With Anvato’s Hybrid Cloud, Fox Sports GO Tailors Live NFL Streams to Fans
Super Bowl XLVIII, by any metric, was a streaming success for Fox Sports, a success made possible by tech partner Anvato.
At any minute during the contest, more than half a million viewers on average tapped into the stream through the Fox Sports GO app. In total, more than 1 million streams were viewed simultaneously on tablets and desktops, making Super Bowl XLVIII the most-viewed live stream for a single sports event in the U.S. at the time.
With the NFL regular season well under way, Fox Sports continues to stream live games to in-market subscribers of participating video providers; in total, Fox Sports GO will stream 97 regular-season NFL on Fox games and four NFC playoff games. (Because of league restrictions, NFL games are not available through the Fox Sports GO app on mobile phones).
Anvato, an integrated TV Everywhere platform provider, provides the video infrastructure for Fox Sports and the Fox Sports GO app. By using Anvato technology, Fox Sports has the ability to tailor broadcasts based on geographic location and viewer preferences.
Calling it “better than broadcast,” Anvato Chief Evangelist Matt Smith says, “We can’t provide [the broadcast] infrastructure, nor should the broadcaster just put their content out there — whether it’s live or on demand — and say, ‘OK, we’re streaming. That’s what you want as a viewer, right? Here you go.’ The experience has to be more than that.”
The first step to creating a better-than-broadcast experience, he says, involves ad replacement. Inside the two- to three-minute break, the linear broadcast shows a number of national and regional spots. Rather than stream those through the Fox Sports GO app, Anvato adds specialized markers to the bifurcation between national and regional ads to tailor streams not only to particular market but to a specific geographic location.
“For example, [say] you and I are in New York City but you’re in lower Manhattan and I’m over in Queens. We each have a unique connection to the cloud,” says Smith. “When we initiate that stream in the Fox Sports GO application, the cloud knows that you’re in lower Manhattan and I’m in Queens. So, when we talk about things like ad insertion, we can do smart things like provide different ad units to each one of us based on where we are. In fact, we could provide different content.”
To live-stream more than 100 games to Fox Sports GO users, Fox Sports deploys Anvato’s hybrid-cloud infrastructure, which combines on-premises hardware with cloud-based software. The broadcast signal is transmitted to the Fox Network Centers in Los Angeles or The Woodlands, TX. It is downlinked and passed to Anvato technology — according to Smith, the company’s software can be installed on any general-purpose hardware — for live encode. An HLS rendition of the stream is pushed out to Anvato’s cloud infrastructure, where ad breaks, closed captioning, highlight markers, and more are added. The live stream is delivered via Fox Sports’ CDN, powered by Akamai, which delivers the stream to subscribers on behalf of Fox Sports.
“We have algorithms built into our platform that takes into account the type of content, whether it’s live or on demand, the resolution, and how many streaming renditions we’re going to have, and the platform makes its decisions whether to use the hardware that sits in the broadcast facility or whether we should send the content to the cloud for processing,” Smith explains. “For example, if we’re doing an HD transcode of some NFL highlights that are going to be offered in the Fox Sports GO app, we might use the hardware that sits in the facility in L.A. versus sending one master mezzanine file to the cloud and saying, crunch it all and do it all there.”
Beyond tailoring the mobile experience to geographic location, Anvato’s technology helps Fox Sports tap into viewer preferences as well. A viewer watching a live stream or highlights of an NFL game might receive recommendations for additional video clips based on his or her viewing habits.
Fox Sports partnered with Anvato to power its TV Everywhere offerings last year. Although Fox Sports GO requires its users to authenticate their device using account login information from the cable-service provider, Super Bowl XLVIII was offered free to all U.S.-based Internet users.
Says Smith, “Fox continues to kind of push the edge. They’re really being creative about what they’re doing with their streaming experiences.”