Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. Case Study
Adopted Amazon Chime SDK to develop a convenient remote appearance tool for COVID-19 pandemic-appropriate TV program production and launched it in live broadcast just 3 months after start of in-house development
Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc. (TBS), celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2021, has developed a unique remote appearance tool, TBS BELL, for use in the production of TV programs under COVID-19 pandemic conditions. TBS BELL was developed using the Amazon Chime SDK. Highly customizable APIs enable remote appearances to be granularly controlled by production staff. In addition, linking with other services provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) allowed it to be used for live broadcast, remarkably, in a mere three months after the start of development. The company plans to continue proactive use of AWS to promote the integration of broadcasting technology and IT.
The integration of broadcasting technology and the cloud will advance further in the future, and we hope to accumulate knowledge of AWS within the company to achieve faster development.”
Director of Technology, Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc.
Realized existing web conferencing tools did not meet the needs of broadcasting
TBS, established in 1951 as Radio Tokyo, now offers a wide range of services including TV broadcasting, BS broadcasting, CS broadcasting, video distribution, film production, and cultural projects. In the spring of 2020, TBS set forth a new brand promise: From each moment, a better tomorrow.
“We changed the company name from Tokyo Broadcasting System to TBS Holdings, without ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Broadcasting’” says Akio Mukaiyama, Director of Technology at TBS. He explains the name change was based on a strong determination of the company to transform from a simple broadcasting company to an entity that creates diverse experiences. “We are now dealing with a wide range of technologies, not just broadcasting. This includes areas like data sciences, AI, and 5G, and we are spotlighting the use of cloud computing as a platform for these technologies,” says Mukaiyama.
In the midst of these changes, TBS was faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was forced to fundamentally rethink the way it produces programs.
Go Fujimoto of the Innovative Technology Design Department, TBS Media Technology Division, says, “The number of cases where performers/guests appear through remote tools is increasing, and how we stage this new style of appearance has become an important issue.”
“At first we thought we could use tools like Zoom or Skype. However, it turns out these systems don’t meet broadcasting requirements, in that the frame position of the guests can’t be controlled at will by staff, personal information such as login names stay visible, and the operation buttons can’t be hidden offscreen. They were difficult to use as they were in live broadcastings. Although the recording was another option as it could be edited, doing so every time involves too much work,” adds Fujimoto.
The Media Technology Division's answer was to create its own original tool. In April 2020, the team began researching applicable development tools. After comparing several, including Zoom, they ultimately adopted the Amazon Chime SDK and started development of their original online tool, TBS BELL.
Highly rated availability of APIs that enable granular control and the frequency of updates
“The main reason for us selecting Amazon Chime SDK was that it enables more intricate control than other available SDKs,” says Tatsuya Nagashima of the Innovative Technology Design Department, TBS Media Technology Division. It not only covers all of the necessary APIs, but also offers a wide range of control parameters. “Amazon Chime SDK is updated frequently, and being able to check the newest version on GitHub is also a big plus,” explains Nagashima.
The first version of TBS BELL was released on April 26th 2020, followed by functional updates. On July 1st 2020, a full-scaled testing occurred during a division-wide meeting of the Media Technology Division.
The very first time it was used in a program was in “Music Day 2020,” a music-special program broadcasted live on July 18th 2020. A total of about 250 viewers were connected online to a special stage with the artists to boost excitement in the broadcast. Later, TBS BELL was also used in the “Online Event: Let's Read a Picture Book with TBS Announcers!” and the “Todaio (King of the University of Tokyo)” special 100th episode. In “Todaio,” 200 viewers participated online to compete against the quiz champion, Todaio (King of the University of Tokyo).
Ryoko Ishido, in charge of TBS BELL operations in the Innovative Technology Design Department, TBS Media Technology Division, says, “It was quite a bold move to use a brand-new tool in a live broadcast. However, thanks to our thorough pre-event checking, incorporating it into production went smoother than expected. I was very satisfied with the results.”
Five new features achieved by TBS BELL high-level customizations made possible only with Amazon Chime SDK
TBS BELL boasts the 5 features: 1. Arbitrary arrangement of guest display layout 2. Instant control of functions such as video on/off or muting by the host 3. Control over guest name to ensure personal information is not displayed 4. Operational control for the host split into two screens: a live screen showing the guests and an operation screen for the room, and 5. In case of unsteady or lost connections, the program logo or other image automatically appears in the display frame of the affected guest.
Nagashima explains that the success of such short-term development was possible only with using AWS as the platform. “We use Amazon DynamoDB for video conference room management and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for image hosting. These are linked to the guest-facing front end application server running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). AWS's support team, which was attentive and quick to respond to our needs, was a key factor in accelerating development.”
“The benefit of using AWS is that we don't have to build our own availability- and security-related functions," adds Taichiro Shiodera of the System Development Department, TBS ICT Division, who supported the AWS utilization efforts. Scalability is achieved by scaling out using Elastic Load Balancing.
Promoting technical development that achieves both stability and aggressiveness, based on the success of TBS BELL
“Connecting with the general public via live broadcast had not been easy in the past. However, the fact that it is now so easy to do with TBS BELL will make it a new method in the future.” says Fujimoto. He adds that the success of several live broadcasts has raised the profile of the tool internally, and program staff that were using other tools before are now showing interest in TBS BELL.
The development of TBS BELL has marked a turning point for the Media Technology Division. “The technology used in broadcasting demands a high level of stability, and TBS BELL integrates stability with speed at a high level. This was the first time for TBS to use a system that was built in just three months in a live broadcasting, and the experience will surely impact the way we develop technology in the future,” adds Fujimoto.
“The integration of broadcasting technology and the cloud will advance further in the future,” says Mukaiyama. “In addition to TBS BELL, we migrated our accounting system to AWS in 2020. We are also developing the News Cloud -- the entire system of Japan News Network (JNN)-affiliated commercial news networks -- to run on AWS. Through these projects, we hope to accumulate knowledge of AWS within the company to achieve faster development,” shares Mukaiyama.
About Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc.
- Head Office: 5-3-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8006 Japan
- Paid-in Capital: JPY 100,000,000 (wholly owned by TBS Holdings)
- Business Activities: Television broadcast authorized by Broadcast Law, and others
Benefits of AWS
- Used in live broadcast just 3 months after development start
- Makes it easy for viewers to join programs remotely
- Established a style of development that achieves both stability and aggressiveness
AWS Services Used
Amazon Chime SDK
The Amazon Chime SDK is a set of real-time communications components that developers can use to quickly add messaging, audio, video, and screen sharing capabilities to their web or mobile applications.
Amazon DynamoDB is a key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance at any scale. It's a fully managed, multi-region, multi-active, durable database with built-in security, backup and restore, and in-memory caching for internet-scale applications.
Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.
Elastic Load Balancing
Elastic Load Balancing automatically distributes incoming application traffic across multiple targets, such as Amazon EC2 instances, containers, IP addresses, Lambda functions, and virtual appliances.
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