iStreamPlanet Drives ‘Fastest Two Minutes’ Second-Screen Experience for NBC Sports

Drawing from the second-screen success of both Sunday Night Football Extra and Super Bowl Extra, the NBC Sports Group will stream the Kentucky Derby live to desktops and, for the first time ever, to iPhones and iPads. With more than a decade of managed-broadcast experience, Las Vegas-based iStreamPlanet will bring the “fastest two minutes in sports” from Churchill Downs to the desktops, iPhones, and iPads of race enthusiasts everywhere.

“What’s exciting about the NBC partnership is that they’re really eager to innovate, just like we are,” says Mio Babic, founder/president/CEO, iStreamPlanet. “I think something that brought us together is this desire to create these new and exciting experiences, in terms of the high quality of video playback, seamless experience across devices, [and] bringing the video to multiple devices.”

Tomorrow, Kentucky Derby Extra will be available at NBC Sports Group’s live-streaming desktop experience will simulcast the linear feed and feature four online-only camera angles showcasing all the action from Derby Day. In addition, Kentucky Derby Extra will feature online-only analysis from NBC Sports commentators, replays and footage from Kentucky Derby prep races, and a video simulation of this year’s Derby.

“It’s pretty similar to what we’ve done for Sunday Night Football,” says Eric Black, director of digital operations, NBC Sports and Olympics. “Viewers will be able to access four different camera angles, as well as the simulcast, on their desktop. We’re really excited to take fans from the red carpet to the paddock and show them the fastest two minutes in sports.”

Optimizing the Mobile Experience
For racing enthusiasts without access to a television or computer, iStreamPlanet plans to maximize the viewing experience on iPhones and iPads using adaptive-bitrate streaming and taking full advantage of the devices’ screen resolution. The best possible bitrate for the iPhone experience will be 1.2 Mbps, for the iPad 2.25 Mbps.

Both devices will enable users to stream the linear-network feed of the Kentucky Derby live, with a maximum resolution of 960×540 for iPhones and 1280×720 for iPads.

“Prior to the [new iPad], because the screen resolution [of the iPad 2] was limited to 960×540, we could only encode a maximum resolution of 960×540, because, if the device can’t play a higher resolution, why would you want to create a higher resolution?” says Babic. “The interesting thing about [the new iPad] is, now we can actually do 1280×720, which is a full 720p HD.”

From Derby to Desktop
In order to stream the Kentucky Derby live to mobile devices and desktops, iStreamPlanet’s process begins at Churchill Downs. NBC Sports Group will uplink an airport feed of the linear program via satellite, as well as four online-only isolated shots selected by the show’s production team. The five feeds will be downlinked to iStreamPlanet’s broadcast-operations center in Las Vegas, where the company will decode the streams using multiple receivers for maximum redundancy.

“If there’s a problem with a single receiver, we can reroute the video from a secondary receiver,” Babic explains. “Everything we do has a primary and a backup, just to make sure that, if anything goes wrong with the primaries, the backups are in there to automatically fill in and prevent any kind of video-quality loss or interruption in a viewing experience.”

From the receivers, the video feeds are routed through an automation process and to assigned encoders. For the desktop experience, the five feeds will be encoded using Microsoft Smooth Streaming and published through iStreamPlanet’s cloud-based network, as well as Akamai’s content-delivery network. The mobile experience, which will consist only of the single simulcast feed and not the four additional camera angles, will be encoded using Apple’s HLS format.

Because the four online-only camera feeds will not be subject to the same latency as the postproduced network feed, iStreamPlanet’s encoding process includes syncing all five feeds.

“While encoding the content, we’re using the timecode feature that allows us to sync all the different video feeds and camera angles,” says Babic. “Once the audience is watching something — for example, the horse just crossed the finish line — you want to make sure that every single camera angle is showing the same footage at the same time and place. Otherwise, you get a subpar user experience where things are out of sync.”

Never Miss a Moment
In addition to switching among multiple camera angles and locations (NBC Sports Group plans to move the online-only iso cameras around Churchill Downs throughout the day), racing enthusiasts can replay the action using the video player’s DVR functionality or simply click on highlights as they appear on screen.

iStreamPlanet plans to include two types of replays in the desktop experience: postproduced and instant. Postproduced highlights will be those selected by NBC Sports Group, recorded and edited, with commentary and graphics added. Postproduced highlight files will be ingested into iStreamPlanet’s video workflow, transcoded into the proper Web format, and published through the company’s content-management system (CMS).

In a similar fashion, iStreamPlanet’s custom CMS tools will enable NBC Sports Group to manage live, in-stream ad insertion for maximum monetization of the desktop experience.

Unlike postproduced highlights, which require a 15- to 30-minute process, instant highlights will be available within a matter of minutes. Using the video player’s DVR functionality, NBC Sports Group producers watching the various live feeds can mark in and mark out a particular highlight and publish it directly to Kentucky Derby Extra. All highlights will be available on-demand throughout the day.

“[NBC Sports Group] continues to challenge us to come up with a new and great idea, and it’s been just a tremendous partnership that’s built on this trust and desire to innovate and bring these new cool experiences across all these devices to the consumers,” says Babic. “There’s always going to be something new to innovate, and it takes a partner that’s willing sometimes to take a risk to bring something cool and exciting to audience.”

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