SXSW Live Connects Multiple Downtown Austin Locations via NDI®
June 14, 2019 by Ned Soseman
March in Austin, Texas means South by Southwest, or SXSW, the annual conference and festival celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film and music industries. Last year, SXSW visitors booked nearly 13,000 Austin hotel rooms at an average of five nights each. The economic impact of SXSW 2018 on the city was an estimated $350 million.
“Condense and Speed Up”
Every year, event organizers live stream content viewable at SXSW.com/live and the SXSW YouTube channel with more than 192,000 subscribers. Every year, SXSW show producers aim to improve the live stream experience for their viewers. The goal for 2019, according to Stephen Light, SXSW Head of Commercial Content, was to ‘condense and speed up’ production.
“We needed to get our content from several locations into one place for master control streaming and so our editors could get to it quicker and create interstitial content faster than last year. This way we could keep audiences better informed, engaged, and tuned in longer.”
The biggest challenge was the large footprint to cover - live streaming from 5 different rooms in 4 different buildings located downtown. A Master Control was set up in a small conference room on the 6th floor of the Hilton Austin Hotel, across the street from the Austin Convention Center (ACC), the nexus of all SXSW activity. One keynote room was downstairs at the Hilton, two more were at the ACC. A fourth room was at the new Fairmont Hotel three long city blocks away and a fifth room used for one-on-one interviews was at the JW Marriott Hotel – five city blocks away from the Hilton!
To make this challenge even more daunting, the team had 24 hours to move in and set up.
Transporting via NDI
Deploying an NDI-based solution carrying video, audio, and metadata signals across a network connecting various buildings had never been attempted by the SXSW crew. If you could transport NDI from the four downtown Austin buildings to Master Control to streamline the content flow, you would have a groundbreaking solution, saving time and money while meeting the ‘condense and speed up’ demand in a new way consistent with the cutting-edge nature of SXSW. Network Architect Cliff Skolnick with RightRound LLC was brought in to set up a multiple NDI stream network. RightRound specializes in providing Internet connectivity anywhere.
Skolnick explained, “For Stephen, we built a network with many different pieces working together, which is a real strength of IP-based technology. We did not share the existing SXSW network with NDI, but instead built a parallel network to carry the video to isolate the large amount of SXSW Internet traffic from NDI traffic. The only interconnect was for management and monitoring purposes.”
He continued, “We used layer 1 copper or fiber when and where we could. We started with a plan to use the in-house network at the ACC, JW Marriott, and Fairmont to carry the last bit of signal, but in the process of installation we quickly realized the advantage of controlling the network end-to-end and installed our own switches.”
“The solution was to use RightRound gear with venue fiber and copper at all sites except the Fairmont, where we used the house network to carry the signal from the pool roof to the meeting room. The 5 GigE radio links used licensed Siklu EH-5000 radios from Alpha Omega wireless to transport NDI signals across streets,” Skolnick said. The EH-5000 full-duplex radios operate in the 71-86GHz ‘W-Band’ where there is plenty of RF spectrum to establish a line-of-sight, 1250 MHz-wide 5GbE duplex connection. The radios also provided Forward Error Correction.
“We used a 1 GigE signal per channel as a guide building the network, and 5 or 10 GigE technology where we needed to carry more than one channel. Another key element was monitoring and flexibility. Monitoring revealed a 10 GigE copper solution to get the signal into one meeting room was unreliable. We quickly moved to find a fiber path and installed single mode fiber between the IDF and the roof the same day,” he said.
SXSW Live Stream
“We wanted the ability to publicly stream content from any one of several rooms where crews were on-site. We also wanted to provide simulcast sessions to overflow rooms at the site, and to ingest all of the connected feeds for streaming and post-production in Master Control,” said Light.
TriCasters were deployed in four of the five rooms at the four different locations. A BlackMagic switcher was used in the fifth room at the ACC. All program output feeds were all connected via NDI, transporting 1080i60 video to Master Control and the editors in the Hilton. On the busiest days, all five NDI feeds were simultaneously connected to Master Control and editing.
The result was 104 hours of SXSW 2019 public content streamed on YouTube, over 12-days, originating from the five unique sites. Streaming a back-to-back variety of fresh and relevant action on YouTube like a continuous live broadcast TV channel was the imperative.
The stream was a mix of live and post-produced content. Maintaining on-screen SXSW action on the stream helped retain audiences online. Fresh content was always streaming during downtime between the various conference sessions.
“Our conference rooms featured one-hour sessions with 30-minute breaks in between. During the breaks, we were usually streaming a live interview at a fourth venue. Live streaming started with the SXSW EDU conference March 4-7, and continued with SXSW March 8-16,” Light said. “We had one public stream going nearly all the time on YouTube.”
The JW Marriot was the location of the SXSW Live Studio, the source of one-on-one interview streams. Content could also be recorded locally in each room and the live feeds ingested using NewTek software app IsoCorder Pro.
Some fill-in content, such as “SXSW Highlights” were highly-polished 60-90 second videos produced daily. Much remains posted on the YouTube SXSW Channel. The NDI streams allowed individual productions to route live, high-quality content to Master Control for live-streaming and quicker ingesting for post.
The ACC venue used three to six Sony FS5 and Panasonic HPX2000 cameras depending on the day. The Hilton Austin used three to six Panasonic HPX2700s, the Fairmont Austin used three HPX2000/2700s, and the JW Marriott used Panasonic AW-HE130 PTZ cameras. Cameras that weren’t NDI native were connected to the local TriCaster via SDI.
Omega Broadcast & Cinema, based in Austin, provided the majority of the video equipment as well as on-site support.
The Master Control director communicated with site directors, engineers and producers via an IP connection using a ClearCom LQ2W2.
It’s Show Business
Once the NDI network was setup and stable, producers were happy with the flexibility and freedom to choose from a variety of different content for streaming and overflow room simulcasting. Most problems were identified and resolved during setup.
Streaming live or near-live content for 12 continuous days from four physical locations in a densely-packed downtown area with only 24 hours of setup time was the real-world test. The NDI solution provided the results SXSW 2019 had aimed for. Having multiple NDI signals coming in from various locations to Master Control not only streamlined the live streaming process but gave SXSW editors immediate access to fresh content that could quickly and efficiently be reformatted into high-value interstitial content. The ‘condense and speed up’ goal was achieved.
SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. An essential destination for global professionals, the event features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of networking opportunities. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.
RightRound specializes in Internet connectivity anywhere, high-density WiFi solutions and video streaming for live events, festivals and conferences. We solve technology problems, and make event technology work while making it feel easy and seamless for our clients and their guests.
More Articles by Ned Soseman
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