Live streaming seems simple. After all, anyone with a smartphone can stream to billions of users in a snap. They’ll need an internet connection, sure, and some sort of camera. But other than that, social media sites like Instagram and video chat services like FaceTime make it easy.
These third-party platforms make streaming look effortless, but what occurs in the background is quite complicated. The process requires a substantial digital infrastructure, with streaming media servers at the crux of it all.
Social media also represents an isolated scenario, which means that enabling the same capabilities for professional live streaming requires building your own workflow. Any content distributor going beyond Facebook Live needs a reliable infrastructure solution that can be customized to their use case.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re building the next live streaming app, expanding your traditional broadcast model to include 24/7 live digital programming, or integrating IP video into an emergency response solution. You need a streaming media server.
Such servers can be deployed on premises, in the cloud, or across a hybrid of the two — and today, broadcasters can leverage both streaming server software and cloud-based services to empower this technology. The important thing is that your streaming server delivers on the three vital components of distributing live streams at scale:
Transmuxing occurs when a media server ingests the compressed video data and repackages it into a different container format. This allows content distributors to deliver the video using various protocols, without having to manipulate the actual file. Think of transmuxing like converting a word doc into a pdf and vice versa.
This capability is critical for reaching multiple viewers. Because many broadcasters choose to initially compress their stream using an RTMP encoder, repackaging the stream into an HTTP-based format ensures playback on any viewing device.
Today’s audiences access video content on Macs, PCs, tablets, mobile phones, smart TVs, streaming media players, set-top boxes, and even gaming consoles. Because there’s no hole-in-one delivery standard for playback on all these devices, transmuxing maximizes the potential viewership size. This also enables content distributors to reach users on outdated devices by delivering over legacy streaming protocols.
The second reason why you need a streaming media server is for transcoding. This powerful conversion process helps reach more users, but beyond that, it unlocks the holy grail of high-quality viewer experiences: adaptive bitrate streaming.
Transcoding is an umbrella term for taking a compressed/encoded file and decompressing/decoding it to alter in some way. The manipulated data is then recompressed for delivery. That way, content distributors can transcode the data into a more common codec, transize the video into a lower resolution, and transrate the file into a lower bitrate.
Content distributors can also leverage transcoding to create multiple renditions of a single stream, thereby providing a variety of resolution and bitrate options. This helps deliver high-quality streams to users with outstanding bandwidth and processing power, while also accommodating those lacking in the speed and power department. This is known as adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming.
It works like this: During the process of transcoding, the server breaks each rendition into segments that are 2-10 seconds in length. Viewers’ video players will select whichever version is best suited for the display, processing power, and connectivity available. Plus, as a viewer’s signal strength goes from two bars to three, the stream dynamically adjusts to the deliver a superior rendition.
Another way to expand viewership is simulcasting, which allows content distributors to take one video stream and broadcast it to multiple destinations at the same time — thereby maximizing impact. This helps reach a broader audience, no matter whether viewers are tuning in on YouTube, Facebook, or Periscope.
Live streaming is all about distribution and reaching as many viewers as possible. And streaming media servers deliver the secret sauce to reach any screen globally.
As a Colorado-based B2B tech writer, Traci Ruether serves as Wowza's content marketing manager. Her background is in streaming and content delivery. In addition to writing, Traci enjoys cooking, reading, gardening, and spending quality time with her fur babies. Follow… View more