The First is a new TV channel launched in October and currently distributed via Pluto TV, a popular free OTT streaming service. Medialooks Video Transport has become the backbone of the team’s day-to-day live streaming workflow. We sat down with Greg Waugh, Executive Vice President of Technology, to learn more about his company and the details behind their production process.
In addition to its headquarters in New York, which hosts the main control room, the startup operates three remote locations: one located in Lower Manhattan, one in Houston, Texas, and one in San Diego, California. Each of these locations serves as a remote studio equipped for either a single or multi-camera shoot, and each is largely unattended. There may be the host and possibly one other person—but all of the programming is entirely automated. Medialooks Video Transport is being used successfully to bring in the isolated feeds from each camera back to the main control room in New York, where the final production takes place.
Being a startup, The First had to be creative about their process and where they spent money. Instead of running a full-time studio in New York and scouting local talent, the company did something software companies have been doing for at least a couple of decades—signed up hosts in remote places and built at-home studios for them.
Relocating talent is just unnecessary if we can produce a show remotely without compromising quality. That’s where the Medialooks software comes in, it lets us bring back cameras in full quality — just like it’s in a studio next door.
The remote studios are equipped with PTZ cameras with NDI®; the audio is fed into the cameras, so it is already embedded into the NDI feeds that are picked up by the Publisher and delivered to the Receiver in the control room.
That’s where your solution worked out best for us; it gives us the ability to accomplish this in a simple, cost-effective way. And it works! The quality is very good, and, at the same time, the technology is very affordable. And all of these things have helped us out because any start-up has to be very conscious of money and budget.
Notably, cost was not the only factor that shifted Greg’s decision to deploy Video Transport:
There’s a couple things that made Medialooks very attractive to us. One is, obviously, the price, which is a lot less than alternatives. And, two, is that it can handle multiple cameras concurrently as opposed to solutions that only feature a single link. Also, being able to use our own hardware is actually a big advantage to us from a manageability perspective.
As we learn from customers continuously, ease-of-use and simplicity are of great importance; the less time needed to understand the software, the less effort is spent training people and troubleshooting.
Right off the bat, it worked great. I was really surprised. From putting the cameras on the network to running the software — it couldn’t have been much easier. The cameras just show up.
The learning curve consisted of calculating the correct combination of bit rates available at the remote locations that would be adequate for the uplink speeds. Greg deduced that the combined bit rate of all the streams should not exceed half the declared bandwidth capacity—which is a standard recommendation for the industry.
Generally, we’re either using 5 or 10 Mbps. 10 for the show that has one camera, and 5 for each camera in other cases. So when there’s a 30 megabit connection, it seems to be safe at around three times five.
Latency with Video Transport was almost the same as with the intercom that producers used to communicate with the hosts. Being able to receive the remote feeds from the hosts in near real time made the production process simpler and more natural.
If the downlink was off from the intercom, that wouldn’t disrupt our production, but it would make it kind of awkward versus right now, the two of them are actually both pretty much identical in terms of latency. It just makes the production feel a lot cleaner to have them pretty much in sync with each other.
Although there were a few ways to arrange a similar setup, Greg states that the Medialooks solution was by far the most efficient way of doing it — both in terms of cost and ease of operation:
It was the most cost-effective and technically simplest way we found to meet our low latency requirement and also accommodate multiple cameras, remote manageability and ease of rollout. So, all this combined plus its value seemed to be the best fit for us.