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Welcome to the Future

This has been an amazing year in online video streaming at Akamai. Between the 96 live games of the Sochi Olympics, the 64 games of the World Cup, and a variety of other high profile live streaming events (remember the Super Bowl?), the Akamai support teams have certainly earned a summer vacation. Of course, since Akamai supports a lot more web activity above and beyond these high profile events every day, some of the team members are going to have to stick around, because the Internet does not take vacations.

Cloud-based Media Workflows: A Business Proposition

The following post is part one of a two-part series exploring cloud-based media workflows. Stay tuned for a more technically oriented blog post from Akamai's Professional Services guru Frank Paolino.

When you hear people talking about "the cloud," they're typically discussing its various technical benefits. Elastic scalability, flexibility, availability and other features that end in -bility are often hot topics of conversation. In general, this can be very engaging, worthwhile dialog.

The following is a post from Director of Product Marketing, Kurt Michel, and Senior Solutions Architect, Nicolas Weil.

It has been a very busy first quarter for the media team here at Akamai, where the technical folks have been elevating the quality of online video to all-new heights. In January at CES, we demonstrated 4K/Ultra HD streaming video with help from Qualcomm and Elemental. Last week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, we showed what we believe was the world's first CDN-delivered 4K/Ultra HD 60 frames per second linear stream using Elemental's HEVC compression and MPEG-DASH packaging, highlighting the performance capabilities of our network and our new native DASH ingest feature.
An overview of the online video landscape, consumer expectations and the importance of video quality with Akamai Director of Media Product Marketing, Kurt Michel. Kurt also provides an overview of the quality chain that must be considered when delivering exceptional media experiences: delivery, storage, preparation, protection and analytics.

Learn more about Akamai's Media & Delivery Solutions:http://www.akamai.com/html/solutions/sola-solutions.html

Bringing the Sochi Games Home - Internationally

As the Sochi winter games draw to a close, I'd like to share a live streaming experience I had Sunday, which truly puts the spirit of the games into perspective for me.
 
My 12-year-old daughter, Stephanie, is a ski racer with the Jay Peak Ski Club in Vermont, USA. Jay Peak is much closer to Montreal than to my residence near Boston, so I have a number of Canadian friends in the club. Sunday morning, my daughter had a race at Burke Mountain, VT, home of Burke Mountain Academy, where American skier Mikaela Schiffrin graduated this past year. My daughter and I have been tracking Mikaela's Olympic progress with great interest, and we watched Mikaela's gold medal slalom run live. And thanks to NBC's terrific iOS applications, we have watched her amazing second run recovery on demand, providing me with a great teachable moment about practice and never giving up. But I digress.
 
While in the Burke ski lodge preparing their children for the race, my Canadian friends were unfortunately missing the men's hockey gold medal final between Canada and Sweden. Since the game was being played on Sunday morning here in Vermont, the bar with the TV was not yet open. And since the race was in the U.S., rights restrictions prevented my friends from streaming the game through their Canadian provider. As their inability to enjoy their national sport's ultimate contest became apparent, I saw a real opportunity to strengthen international relations. I pulled out my iPad, connected it to Burke Mountain's complimentary WiFi, started up my NBC Live Extra app, and played the live stream. Suddenly, my Canadian friends began swarming around my iPad, asking, "Is that really live?" and complementing the high quality that we were getting in a ski lodge with a few hundred people sharing WiFi in rural upstate Vermont. One even said, "It looks like TV!" Of course, I let them know that Akamai played a big role in helping NBC to deliver the experience; and they were truly grateful. Luckily the game finished with a Canadian victory before the ski race began, precluding any need for tough choices.

The Winter Games - Your Way

Here at Akamai, six days into the winter games, we have been reliably streaming the events in high quality - much of it in HD - for more than 20 broadcasting rights holders around the world. Since each of these broadcasters has their own unique requirements and workflows, our teams have been working with them for over nine months so that we can meet their expectations, as well as their audiences', over these 17 days. Video streams from the Akamai network are reaching devices around the globe in all of the major streaming formats, providing stream security and analytics capabilities. And of course, this all requires 24/7 support. 

Live Streaming from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

More than a century ago, clothing designer Tiger of Sweden was founded with the radical idea of sending its tailors to customers rather than waiting for customers to visit the shop. During this week's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Stockholm, the cutting-edge designer is again bringing its fashions to the people, this time by way of live streaming the showcase of its 2014 Fall and Winter clothing lines.

With no margin for error, production company Studio Bon has selected Akamai's digital media solutions to deliver the live event online, ensuring it has the scale, reach and reliability to enable a global audience of press, purchasers and consumers to experience the look and spirit of the new collections across geographies and devices. 

Addressing the 4K Challenge at CES

Big screens, bigger screens and little, tiny screens ... the 2014 International CES is sure to be all about screens - and the gadgets they're attached to - again this year.

I, for one, will have my eyes fixed on the Ultra High Definition, or 4K, screens at this year's show. Unlike the 3-D fad in recent years, this technology is here to stay. Tech cycles have quickly evolved and there's no physical "box" needed to deploy 4K (except the enormous one the display comes in, of course), which means it's rapidly moved from "interesting" to "awesome" over the last year.

