Case Study: Pixellot Makes Small Sporting Events Big with Zixi
Automated sports producer Pixellot and the Zixi team recently worked together to come up with a low cost solution for distributing live stream content at a QoS that rivaled expensive fiber and satellite solutions. This case study shows that sports producers can afford to provide a broadcast quality streaming experience from the first mile to the last.
At the recent SVG TranSPORT event, members of the Zixi team heard from a variety of sports content distributors lamenting their ongoing struggles with the cost of distribution via traditional satellite and fiber technologies. As consumers expect to be able to watch live streams of weigh-ins, spring practice, draft events, drills, and anything else related to their favorite sports, content producers are always searching for more economical ways to distribute more content across more devices.
The Live Streaming Challenge
Pixellot helps semi-pro and amateur sports organizations create stunning live coverage from their venues without a single camera operator. Their automated sports production workflows needed a way to uplink and distribute HD video broadcasts over the internet, from a variety of sports venues, and had to factor in the unpredictable and limited bandwidth connectivity at each location.
The Live Streaming Solution
Pixellot added Zixi services to its on-premise server solution, as well as in cloud services, to securely deliver broadcast-quality HD video over unmanaged Internet connections at each venue without buffering or visible packet loss. Instead viewers enjoyed clear audio and great picture quality.
With unmatched bandwidth optimization, 99.999% quality of service, and security protection, the Zixi Platform helps Pixellot bring hundreds of sporting events to a global stage via broadcast quality live streams every day.
Sports content is always a compelling live-event for fans to watch around the world, but many live stream technologies can struggle with the dramatic camera moves and complicated visual graphics. Sweeping pans across the pitch follow the thrilling play of a soccer match. Instant replays of exciting shots in a basketball game keep fans tuned in and engaged. Tight zooms capture the moment-to-moment action of athletes at their best. But bad live stream technologies can ruin the intended experience with buffering, dropped sound, or lost packets.
These live sports productions require significant infrastructure and manpower to create—including many high-quality cameras, large production teams, and sweeping graphics packages. As a result, live sports coverage has traditionally been the realm of the largest media companies and top pro-sports teams. But Pixellot, with the help of Zixi technology, is making high-quality sports production a reality for a much wider variety of competitive sports.
Pixellot is a provider of automated sports production solutions. Its mission is “making millions of small events big.” Pixellot helps semi-pro, collegiate, youth, and amateur sports teams capture and broadcast their sporting events with outstanding production value—without a single camera operator.
Pixellot offers a fixed multi-camera device that captures gameplay on the entire field in ultra-high-resolution panorama. During the game, Pixellot’s on-site server automatically produces the event in real time, complete with pans, zooms, ad-breaks, and replays. The produced content is streamed over the venue’s standard internet connection to Amazon cloud-based virtual machines where it is broadcast live across Amazon’s CDN, CloudFront.
Thousands of Venues, Thousands of QoS Issues
Pixellot works with a wide variety of sports organizations and venues around the world. Whether it is a high school gymnasium or a semi-professional football stadium, the network conditions at each venue present major operational challenges. Overall bandwidth may be low. Crowd swells in an arena often overwhelm available bandwidth with additional traffic. School network bandwidth fluctuates as students use the Internet across campus. The result is a series of networks that are far from ideal to meet broadcast standards.
Initially, Pixellot solutions experienced the quality-of-service issues we are all far too familiar with at each location. Packet loss and jitter due to network unpredictability made some live broadcasts virtually unwatchable. Pixellot knew it had to find a live streaming technology that would deliver HD video over unmanaged Internet connections, regardless of underlying network conditions, at a cost that made it possible to distribute more content – not less.
As the global leader in delivering live broadcast-quality video over the Internet, the Zixi Platform was a natural fit.
Putting the Zixi Platform Into the Game
Due to the Zixi Platform being a flexible software solution, it can typically run on existing server hardware found in many broadcast environments. In this case, Pixellot quickly implemented Zixi software on their existing server at each venue, and sent the output to Zixi services running on a Pixellot virtual machine in the cloud. With Zixi’s full-featured API, the Pixellot cloud platform became fully Zixi-fied offering automated controls and monitoring.
The Zixi Transport Stream between Zixi edge points provides quality error correction, packet-loss recovery, and bandwidth optimization through network-and-video-aware protected streaming. The Zixi Platform provides extremely resilient and reliable broadcast quality-of-service despite changing network conditions. And at venues where multiple network connections exist, the Zixi Platform can intelligently maximize all available bandwidth through network bonding, giving even greater stability to the feed.
“The greatest challenge we face is that our customers each have their own networks with varying degrees of network quality, which made it extremely difficult to provide a consistent service without Zixi,” says Dov Brand, VP of Product, Pixellot. “With Zixi services on premise and in the cloud, we noticed a huge improvement in quality immediately. At Pixellot, we help our customers create broadcast-quality sports production automatically, and with Zixi, we can offer broadcast-tier quality-of-service as well.”
Zixi provides a stream from the source and prepares the content for distribution in the cloud, while supporting multi-bit-rate and multi-format transcoding to ensure downstream quality and compatibility. The Zixi instances on Pixellot virtual machines creates multiple streams at different bitrates that are then pushed to CloudFront—and other major CDNs—where the games are available live or on-demand for fans, players, and coaches.
Zixi-fying Gameplay is a Slam Dunk
Within four months of implementing the Zixi Platform, Pixellot saw a dramatic improvement in service quality. For customers—from youth leagues all the way to semi-professional teams—Pixellot can now provide pristine quality video regardless of the network conditions at the teams’ venues. The company is now implementing 100% of all solutions using the Zixi Platform. As a result, customer feedback has been outstanding, and the Pixellot support team receives accolades instead of complaints.
For coaches and scouts, Pixellot broadcasts are a revolutionary new way to review player performance. The Pixellot mobile app allows viewers to access games on demand and zoom in on any individual player to observe their performance. Players can watch games, create custom highlights of their plays, and instantly post to social media. For organizations with small budgets, Pixellot with the Zixi Platform offers an all-new way to broadcast games to fans anywhere in the world. All without the need for costly production services and expensive fiber or satellite solutions.
“Broadcast quality with Zixi isn’t good. It’s great!” concluded Brand. “It creates a much more stable connection with rock solid output. Our customers are thrilled to make even their smallest sporting events feel huge with fully produced, live tv-quality broadcasts. With Zixi, we’re able to support our teams better than ever before.”