As one of the most popular producers of digital media content today, Vox Media is home to several different editorial brands including big names like Vox (news), Eater (food) and SB Nation (sports). Their content consists of mostly on-demand videos that are heavily circulated through social media, with tons of videos that go viral in every brand.
With the beginning of the NFL Season for this year, SB Nation decided they wanted to join in on the drafting festivities by hosting their own NFL Draft Party show. Originally their plan was to publish a single stream to the SB Nation flagship Facebook Page, but after meeting Teradek’s CEO Nicol Verheem at the NAB trade show, Mark Olsen, Head of Production at SB Nation, learned about something he never thought possible: multicasting. Instead of streaming to just 1 Facebook Page, he could stream to each of their 32 Facebook Pages (1 for each team) and their SB Nation flagship Page at the same time.
A little background: SB Nation is a sports media brand with a network of over 300 team communities. For the NFL, they have 1 site for each team, and 1 Facebook Page that represents each one. Since the NFL Draft encompasses every team in professional football, that’s a lot of streams they needed to manage.
“Our goal was to reach the largest audience possible with our live show. To find out where they were and how big our show could get,” said Olsen. “I’ve done live streams for multiple brands before, and usually something like this would mean having 33 different encoders, which would be impossible.”
Heart of the Party
Multicasting is one of the main features of Teradek’s Core management platform that allows users to stream to an unlimited number of online destinations simultaneously using Teradek encoders. Core also allows for remote routing, monitoring and recording from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. This means that the team could monitor the health of the streams and make sure everything stays up for the entire duration of the Draft Party Live.
To handle the technical aspects of the show, SB Nation brought in Live X, a New York-based production company whose team members are avid users of Teradek devices. Rob Baynard, producer and encoding engineer at Live X, was tasked with monitoring the feeds and fixing potential issues if certain streams went down.
“As simple as Core makes it to stream to multiple destinations, you never know what could happen,” explained Baynard. “When you have a big client like Vox Media, you want to be absolutely sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. That’s why I managed the technical side, so the rest of the team could focus on the show.”
The party went live with three separate Hitachi broadcast cameras sending video and audio to the studio’s Newtek Tricaster 8000 Advanced which switched between the different camera feeds and added graphics, video playbacks and roll-ins. A Live X custom graphics system added right rail graphics to the feed with live updates of NFL drafts as they occurred and live Twitter feeds from randomly-selected fans.
After all the editing was done, the switcher sent the feed to Baynard’s Teradek T-Rax streaming encoder, which transported the stream directly to Live X’s Core account. Within Core, he set up several Sputniks, which are stream-hosting servers used by Core to deliver video from encoder to destination.
Using Core’s drag-and-drop interface, Baynard created a Master Sputnik which hosted 4 separate Slave Sputnik servers. Each Slave Sputnik contained up to 10 NFL team Facebook Pages, encompassing every one of SB Nation’s NFL Pages, as well as the SB Nation flagship Page.
“Because I had everything set to auto-start, the moment I dragged the Slave Sputniks into the Master Sputnik, the streams went live,” explained Baynard. “We were able to do 720p at 2.5Mbps for Facebook.”
Despite how easy Core makes it to multicast to 33 Facebook Pages, managing so many streams simultaneously didn’t come without some hurdles.
Each one of the SB Nation’s NFL Facebook Pages is moderated by fans, which caused a bit of confusion when Baynard suddenly went live on their Page. “I had some Page admins kill my feed, and one of the Pages even had the admins hosting their own NFL Draft Party and streaming it to the Page, causing them to drop my stream so they could promote their own.”
Luckily Core had a solution to this. Baynard set each Sputnik to enable auto-start so that the moment a stream dropped, Core would automatically reestablish the connection. Thanks to native integration with Facebook (and all major streaming platforms), Baynard didn’t need to manually go through the whole setup process again when certain feeds were dropped.
In addition, SB Nation wanted to archive all of the streams on the Pages for VOD viewing. However, with Facebook Live’s public API, there’s an interesting restriction to archiving on Pages. “If you hit the 4-hour streaming limit, Facebook actually won’t do automatic archiving, so you wouldn’t see it saved on the Page for on-demand viewing after,” Baynard explained.
In order to circumvent this issue, both SB Nation and Baynard had to be sure the Draft Party show stayed under the 4-hour time limit, and that the streams all stopped before they hit that threshold. Instead of having to start/stop each stream individually, Baynard could stop every single feed by simply clicking the Stop button on the Master Sputnik. By keeping every feed organized and grouped, it eliminates any chance of losing track of streams.
In just under 4 hours of the show, SB Nation was able to reach over 140,000 total combined views from the 33 Facebook Pages. With only minor issues fighting over Draft Party space on some Pages, the streams continued with no issues for the viewers.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without Core. Not too long ago, this is something we would have had to use 33 different encoders to achieve, and even if we had that, there’s no way to get that kind of bandwidth,” said Olsen. “But Core made creating events on Facebook Pages really easy, and from a technical perspective it all went really well!”
Core provides an excellent way for content producers like SB Nation to keep distribution costs low while reaching substantially more viewers than streaming to a single destination. At the same time, its GUI makes monitoring and managing every single stream incredibly simple so users can maintain reliable, robust streams throughout the production.
“You can imagine the cost for the client of me bringing in 33 encoders and several encoding engineers to keep eyes on 33 machines. I only had to send 1 stream to Core, and that was it,” said Baynard.
As more and more organizations include live streaming into their delivery strategies, streaming to single destinations is getting progressively less viable. SB Nation knew that in order to stay relevant and compete with the flood of other Draft Party shows being broadcasted at the same time (TV and online), multicasting was the best option to accomplish this.