Pac-12 Networks is one of the largest sports broadcasters in the US. The college media organisation recently switched its entire infrastructure to the cloud.
Professional sports take top spot in US television viewing, but university level sports has an avid following that –given fierce university loyalties – can eclipse the pros.
The Pacific-12 Conference, or Pac-12, is the university sports organisation covering the western US, a region that contains some of the country’s top college teams and its most spirited rivalries. It comprises 12 universities and covers 11 men’s and 13 women’s sports, including that venerable college institution, American football.
Pac-12 Networks is the conference’s media arm and is the first such company to be wholly owned by 12 universities. It offers the full range of Pac-12 sports, from football, basketball and baseball to swimming, gymnastics and rowing. The network offers streaming of all the conference sports and includes livestreaming channels from each university, an output that makes it one of the top live sports producers in the country.
Last year, Pac-12 Networks moved its entire video and media infrastructure to AWS. Determined to transform the sports fan experience – reaching more viewers at more locations, on more devices, Pac-12 Networks took a cloud-enabled approach. The upgrade involved a re-imagining of core master control production workflows, as well as solutions for content archiving, personalisation and monetisation.
The network hoped to demonstrate that higher-quality services would bring greater fan engagement and enhanced advertising revenue. By tying together a standardised video encoding source that feeds a comprehensive cloud production workflow and distribution network, Pac-12 Networks raised the bar for college sports coverage.
“The way viewers expect to consume games is changing,” says Mark Kramer, VP, Engineering and Technology, at Pac-12 Networks. “Without AWS, we couldn’t meet our fans’ needs. Now, we’re quickly setting up new workflows at scale, such as live-to-VOD and OTT monetisation. We’re changing how schools produce collegiate sports and giving fans much better, personalised experiences. We’ve solved a huge, yet simple problem: how not to run out of storage. Translation: we’re making assets available to consumers and syndication partners the minute they’re recorded, so more people can see them in more ways.”
“We’re making assets available to consumers and syndication partners the minute they’re recorded.”
In August 2018, Pac-12 Network aired the first collegiate football game of the season, Utah’s home-opener against Weber State.
“Performance and video quality were awesome,” remembers Kramer. “Everything was gorgeous during the game for linear broadcast and TV everywhere audiences. This was a huge moment – it was a threshold we’d worked towards for years.”
With the new cloud-centric approach, Pac-12 Networks’ master control uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and Amazon Glacier as petabyte-sized primary archives for all its recorded content, and as the basis of an automated ingest workflow.
Being able to call on unlimited amount of Amazon S3 storage, as required, liberates other aspects of the production workflow, enabling, among other things, the creation of a new live-to-VOD capture feature. Using the entirely cloud-based workflow, AWS Elemental MediaTailor now provides a simple option to perform server-side ad insertion (SSAI) for live and on-demand content, augmenting the means for content monetisation.
Other AWS services in the Pac-12 cloud infrastructure include AWS IAM, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon EC2 Autoscaling, Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) and Amazon Elastic Load Balancing (ELB).
The number of Pac-12 games now being powered by AWS over the 2018-19 season is 850. Pac-12 Networks is connecting its 10Gb multi-venue contribution network to AWS using a 1Gb AWS DirectConnect. AWS Elemental MediaLive and AWS Elemental MediaPackage services prepare all live streams for delivery in Apple’s HLS format to iOS, Android, Web, Chromecast and Apple TV devices.
AWS Machine Learning services adds the potential for a whole new range of service enhancements in the future, including automated gameplay highlight clips and real-time closed captioning
Another potential application involves AWS Lambda, a serverless application model that uses less compute for processing clip and highlight generation.
In this workflow, the moment a game is over, Pac-12 Networks would have all assets, such as game highlights, directly accessible for streaming and syndication partners. As a result, a variety of highlight options could be quickly made available to the fans, offering a much richer post-game experience.
“As we standardise AWS machine learning and media services, we’ll be able to usher in a new era of entertainment for collegiate sports enthusiasts,” reveals Kramer. “Our fans will benefit from highly reliable and personalised viewer experiences, even in times of rapid traffic spikes like conference championships or rivalry games. Also, our internal teams will be able to experiment with ease using AWS services to rapidly test new ideas.”