Fuji Television Network Gives Viewers a Different Angle on Live Sports
Fuji Television Network, Inc. is one of largest media companies in Japan. With the goal of integrating broadcast and telecommunications, the company recently considered a variety of new video distribution channels. The team was particularly interested in technology that could achieve video distribution over the internet with less than three seconds of latency. At the 2019 FIVB Volleyball World Cup, which was broadcast live in September 2019, the company distributed a live video feed to smartphones and other connected devices that showed a different angle from the one on terrestrial broadcast. This was the first instance in the world of a large live event with CMAF-ultra-low latency (ULL) video streaming using AWS managed services.
AWS Elemental MediaStore and Amazon CloudFront provide support for CMAF ultra-low latency and large-scale video distribution. As managed services, they provide a usable environment immediately, scaling to meet distribution needs, and allow freedom from complex operational overhead, including support for switchovers when trouble happens."
Principal Architect and R&D Engineer at Fuji Television
Ultra-Low Latency Live Streaming Synchronized with Terrestrial Digital Broadcast
With a corporate philosophy of “challenge and creation," Fuji Television is involved in television broadcast as well as producing television programs, movies, video, and live events. The company recognizes that with the spread of so many different forms of digital media, the environment surrounding television is undergoing massive change. In May 2019, Japan’s national assembly adopted and passed a revised law approving internet-based simulcasts of its television programs by Japan’s only public broadcaster, NHK. This began in April 2020. The five major commercial broadcasters in Japan, including Fuji Television based in Tokyo, conducted proof of concept internet-based simulcasts with television programs, with the expectation that integration between broadcast and telecommunications would accelerate.
Television viewing habits have changed dramatically in recent years. Today, younger viewers specifically watch television programs in real time with a smartphone in one hand, while searching for information and posting to social media at the same time. For them, “viewing and…” or “second-screen viewing” comes naturally.
To adapt to these changes in behavior and provide viewers with richer broadcast services, Fuji Television used the live broadcast of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball World Cup as an opportunity to present “Volleyball’s Digital World Cup 2019,” bringing together a number of digital projects, including internet-based simulcasting of Japan’s key matches, catch-up TV streaming, and distribution of all matches in full, including those between teams from other countries, and second-screen viewing.
Second-screen live streaming of matches to smartphones and tablets was a centerpiece project for Fuji Television. The workflow provided a different angle on matches synchronized with the terrestrial broadcast to give the online audience a more interesting viewing experience. Specifically, two special feeds were transmitted: a “player-tracking camera” with close-up shots of the Japanese team members, and a “bird’s-eye camera” mounted to the stadium ceiling giving a big-picture view of the two teams’ formations.
A Video Distribution Environment Built in Three Weeks
Fuji Television continues to push forward research into ultra-low latency video distribution. It is typical to see lag times of about 30 seconds when distributing live content over the Internet. “One method for solving this problem that we looked at is called Common Media Application Format-Ultra Low Latency (CMAF-ULL), and we set ourselves the challenge of distributing video with ultra-low latency to be at about the same latency as the terrestrial digital broadcast. The overall delay in this broadcast scenario is typically two to three seconds.“ said Masashi Ito, principal architect at Fuji Television.
Achieving ultra-low latency using CMAF-ULL requires support for a technology called “chunked transfer,” which transfers video data before the file is complete. Ito, who had used AWS cloud services for video distribution previously, was researching CMAF-ULL and, in ongoing communications with AWS Solutions Architects, found that by April 2019 support for chunked transfer was in place with AWS Elemental MediaStore (for distributing video from the cloud) and Amazon CloudFront (the content delivery network, or CDN). In May, he obtained a compatible encoder and immediately began testing the technology. From June on, he presented the results of his tests at media and video-distribution events, and at the AWS Summit Tokyo, which was when interest began rising in applying this technology to the Volleyball World Cup.
“This project brought together the concept from Fuji Television’s digital-media head, which was to help users enjoy the broadcast programming more through the second screen, and the research into ultra-low latency distribution from the company’s R&D division,” according to Ito.
The decision to use this ultra-low latency video distribution technology for the 2019 FIVB Volleyball World Cup was made in August 2019. Only three weeks remained before the tournament opened on September 14. That said, preparations came together quickly, despite the short lead time, thanks to the use of AWS. Ito reflected, “When a new technology is required, we don’t look at it as an unreasonable demand. The engineers are prepared to respond on the fly. However, without previous R&D work and AWS , it would not have been possible to build a service in just three weeks that delivered video to tens of thousands of viewers with ultra-low latency.“
Throughout the development process, Fuji Television was in close contact with the AWS Solutions Architects and service teams as it built a large-scale video distribution system.
“The people at AWS we worked with spoke the language of the broadcast industry, so we were able to communicate well and quickly resolve issues and ambiguities, which improved the architecture in a lot of ways,“ according to Ito.
AWS Services Made It Possible to Concentrate on Video Distribution During the Event
The player-tracking camera and the bird’s-eye camera implemented using ultra-low latency video distribution worked successfully, with no distribution problems during the month of the tournament. As word-of-mouth spread, the final week of the tournament saw five times as many online viewings as the first week.
“AWS Elemental MediaStore and Amazon CloudFront together supported ultra-low latency, large-scale distribution, and because they’re managed services, we were freed from complex operational overhead, such as scaling up to meet distribution demands and failovers in case of troubles; we were also able to fine-tune image quality during the tournament and focus on the task of distribution. Because we’re charged for infrastructure resources based on usage, it’s easy to start small without incurring excessive costs,” according to Ito.
The player-tracking camera, together with the broadcast feed of the match, revealed the nuances of the players’ expressions during the match, and the way they communicate when they were rotating out. Fans of the players in particular found this made for a more interesting broadcast TV experience.
More Efficient and Automated Operations
The positive reception to multi-angle distribution with ultra-low latency technology led Fuji Television to extend this approach to other sports programming. “Ultra-low latency distribution using CMAF-ULL has been getting attention outside our company—people throughout the industry have noticed, and we’ve received a lot of inquiries from media engineers. This technology seems to be especially useful for sports, and I think it will be a way to provide viewers with more engaging programming as it spreads throughout the media industry,“ according to Ito.
Since joining the company, Ito has more than 10 years of experience as a specialist in technologies for broadcast and transmission and says that he is now involved in improving the efficiency of video distribution and automating it, in the interest of creating more sustainable services for linked broadcast and telecommunications technologies, as well as video distribution technologies. He is looking forward to future technology developments in television broadcasting, live distribution, and on-demand distribution that lead to more sophisticated broadcast services and that will let viewers watch the content they want over a variety of channels.
“We’ve entered a time when the technologies that TV stations use are transitioning from broadcast technologies to IT-based media, and we’re watching the changes happen right before our eyes. And that’s why we’ll be counting on AWS to continue quickly rolling out advanced media technologies, particularly as managed services,“ he said.
About Fuji Television Network, Inc.
Fuji Television Network, Inc. had its first broadcast in 1959 and is one of largest media companies in Japan.
Benefits of AWS
- ULL second screen distribution
- Built in three weeks
- New viewing experience for customers
- No additional operational burden
AWS Services Used
AWS Elemental MediaStore
AWS Elemental MediaStore is a video origination and storage service that allows video providers to store and deliver live streaming video at scale.
Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency, high transfer speeds, all within a developer-friendly environment.
Amazon Direct Connect
AWS Direct Connect is a cloud service solution that makes it easy to establish a dedicated network connection from your premises to AWS.
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