March Madness Live Rides Success of New Streaming Infrastructure From iStreamPlanet
Improved platform offers production flexibility and advertising-optimization tools
With college-hoops fans streaming the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at a blistering pace (through the first Thursday of the tournament, March Madness Live had racked up a record 31 million live streams, an increase of 26% over the same period last year), an entirely new streaming infrastructure from Turner-owned iStreamPlanet is working hard behind the scenes to make it all possible.
This year’s tournament marks the first year that March Madness Live’s backend has been moved from MLBAM to iStreamPlanet, completing a migration that has been ongoing since Turner Sports purchased the live-streaming–solutions provider in 2015.
“Strategically, this is one of the two main reasons we bought iStreamPlanet,” says Matt Hong, Turner Sports’ newly minted COO. “That strategy was to move everything that’s live anywhere within our company in Turner over to the iStreamPlanet platform.”
For Turner, that includes NBA LEAGUE PASS (the NBA’s out-of-market streaming service), PGA Championship Live, and ELEAGUE digital offerings, as well as support for streaming and mobile applications for TBS, TNT, and CNN. iStreamPlanet’s Aventus platform represents a modern approach to streaming using a cloud/software–based platform.
iStreamPlanet, which has nearly two decades of providing the backbone for major events like the Super Bowl (for NBC) and the Olympic Games, began work a year ago to architect, design, and test a totally new solution for the NCAA and March Madness Live.
According to iStreamPlanet founder/CEO Mio Babic, the solution was built on three key improvements to the previous backend: moving the entire network to an IP environment, building dashboards and data-reporting tools for advertising teams to monitor ad inventory through an entire life cycle, and providing full transparency to support all of it.
On the IP front, Turner has been pushing itself internally to operate more of its Atlanta-based broadcast center over IP, moving away from SDI; iStreamPlanet has been nearly fully IP since 2013.
“That push is giving us the next generation of capabilities for many years to come, so we can create multiple sources and multiple channels and be able to hand them off to various distribution channels and process them for different devices,” says Babic. “What we wanted to do was move all of the sourcing, switching, content splicing, and content management all into an IP domain. This [allows us] to be able to do an event like [March Madness] at scale, so we can seamlessly add more content. It also offers greater flexibility around how we move the content, make it available for editing, for real-time highlights, and for additional distribution channels,”
Deploying a fully IP workflow opened the door for iStreamPlanet to develop dashboard interfaces enabling production and operations personnel to monitor all video feeds from virtually any approved location.
“What it has done for us is, it’s brought everyone on the same page,” says Babic. “It’s much easier and much faster to troubleshoot things. It’s much easier to align around specific goals. Ultimately, it’s given us more flexibility around how we move the content from point A to point B.”
That also offers better tools for ad monitoring and management. Through user-friendly dashboards, sales execs at Turner can monitor what ads have been played where, how frequently, on what game, and on what devices while pairing that data with performance metrics pulled in from user behavior.
“We want to be able to give our advertisers a much better view at what audiences are watching on what platforms and how are they watching it,” says Babic. “What’s popular, what’s not popular, and how their ad has been treated? When you think about it from an ad standpoint, if you say to someone, ‘We are going to deliver a billion ads for you over a span of three or four weeks,’ that’s an impressive number, but how nice would it be to be able to say, ‘We are going to give you a billion ads, and here’s how every single game did, here’s how your ad did in each game per different platform, per different geographical region’?
“To be able to provide that additional data layer and to provide that transparency,” he continues, “just offers a tremendous value.”