Brett Casadonte, President and Chief Technical Director, GlobeStream Media LLC
Live streaming is continually evolving as one of the main ways to share and receive realtime information. Brett Casadonte, President and Chief Technical Director, GlobeStream Media LLC talks about how live streaming is currently shaping the industry and its future impacts.
PH: How do you define live streaming and what does it look like today?
Brett Casadonte: I define live streaming as pretty much any live production where audio and video from that production is being distributed over an IP-based network. Now, that IP network could be the public internet or a private network, wired or wireless, but when I think of live streaming, I think of IP-network based content delivery.
PH: What does pre-production look like? How does it differ?
Brett Casadonte: Pre-production for live streaming is much the same as pre-production for any live event, with one major exception; network planning. We typically break up our network planning into two categories: transmission and delivery, where transmission is sending a stream from our encoder to a streaming platform, and delivery is sending encoded streams from the streaming platform to our viewers.
Let’s talk about the transmission side first. Since your video stream will be sent over an IP network of some sort, whether it’s a local LAN, WiFi network, cellular network, or some bonded combination thereof, you really need to know how much reliable bandwidth it can provide. The general rule of thumb is that your upstream network performance should be 2x as fast as the amount of bandwidth that you need for the quality of stream you’re trying to send. So for example, if you are going to transmit a 1080p 29.97 stream at 6Mbps, then you would want to have at least 12Mpbs of upstream bandwidth available. If you only have 8Mbps of upstream bandwidth, then you would want to reconsider your 6Mbps stream and dial it back to 4Mbps.
In addition to raw network bandwidth, you also want to consider the traffic on the network, and how your stream will fit within it. Most corporate environments have Quality of Service (QoS) configurations that prioritize various types of network traffic, guaranteeing a minimum amount of bandwidth for certain traffic types even during the
most congested periods of operation. Ideally, you would like to have the networking team implement a QoS configuration that prioritizes your live stream traffic, ensuring the required bandwidth necessary for a successful transmission.
Beyond bandwidth and network traffic, security is also an important consideration. There are a variety of transport protocols that can be used to live stream content, some of which are encrypted, such as Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) and Real Time Messaging Protocol over SSL (RTMPS), and others which are not, such as Apple HTTP Live Streaming (Apple HLS), RTMP and Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). If you’re live streaming an internal corporate communications meeting, chances are you’re going to be using an encrypted transport protocol for security purposes, whereas if you’re streaming an event for public viewing, this won’t likely be the case.
Within a network, transport protocols operate over different virtual ‘ports’, which can be enabled or disabled network-wide using a firewall. Network firewalls are designed to make networks more secure by restricting the types of traffic that are allowed into and out of a network. Subsequently, it is important to know the transmission protocol for your steam so that you can communicate with the network operations team about which network ports may need to be ‘opened’ on the firewall.
Another important area of pre-production for live streaming is planning for resiliency. If you’re live streaming a multi-million dollar product launch for a client, stream failure is not an option. So you need to understand the failure points in your transmission stream, and every step of the way, build in redundancy. This means that you have multiple stream encoders. Your encoders are connected to different networking hardware. Your networking hardware has multiple paths to the internet, and your streaming distribution platform has multiple ingest points.
On the delivery side, it is always important to understand who your audience is and how they will be viewing the live stream. This directly translates into the delivery protocol requirement as well as the variety of stream renditions that we need to transcode in our delivery platform. For example, if we know that we are going to have viewers on Apple iPhones or iPads, we’ll need to deliver content via Apple HLS, since it is the main live streaming protocol supported on iOS devices. In that scenario, since we know we’ll be delivering content to mobile users, we would create several lower bandwidth stream renditions to accommodate viewers watching on lower bandwidth networks. So if our primary live stream is 4Mbps, we may configure our streaming platform to transcode that into 2Mbps, 1Mpbs, and 500Kbps renditions, or versions, of our live stream.
Lastly, on the delivery side, there is one other area very important area of consideration when live streaming, and that’s latency. Latency refers to the amount of time it takes to deliver a content to a viewer. For Apple HLS delivery, it’s not uncommon to have upwards of 45 seconds of latency between ‘live’ and what the viewer sees. While this may be perfectly acceptable for a global corporate communications meeting, it probably isn’t going to be a good solution for a live sporting event. Understanding the latency requirements for your live stream will be critical in helping you select the best streaming platform for your project.
PH: What types of equipment do you rely on? Why?
Brett Casadonte: We rely on a variety of hardware encoders depending on the requirements of the live streaming project we’re doing. With our corporate clients that use FaceBook Workplace, we use Wowza ClearCaster encoders, which are designed to deliver the highest quality, most secure streaming experience available on Workplace. For public events that we’ve done with Porsche, Audi, and others, we’ve used Teradek Cube 755 encoders because they are very portable while still providing H.264 and H.265 encoding options as well as SRT, RTMP, and RTMPS transport capabilities. They have been very flexible and reliable for us, and their small size make them easy to toss in a backpack as we travel across country or even internationally for projects.
