Going for gold: Windows Azure Media Services provide live and on-demand streaming of 2014 Olympic Winter Games on NBC

New Olympic events in snowboarding, freestyle skiing and figure skating in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games start Thursday and when NBC’s viewers want to see those competitions and others streamed live or on demand on their smartphones, tablets, computers or Internet-connected TVs, it will be Windows Azure Media Services making it possible, from behind the scenes.

NBC Olympics, a division of the NBC Sports Group, and Microsoft announced that Windows Azure Media Services is being used to publish and stream all 98 events of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, through Feb. 23. It’s a massive undertaking, one that involves managing more than 1,000 hours of streaming coverage and serving millions of viewers who are using different devices and operating systems.

To meet those demands, Windows Azure will be “leading the way by providing end-to-end live streaming of the Winter Olympics entirely in the cloud, including encoding, transcoding and streaming, for the first time in history,” said Scott Guthrie, acting lead of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group, in a press release announcing the partnership with NBC.

Viewers can access live and on-demand content by using the free NBC Sports Live Extra app, available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Windows RT devices. They can also go to NBCOlympics.com to view live or on-demand Olympics events on a computer – PC or Mac.

That’s the power of Windows Azure Media Services, which can be used to build, manage and distribute video using any streaming format, to any device for broadcasters and other customers.

“We know the country will be watching, so we think it’s a great testament that NBC Olympics has chosen Microsoft as its partner for broadcasting the Games,” said Steven Martin, Windows Azure Marketing & Operations general manager. “There are literally millions of dollars at stake here, and they’re counting on us to deliver.”

“We are pleased to be working once again with Microsoft, and we are confident that Windows Azure Media Services will help us provide the most robust streaming experience ever for a Winter Olympics,” said Richard Cordella, senior vice president and general manager, Digital Media, NBC Sports Group, in the press release.

The NBC Sports Group worked with Microsoft for some aspects of broadcast coverage during the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 and in Beijing in 2008.

Also, last spring, NBC Sports Group chose Windows Azure Media Services to be used across NBC Sports’ digital platforms, including NBCSports.com, NBCOlympics.com and GolfChannel.com. At that time, Cordella described Microsoft as the kind of “tried and true” company NBC can trust.

“There are a lot of stakeholders within our ecosystem that depend on this content being delivered at a high-quality rate, to anywhere and any device,” he said in the video above.

At the 2012 London Olympics, several foreign broadcasters used Windows Azure Media Services for streaming the games. Among them: France Télévisions, RTVE in Spain, CTV in Canada and Terra in Central America and South America.

During those Olympics, in the United States viewers with connected devices watched, on average, six hours of the NBC’s coverage each day, “and we anticipate this demand will continue to grow” with Sochi, said Guthrie.

Transforming the media services industry

NBC Sports’ decision to use Windows Azure Media services is a “galvanizing moment to help the industry understand what Microsoft can bring with Internet broadcast events,” said Martin. “We see lots of opportunities for sports and video streaming of a variety of kinds. We think this is going to be a big market for Microsoft.”

Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform used to securely build, deploy and manage applications and services using datacenters managed by Microsoft. Windows Azure Media Services offers ready-to-use services to handle, encode, store and stream live and on-demand video to any connected device anywhere.

Sudheer Sirivara, director of Windows Azure Media Services, said, “The most exciting thing about this event is that, for the first time, we are doing the complete end-to-end workflow, including live transcoding, dynamic ad-insertion, closed captioning and multi-format streaming in the cloud, as a platform. We have a unique offering in the industry and are the first to do it in a public cloud environment.”

Without Windows Azure’s services, he said, NBC would need to purchase and provision the required encoding hardware, networking equipment and storage for the duration of the event – assets for which they would not have much use after the event ends.

“This is where Windows Azure Media Services, with the inherent elasticity that it brings to the table, provides the ability to scale up and down the required resources on demand, providing the ability for NBC to bring many more sporting events online,” Sirivara said.

