

Bots and HipChat

HipChat has a number of open source bots that already integrate with it. This means that you can get up and running in a very short amount of time and it makes it look like you did a lot of work (smile)

Atlassian recommend the following:

At Switch Media we chose Will. In my next blog, I’ll show you how we integrated it with our Project Management System (Celoxis) to retrieve the task assignments for the week.

Introducing the Switch MasterApp

MasterApp

By Peter Perera

At Switch we pride ourselves as:-

– Multiplatform specialists on delivering multimedia to many platforms including but not limited to Web, Desktop, Mobile and standalone devices that we have developed ourselves.
– Problem Solvers, we love solving any and all issues you may have distributing media.

On the mobile front we’ve been developing apps for iOS and Android with Xamarin (C#). Xamarin gives us and our customers the agility -to move quickly in the market place while also maintaining feature parity on multiple platforms.

Our experience developing cross platform apps has given us many insights into the best way to develop enabling flexibility while in development as well as in operational support, without needing to change the app in the respective Appstore(s). To that end we found that a lot of our customers shared mostly the same requirements (drill through data, featured content, live with EPG and VOD content, with some slightly different rules around UI, Authenticating Users and Managing Accounts, Device Concurrency Control, Social Integration, Purchasing and Analytics.

The Big Question? How do we increase code sharing, while allowing for customisation of UI and Business rules that change between our customers and platforms?

The answer is the MasterApp.

The MasterApp is a fully functional framework for building cross platform apps. It gives customers the benefits of a shared platform that is constantly improving and keeping up with the latest OS updates. When paired with the Switch Media Manager and its components (analytics, purchases, account management, social, and more) the MasterApp drastically reduces development time and gives us the time to focus on the user experience of the app. The MasterApp offers the capability for a simple re-badge of its existing UI or a completely custom UI that matches your brand.

This advanced solution successfully powered NetworkTEN’s Sochi 2014 app on iOS and Android, contributing to the over 1.34 million video sessions delivered by the Switch Media Manager. Contact us at Switch to find out what the MasterApp could do for you.