In fact, Akamai has been working with our friends from Elemental Technologies and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. on a 4K demonstration, which can be experienced in Qualcomm's CES booth #8252. We are showing attendees how content owners can make the jump from demonstration to deployment at a scale that is achievable and can help satisfy the groundswell of consumer demand in the year ahead.

Here's what it will look like:

  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. will be demonstrating a development tablet, powered by the Snapdragon™ 805 processor, with the ability to decode H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and play back 4K content on an Ultra High Definition television.
  • Elemental Technologies will encode the content using HEVC, compressing the video to require about half of the bandwidth of today's commonly used AVC/H.264 compression standard. Elemental will also apply Moving Picture Expert Group - Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (MPEG-DASH) formatting to the content. MPEG-DASH has been designed to serve as a single, open streaming format for all devices and players.
  • That 4K/HEVC/DASH content will be hosted in Akamai's cloud-based NetStorage and streamed in real time over the Akamai Intelligent Platform's high-performance network at bitrates ranging from 10 to 20 megabits per second. 

So, what's cool about this joint demonstration at CES? It's a great example of innovative companies combining their technologies to showcase a practical implementation for online 4K viewing. Sure, you can find a few examples of 4K content online now, and you can also download massive 4K files; but delivering that level of content at scale is a real hurdle for content owners and service providers - one that Akamai is working with other innovators to solve.

This demonstration from Akamai, Qualcomm, Technologies, Inc. and Elemental shows those enabling technologies all in one place and demonstrates how 4K can become commercially viable in terms of managing the storage, bandwidth and costs associated with this higher level of content delivery.

If you're interested in seeing this demonstration in person, stop by Qualcomm's booth, #8252, or email Kurt Michel to make an appointment.

Kurt Michel is director of product marketing for Akamai's digital media solutions.

Sola Shines at Streaming Media Readers' Choice Awards

We're honored that Akamai received three 2013 Streaming Media Readers' Choice Awards, which were presented during a ceremony at the Streaming Media West conference in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 20th. Akamai ranked first in the Content Delivery Network (CDN), Cloud Encoding/Transcoding, and Reporting & Analytics Platform categories.

Akamai Streaming Media Awards.jpg

Akamai's Sola Sphere won for CDN. Built upon the Akamai Intelligent Platform of more than 141,000 globally distributed servers, Sola Sphere is the world's first and largest content delivery network, providing online storage and HTTP media delivery to address the expansive variety of network types and connection speeds.

Sola Vision Transcoding topped the Cloud Encoding/Transcoding category. The cloud-based transcoding services are optimized to combine the quality, simplicity and speed necessary generate multiple copies of a video file that are so crucial to adaptive bitrate streaming and a positive viewing experience across multiple devices and varying levels of connectivity.

Finally, Sola Analytics was the readers' choice for Reporting and Analytics Platform. Consisting of Audience Analytics, Quality of Service Monitor and Viewer Diagnostics, Sola Analytics delivers insights designed to address numerous business issues, including maximizing monetization, try-to-buy conversions, optimizing product portfolios, prioritizing marketing efforts, managing distribution strategies, addressing rights holder requirements, and monitoring and allocating costs.

According to Streaming Media, it received more than 300 nominations across 26 categories. We want to extend our thanks to everybody who voted for Akamai this year, and congratulations to all of this year's winners and finalists.

Chris Nicholson is a senior public relations manager at Akamai.

MPEG-DASH is now industry essential

While NAB 2012 was approaching, Will Law was pushing forward MPEG-DASH on this blog as "a single [video] format that can be supported across a common ecosystem of content and services, all the way from the encoder down the chain to the end consumer" with the potential to "translate into an industry with a deeper feature set and a steeper innovation curve". What is the situation after IBC 2013? Did MPEG-DASH successfully handle this industry spread to allow a world of streamlined media workflows?

Let's agree that the general perspective provided by MPEG-DASH is quite appealing for most online video professionals, with the target of drastically reducing the number of Adaptive Bitrate streaming formats to support. The recent move of Widevine dropping proprietary packaging in favor of DASH clearly goes in this direction, as well as the positive efforts of Microsoft to translate Smooth Streaming to DASH through a new generation of PlayReady DRM and new DASH-enabled player frameworks. After having recently focused on HLS support in its client implementations, Adobe now gets back to DASH with announcement of early 2014 support, which will be a major event if DASH finally comes to the huge installed basis of Flash Players and supersedes Adobe HDS format.

A main characteristic of DASH is to focus on manifest and video segment organization, delegating restrictions on codecs, containers and even transport modes to profiles. The positive side of this approach is that it conveys openness and brings flexibility to the standard. But it also brings a complexity factor: numerous interactions with other standards and standardization bodies to offer a systemic approach. This partly explains why the DASH standardization process is taking some time despite all efforts deployed by the MPEG consortium since late 2011 with the first draft standard publication. The intermediary observation that can be derived from this situation is that the standardization work is still not finished as major complementary standards like Common Encryption and multi-DRM still require industry collaboration efforts. Nevertheless, the MPEG-DASH standard has become a strategic asset for the entire video industry, considering upcoming Ultra-HD video distribution challenges.

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