Olympic coverage from Sochi will first go through the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn., then to two Microsoft datacenters, one in the eastern U.S. and another in the western U.S., for on demand and live streaming of more than 50 high-definition streams using Windows Azure.

“These channels will be running across both the datacenters simultaneously so that we provide geo-redundancy in addition to cluster and machine level redundancy already built into the service,” Sirivara said.

Microsoft is working with partners to deliver the Olympics live streaming and on demand video. Adobe Systems Inc. and its Primetime publishing and monetization platform will ensure a rich video experience and reach across all devices. Another partner, iStreamPlanet, will use its Aventus live video workflow solution to enable live transcoding in Azure.

Microsoft is also working with DeltaTre to bring the Olympics to 24 nations including Canada, Japan, all of Latin America and the Baltic countries. DeltaTre has built its solution on top of Azure Media Services to offer an end-to-end live and on demand streaming capability to hundreds of millions of people across these countries.

Customers ready to embrace the cloud

NBC’s choice of Windows Azure Media Services demonstrates that customers feel comfortable putting their trust in Microsoft’s cloud platform, Martin said.

“NBC is using a lot of our higher-level services. They’re not just using compute and network – they’re using a lot of our media services to help stream, which we think is a big differentiator for us over Amazon and other players,” he said.

“Amazon’s business is primarily renting IT capacity. We know that the market is evolving beyond that very quickly, and wants higher-level services.”

With Windows Azure Media Services, “We have encoding services, multi-format packaging and streaming services, content delivery services – we have a lot of the services that NBC needs to deliver a finished service, which means they don’t have to write nearly as much code.”

Windows Azure’s stability and security is also part of its success. “Customers just expect it to work. They expect it to work just like turning on their televisions works,” Martin said. “They expect high levels of reliability and availability.”

Windows Azure is adding about 1,000 customers a day

Among the customers using Windows Azure are Toyota Motor Corp., which has 16 customer websites, including a site with a three-dimensional virtual city where users can drive virtual cars and chat with fellow passengers; bicycle manufacturer Trek, which moved its retail management system to a cloud-based system to reduce support costs and make it easier to maintain; Aston Martin, which uses Windows Azure to optimize the company’s IT operations; and 3M, which uses Windows Azure to manage a new internal startup, 3M Visual Attention Service.

At 3M, Windows Azure deployment has scaled by 400 percent since its initial deployment, without the need for additional hardware or personnel.

“We don’t need to plan for increased scale in our use of Windows Azure,” said William K. Smyth, global business manager of VAS at 3M. “Given the low cost, we don’t need to worry about budgeting for it either.”

Windows Azure “continues to add about 1,000 customers a day,” Martin said. “We’re doubling the compute utilization every six to nine months, so we’re still very much in a high-growth area of the business.”

More than 200 new services were added to Windows Azure over the past year, including Media Services, as well as Mobile Services and Web Sites, “for customers who are driving new business value through cloud-native applications,” Martin said in a recent blog post. In the last year, Microsoft expanded its datacenters around the world, with launches in mainland China and Japan, and plans for datacenters in Australia and Brazil.

“Anyone who is doing video encoding, video on demand or broadcast should take a look at Windows Azure Media Services,” he said.

Certainly, Microsoft’s partnership with NBC is “a scenario where we’re demonstrating the future,” Martin said. “We know that, over time, a significant portion approaching 100 percent of the media will traverse Internet lines, rather than proprietary lines. This is a partnership that shows the world how Microsoft participates in that evolution.”

You might also be interested in:

· App of the Week: Catch all the glory of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games with NBC Sports Live Extra apps
· Microsoft Teams Up With NBC Sports Group to Deliver Compelling Sports Programming Across Digital Platforms Using Windows Azure
· Windows Azure Media Services Enables Cloud Delivery of London Olympics
· Windows Azure Media Services and the London 2012 Olympics
· NBC News Picks Windows Azure over Amazon to Host Push Notifications to Mobile Apps

Suzanne Choney
Microsoft News Center Staff

Tags: ,