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Bandwidth and 'Big Brother:' RealNetworks Implements iStreamPlanet’s Live Video Workflow

As the reality show Big Brother enters its 14th season on CBS, RealNetworks is once again relying on iStreamPlanet to provide multicamera, 24/7, live streaming from the Big Brother house to subscribers of its SuperPass service.

Delivering a live online broadcast that goes uninterrupted for three months is no easy feat. iStreamPlanet uses automated systems to monitor its encoders, in addition to proactive human monitoring—double coverage that helps ensure a smooth encoding process. The team works on a rotating schedule so that someone is watching every minute of every day to make sure all the feeds are broadcasting properly.

The production format for Big Brother includes four cameras that capture the primary action as well as ancillary activity going on in other parts of the house. Those camera feeds come together to tell one complete story, but they are also streamed live as individual feeds.

When viewers tune in online, they see a split-screen, user-controlled player. The split-screen feed shows streams from all four live cameras, which are always rolling. Viewers can select any one of the cameras as the main view by means of four video thumbnails that are always visible on the left side of the player. This thumbnail strip allows the user to keep an eye on all the action, no matter which camera is chosen for the main screen.

“The strip required a little innovation,” says Mark East, senior director of broadcast operations for iStreamPlanet. “Typically, video thumbnails like that would require individual video streams arranged in the player. We found that even at very low data rates, having four individual streams required too much overhead to be feasible for low-bandwidth viewers. So we’re using a Miranda Kaleido-X16 multiviewer to output a mosaic of the four feeds in a vertical strip format. A Cisco Media Processor encoder takes that output and encodes it to a single bit rate H.264 stream at a frame size of 128 x 388—perfect for navigational purposes.”

Big Brother's video workflow

The CBS production team uses four SD cameras to capture the action live in Los Angeles. All four SD feeds are encapsulated into a single Asynchronous Serial Interface (ASI) stream that combines audio, video and metadata. iStreamPlanet acquires this stream from the Los Angeles location through the Hibernia Atlantic global fiber network, a circuit for which is installed at iStreamPlanet’s Broadcast Operations Center in Las Vegas. iStreamPlanet installed the circuit especially for acquiring the Big Brother signals.

iStreamPlanet then takes the ASI stream and decodes it into four Sencore MRD decoders, extracting each of the four feeds individually from the ASI package. From there, iStreamPlanet uses its proprietary video workflow platform for scheduling, automating and routing those four incoming feeds to generate the RealNetworks player’s four full-screen views and fifth quad-split view, plus a single stream of the thumbnail strip that enables users to select their view in real time.

The streams are published to Akamai’s HD network, where they are transmuxed or transcoded on the server side to the HLS format and Adobe True HTTP Streaming so that they can be accessed by Apple iOS and Android devices.