SVG@NAB Perspectives: Aspera’s Quereuil on how FASPStream streamlines live production, cuts costs

In the two-plus years since being acquired by IBM, Aspera has continued to build on its core FASP file-transfer technology, which has become popular among multisite and at-home live sports productions. At NAB 2016, that evolution was evident. Aspera unveiled FASPStream, an application-software line designed to enable live streaming of broadcast-quality video globally over commodity internet with glitch-free playout and negligible startup time. FASPStream aims to offer a cheaper, more flexible alternative to satellite-based backhaul, transport, and distribution.

In addition, the company highlighted the growing momentum of its Aspera Files on-demand SaaS offering, which debuted at IBC2015 and enables fast, easy, and secure exchange of files and folders of any size between end users, even across separate organisations.

During NAB 2016, SVG sat down with Francois Quereuil, senior director, worldwide marketing, Aspera, to discuss how FASPStream and Aspera Files can help streamline live-sports productions and how major sports events like the 2014 FIFA World Cup help make these products a reality.

What Is Aspera highlighting this year?
We are highlighting the momentum of our Aspera Files, our software-as-a-service [SaaS] platform. Files debuted at IBC last year and has been commercially available for a few months; we have 500 active clients using it already. We have quite a few interesting deployments, including MLB Advanced Media using the platform to provide services to their customers. Files is all about large-content sharing and distribution as a service using Aspera as the backbone. The application itself is deployed on the IBM Cloud, but we designed it in such a way that it is completely open to using on-premises storage and to using other cloud storage — whether it’s Amazon Web Services, Google, or Microsoft Azure. So we leave the choice to the customers where they want their content to be.

If they do opt to use IBM Cloud, it is completely managed so that the customer doesn’t have to do anything with other cloud vendors. They can just have the storage, have the infrastructure provided by IBM Cloud as part of their system.

It had been a long time coming. We were obviously first an enterprise-software company, and then we moved it to the cloud, but it still requires some IT expertise and some management to choose your cloud, manage it, etc. You could use Aspera to move data back and forth, but now we have a true service that’s available. And it’s actually affordable for smaller companies, too, so that is a new entry point for customers. Plus, obviously, it’s very flexible being a service: you can turn it on and off whenever you want to. For example, we work a lot with film festivals, [which] could look at files for film submissions. The advent of the cloud and broadband internet almost everywhere is opening the door to doing things completely differently for live events and sports in general.

Tell us a bit about the FASPStream software platform.
FASPStream has been around as a set of APIs for a little while now. The first prototype ran during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and it was integrated with EVS C-Cast to distribute second-screen content. Now we’ve productized it as the FASPStream software line. It will enable producers of live events, be it a sport event or a live studio production, to use commodity internet, commodity hardware, and this new technology to replace a satellite backhaul or a dedicated fiber circuit. And that’s a pretty big deal.

We’ve taken FASP [file-transfer technology] and evolved it to support growing files or any sort of data stream. We are able to use commodity internet to stream extremely high-quality video. We have a negligible startup delay. So, for 4K on normal lengths, it would take less than 5 seconds and, in most cases, less than 1 second to get the transmission started. And then [it’s] a virtually glitch-free playback experience.

The mathematical model shows us that first glitch should happen within the first three days of streaming. That opens up completely new delivery workflows, [which] can be used in those environments for live studio production or live events. You can imagine a scenario where you’ve got a venue, things are being captured, you need to get them to a central broadcast center where [the signal is] transcoded, where there’s going to be a traditional broadcast, and then there’s going to be maybe pushing it to CDNs for delivery over the internet. You can see a scenario where you don’t need the satellite in between: you’re not just saving on cost; you’re saving on preparation and avoiding the rigidity of setting something like that up.

How are you demonstrating FASPStream at the show?
We’re very excited about this technology. We are showing live streams from China, from Broadway Video office in New York, and from South Africa in near live 4K at distance, and there’s no CDN involved. It comes straight from those locations directly to the show floor. One of the demos shows a regular HTTP stream and our streaming together, and the HTTP stream is delayed by 20 seconds or 30 seconds, and ours is near live with much better quality.

How do you see FASPStream impacting sports production?
The sports community has been a driving force for this. When the EVS folks came to us and laid out what they would like to achieve [for the World Cup], we made it happen. And now we see a lot of uptake. We’ve been working with UEFA, with EVS at the FIFA World Cup, with sports teams all over the U.S. Because of the challenges of sports production and the remote nature of the venues or the temporary nature of certain events, we can play a fundamental role in making these productions more efficient.

What other big news do you have at NAB 2016?
We have a new integration with Avid Interplay MAM. We’ve worked directly with Avid to integrate at an API level, where Aspera Transfer has become available directly from the Avid Media Central UX media-asset–management platform. You ingest content, you distribute it, you make it available to your contributors. If there is a parallel Aspera installation with an Aspera server tied to this Interplay installation, then you can use Aspera to do the transfer but transparently from the Avid interface. So it’s totally seamless and transparent for the users.

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