For our bonded cellular solution we use the LiveU Solo platform, which has been absolutely fantastic for small, single-camera live streaming from conferences, conventions, and other remote locations, or providing the ability to stream a multi-camera live event from a location without traditional internet access. Lastly, for our Remi / at-home productions, we rely on LiveU’s line of field encoders and LU2000 servers to provide camera feeds to our control center in the Dallas area, while using Wowza ClearCaster for our program stream encoding. Here, we can switch a multi-camera remote show, complete with graphics, audio, and even video replay for sporting events.
In regards to streaming platforms, we primarily use Wowza Streaming Cloud for a lot of our public live streaming events. We have found it to be very stable and reliable, it has multiple ingest points for redundancy, great rendition configuration options, and can syndicate streams to multiple platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, and many others, making for easy stream distribution management. And they also have great customer service!
While not as much anymore, we do sometimes use software-based encoding solutions, such as Wirecast and OBS running on Mac computers, since we’re an all Mac-based production company.
PH: What are some common misconceptions about live streaming/ production?
Brett Casadonte: I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about live streaming is that it's easy. Granted, the technology has come a long way since the early days of QuickTime Streaming Servers and similar technologies, but what I’ve found numerous times is that people get into it, do a successful live stream or two with YouTube or Facebook, but then when something goes wrong, they don’t have the knowledge or understanding of IP networking and stream encoding / transcoding / delivery to be able to trouble shoot any issues that arise. While one doesn’t need to be a network engineer to live stream, having a basic understanding of how IP networks work goes a long way in helping troubleshoot streaming issues, or at a minimum, be able to effectively communicate with the networking and IT staff when you’re on-site for a streaming production.
PH: Can you share some of your go-to tips?
Brett Casadonte: One of my biggest tips for live streaming is, when you’re working in hotels, always, always, always make sure you give yourself plenty of time to troubleshoot networking issues, and make sure that a network engineer is available when you’re setting up and during your event. We’ve run across numerous instances of having a ‘network technician’ enable a network port for us, only to find that due to firewall or other network restrictions, we were unable to stream. In most cases, the ‘network technician’ is a junior networking or A/V person that only has the ability to enable or disable wall ports, and are not able to do the more advanced network configuration that may be required to enable streaming.
PH: How does live streaming enhance the viewer experience?
Brett Casadonte: The most engaging aspect of live streaming is that it allows viewers to be part of events as they happen. Whether its to watch a world-record breaking athletic performance, witness the unveiling of an exciting new product, hear the CEO deliver a corporate update, or just see the grandkids graduate from elementary school, live streaming helps create and develop a sense of community, inclusion, and belonging; all fundamental aspects of the human experience. The continued democratization of broadcasting will facilitate more and more people sharing events as they are happening, furthering a sense of inclusion and community.
PH: How do you think live streaming will continue to evolve?
Brett Casadonte: From a technical standpoint, we’ll continue to see the advancement of compression technologies and delivery technologies to make live streaming more robust, higher quality, and more reliable. More robust cellular networks and 5G technology will give us even more flexibility in ‘where’ we will be able to stream from. So there will be a lot of innovation there to continue to put IP-broadcasting on-par with, and eventually surpass, traditional broadcast content delivery.
With that said, where I think the real innovation will come is in the areas of interactivity and engagement. We’re really just at the beginning of a sea change in the delivery of live content. When you think about it, most of the live content that we’re getting, particularly from traditional broadcasters, is simply a repackaging of existing live content. If you want to watch the Stanley Cup finals ‘live streamed’, well, you’ll get the same feed television viewers are getting, but instead of it coming over a coax cable into your house, you’ll get it over your home internet connection or via 3G/4G on your smartphone. That’s basically been the first generation of IP broadcasting. The next generation of IP broadcasting will take advantage of the fact that you are watching on a computing device, whether that is a set top box, a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer.
You’ll be able to view more camera angles that the broadcast provides, hear the broadcast in multiple languages, engage in fantasy sports, watch replays over and over, live-chat with other views, view more statistics and real-time information not just about the event, but also about what is going on around it (like how many people in your zip code are tuned in to an event… which maybe you’ll be able to indirectly text, create a group chat, and then coordinate a viewing party for the third period of the game)… we’ll see things like interactive play calling in sporting events, where online viewers will call plays for a sports team. All of these innovations, and much more, will come in the next generation of live broadcasting. We’ve been seeing this already and we’ll continue to see more and more of it as creative storytellers experiment with this more immersive live streaming experiences. One great example of this is MotoGP. Through their website and mobile apps, they provide a very rich and deep experience for motor racing enthusiasts watching their live streaming events. Cameras and audio from all the pits during the race, cockpit views from all the racers, interactive maps… its a motor racing experience unrivaled anywhere else.
GlobeStream Media is a premiere provider of audio / visual and live streaming production services, helping companies and organizations stream live content to employees, fans, and customers anywhere, anytime. In addition, through its GlobeStream Sports division, the company provides live streaming coverage, as well as subscription and paywall services for live and on-demand sports productions.