ETTV moves into live streaming phase with deltatre and Microsoft Azure

Henrik Stenson’s win of golf’s Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup in the same year was not the only groundbreaking achievement that took place as he took the World Tour Championship by six shots in Dubai. It was also the first time the fully productised version of Microsoft Azure was used in the streaming of a live sporting event.

Rightsholder of the Race to Dubai is the European Tour, which launched its free online ETTV channel back in May this year. The new channel came about as a result of rights renewals, with the European Tour (which is also its own host broadcaster) looking to plug a 60-country gap in its coverage map as well as offer its own catch-up package after a decent interval has passed (in this case, seven days).

“The main purpose of ETTV is to provide a catch-up and back catalogue service to every territory in the world,” says Mark Lichtenhein, CIO/head of television, digital media & technology at the European Tour. “At the same time we want to ensure that none of our fans are disenfranchised from watching the European Tour live by some means, whether through the internet or through traditional TV. As such, ETTV plugs the gap that broadcasters don’t currently reach. “Although we don’t have targets for the ETTV territories, interestingly we are seeing more interest in the European Tour from broadcasters in some of the current ETTV territories and have recently extended our broadcast footprint with our Scandinavian broadcaster Viasat into the Russian Federation.”

Developed in partnership with deltatre, already the Tour’s digital media services provider, and Microsoft, ETTV launched earlier this year with a library of over 100 hours of highlights content, which has been expanded over the intervening months to around 500 (maxing out at 1.5Mbps for SD clips, 3.5Mbps for HD), all transcoded and stored using Azure and streamed via deltatre’s DIVA platform.

Its use of Azure and deltatre to stream the Race to Dubai in territories without any broadcast distribution deals in place raises the channel’s profile even further and sees the second part of its two-phase launch move into high gear.

“The World Feed for each event is downlinked and routed to deltatre’s live encoders after which the streams are managed and published using our CMS, Forge,” explains deltatre technical director Jon Hanford. “From here the signal is streamed to Azure using multiple bit-rates. For each event everything is setup in advance in the Azure portal, so that once the stream is running it’s simply a matter of previewing the stream and pushing it live to the Diva player via our CMS. Having the video preview window built into the portal makes it easy to check the stream is running correctly before progressing.”

According to Hanford, working with Azure and the portal has been very easy. Once the operators are used to the organisational structure of the portal, every function maintains the same rules, meaning that moving between Media Services or Storage is an easy and familiar process. Meanwhile, for the duration of live streaming events, Microsoft has set up a custom made Monitoring Page, hosted on Azure itself. This follows a basic green/red traffic light system as well as containing large amounts of data on each aspect of the live stream.

“This has made identifying any potential issues simple and allowed for operators to make informed decisions quickly,” he says. “For example, when live streaming of the European Tour first began, the Data Out Utilization Ratio was seen to be elevated compared to the reserved capacity. Well before any potential issue occurred an additional Reserve Unit was able to be added while the stream continued to run live. This kind of control allows deltatre to respond to unexpected events easily while at the same time ensuring we are not reserving capacity that is unneeded.”

Partly as the result of a robust workflow and a well-deigned portal, Hanford states that the transition from the archive stage of the project to the live one has been gratifyingly smooth.

“When ready we simply ‘turned on’ the live streaming feature and added ‘channels’ as necessary,” he says. “The ability to setup ‘programs’ with unique playback URLs means everything can be setup in advance, from our encoder set-up to the work in our Content Management System, Forge. On the day of the live event we can simply start our encoders, preview the stream in Azure, start the ‘program’ and push the stream live to the Diva player from Forge. All of these steps are simple one-click processes.

“Additionally, by doing all the work in advance means there is less room for error when under the time pressures of a live event,” he continues. “Once the live event has finished, the playback URL remains the same and no further transcoding is required to make it available as a VOD, so the replay of the live European Tour event is available straight away in the Diva player on”

Meanwhile, for European Tour, Lichtenhein says that while ETTV does not have any plans to offer subscription-based services in the future, “the services have certainly caught the attention of the European Tour’s partners and we are hopeful that we will be able to announce a presenting sponsor of European Tour TV ahead at the beginning of 2014.”

There is also a possible expansion of the service on the cards: “We were very encouraged by the feedback to our five test events this year and our hope is to be able to stream all the events in Europe next year, together with selected events in Asia.”

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