Monitoring: Worldcast on the key to successful live OTT streaming
By Cyrus Uible, WorldCast solution architect.
Engineering professionals working on live over the top (OTT) productions will be all too aware of how much practical experience is needed to solve the varied and complicated problems they encounter during the typical live sporting event process.
Consider the digital supply chain, for example, where there are a wide range of touch points from initial acquisition to final delivery to the customer, with live sports events utilising a range of local and remote facilities, vendors, technology providers and end-user consumer devices. More specifically, a remote production vehicle providing feeds to a broadcast centre may be hundreds of miles distant and receiving streams from twenty or more cameras.
After being processed at the broadcast facility, the resulting content is encoded as feeds of streamable data that must also be compatible with various screen sizes and bandwidth limitations. What’s more, there could be up to 20 or more technology vendors with solutions integrated into applications and workflows throughout the supply chain. Only then can this content be distributed over IP via a content delivery network (CDN) to the wide range of end user consumer devices in use everywhere today.
Granted, this is a high level illustration of how live OTT production often works, but the point is, it underlines the inherent complexity that exists at each stage of the process. In addition, the ongoing adoption of IP workflows across the sports and entertainment industry means that monitoring has come to the fore to ensure that key information and insight is available to each key stakeholder in the workflow process.
Effective monitoring environments
For both the technology vendors and engineering teams involved in the production process, cohesive monitoring capabilities that can be accessed remotely have become a must-have if they are to effectively track the performance of all infrastructure, content, network and configuration components.
In the live OTT production context, infrastructure includes physical servers, switches, signal processing devices and software. These may be monitored across key performance areas such as CPU load, available disk space and memory, together with the health of power supplies and fans, for example. This type of monitoring may also extend to specific hardware devices such as VPN concentrators, satellite receivers, production switchers and graphics engines, among others.
Meanwhile, content monitoring focuses on audio, video and ancillary data flowing from camera to viewer. As such, it benefits from rigorous monitoring capabilities that detect everything from signal presence and video freeze, to silence detection and overall quality of experience. The objective is to provide broadcasters with an accessible and accurate video performance report without the need to look at the actual on-screen feed to determine whether any problems are occurring.
In addition, content alarms can also be triggered by infrastructure devices already being monitored, including encoders, decoders and compression systems. And in multicasting environments, traffic is analysed in immense detail to give operators an ongoing health check of the video and audio quality for each stream.
The quality of content delivered to each consumer depends to a large extent on the health and performance of the network that sits between the source and the user’s viewing device. In particular, capacity and latency are always an area of concern within the digital supply chain, especially as any lack of bandwidth will always negatively impact the viewing experience.
It’s crucial, therefore, that operators plan effectively for the number of streams and the bitrate of each from the outset. When these go live, effective monitoring will provide alerts when bottlenecks in the workflow are detected.
The most effective and straightforward way to monitor network health is to focus on bandwidth utilisation, which should cover as many devices and probes as possible with a detailed set of analysis metrics. If these metrics indicate and alert across performance characteristics such as loss percentage, jitter and latency, operators can work to address potentially more serious impending issues.
By monitoring network traffic, users can also more clearly understand which applications and/or streams are utilising bandwidth, a capability that is particularly useful when capacities are approaching their limits.
Workflow configuration errors are often associated with streaming outages, with anything from incorrect compression rates and port names to IP address and destination address among a long list of potential root causes. Given the complexity of live OTT operations, quickly identifying and correcting configuration errors is essential, especially as it simply isn’t practical to manually check every configuration before an event starts. Instead, an effective solution should allow operators to deliver smoother and more reliable operations via automated remote monitoring.
And for operators interested in the real health value for flows in each content stream, session description protocol (SDP) monitoring and inspection addresses network feed and flow discovery, while comprehensive ST2110 monitoring deals with main and redundant signals to focus on the increasing complexities of modern IP workflows.
By implementing a monitoring environment that delivers data and insight through a single ‘pane-of-glass’ view, operators can monitor entire systems in real time. In choosing this kind of enterprise class network management system, operators should look for solutions that are not only vendor and protocol-agnostic, but also emphasise security while also being highly customisable and cloud-capable.
Delivering this level of operational continuity across entire digital media chains – from acquisition to the end user – means operators can have much greater confidence in their ability to centrally monitor and control devices, applications and network health.
Ultimately, in today’s competitive digital entertainment environments, monitoring has become essential for delivering the high quality and reliable live OTT experiences that consumers around the world expect. By integrating a network management system and all of its monitoring capabilities at the beginning of a project, operators can create the performance and reliability infrastructure they need to ensure that the excitement of the events they cover is not diminished by potentially avoidable problems that today’s monitoring systems are designed to identify and help address.