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The ABC Player App for iPad: Start Here

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2004 might not seem like it was all that long ago, but in the digital video world, it's a really long time ago.

I was hired at ABC.com simply as an Avid editor, and my only job was to cut the occasional "behind the scenes" piece, promo clips or sneak peeks of what was coming. We had a VHS deck capturing Jimmy Kimmel at night, and I'd come in the next day hoping that the timer had worked correctly. We were even ingesting episodes of "Lost" from DVD. At most, we were making maybe 10 videos a week, transcoding them to 50-100 files, tops, and putting them up at ABC.com.

Fast-forward to today: we're creating hundreds of videos weekly made up of short-form and episodes, and creating 200,000 transcoded files a month, mostly from 1080p/23.98 sources -- and not just for ABC.com anymore. (Thankfully I had a few more skills up my sleeve beyond Avid editing.) Now we represent ABC Primetime, ABC Late Night, ABC Daytime, ABC Family, SOAPnet, Oscar. com and ABC episodes for the ABC Player iPad app, too. We also deliver content to Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Playstation, YouTube, AT&T, QuickPlay , Verizon and MobiTV, so that they can further transcode before posting the files on their own sites or devices. We are accountable for making sure that those several hundred thousand files successfully arrive, and are error free.

It's a far cry from 2004.

We built the architecture at the time to be scalable to grow with the business, but to be honest, we could never have anticipated everything that was coming. We didn't know that we were making groundbreaking decisions that would sustain us through today.


FINAL CUT PRO

The first big decision for us was getting off of Avid and going to Final Cut Pro. We outfitted two bays with Final Cut Pro, a couple of Macs and Apple Xsan storage at a relatively small cost. Not only was it a smart financial decision, but also less constrained in terms of video formats, frame dimensions and so on.

Honestly, I haven't looked at Avid since then. Media Composer can probably do all the same things now, but at the time, Final Cut made it far easier to adopt a digital workflow. Today we have more than 10 FCP edit bays.


TELESTREAM EPISODE

The second big decision was using software for Mac called Compression Master, a desktop transcoder that could handle every format in and out natively, made by a Swedish company called Popwire. Popwire also had a program called Compression Engine, which let us submit jobs to a cluster of Apple Xserves.

Telestream has since acquired Popwire and combined these software applications under the name "Episode."

We didn't have a big cluster at the time -- just three Apple G5 Xserves -- but now those two edit bays were dropping QuickTime files into watch folders, and the watch folders were kicking off jobs to the Xserves.

As the business has grown and we've added more jobs to do, we've simply added more servers. Today we have 40 nodes of Telestream Episode, all running on Intel-based Apple Xserves.

Our verification of the transcoded files before we deliver them has been and is still rather basic. We spot check a couple of them just to make sure that they don't have any glaring, obvious errors -- like no audio or no video! We have found that those are almost always user file creation errors or something that got corrupted in the workflow, rather than transcoding errors.


VERIZON MEDIA PLATFORM

In early 2006, we were still only feeding videos to ABC.com, and a handful of mobile partners. We used an Excel spreadsheet to manually track the entire workflow. "If you do a 'Lost' sneak peek, send it to ABC, GoTV, and Helio, but don't send it here, here or here. Start it on this date, end it on this one."

The spreadsheet also described transcoding rules. "If it goes here, it has to be Windows 9 at 320x240. If it goes there, it has to be 640x480 H.264," and so on. It also contained the rules for FTP, including who got emailed when the job was complete.

Seeing how much time we were spending managing this with just three or four partners and hand-writing much of the metadata, we quickly realized that we were going to have to hire a new person or two for every new partner we took on, in order to shepherd all the transcoded files through the processes outlined in the Excel spreadsheet, send the media, metadata, and alert the partners.

That's when we made our third big decision, to use a program made by Verizon Business called the Media Platform. It automates much of what we do, and tracks all of it. As part of delivering 200,000 files every month, we can have hundreds of different ways to deliver the program metadata ALONE! Not the files -- just the metadata. Once you add in the different video formats for each and every partner, you can have thousands of different combinations.

Media Platform shows us everything, using a simple software dashboard. There's a big green check that says, for example, "I know for a fact that I successfully delivered 5 JPEGs, 4 AIFF tracks and an MPEG 2 file, and I sent the XML. I'm good." We also see any failures. If someone's FTP servers go down and they can't accept our delivery, we get a red X telling us to check what's wrong.

It doesn't get much simpler than that.


Episodes for ABC's Wipeout as seen from the iPad app.
Episodes for ABC's Wipeout as seen from the iPad app.



Comments

Re: The ABC Player App for iPad: Start Here
by Robert Moore
Thank you for the Great article! I have worked with (many years as Producer/Editor & Engineer) and now am working with (Engineer) all the tech you mention (FCP, Avid, Xsan, Episode...), except VMP.

Verizon Media Platform sounds interesting. Did you look at Final Cut Server? (I know it's not too complete, but it is good, right?) I'll be looking into VMP.

I work at a company that provides a very wide range of services, from Production (ABC/Disney a specific daytime soap, HD Tapeless/Avid...), GSN, MGM HD and others) to media transcode and Cable Origination (many, many channels) and Post (FCP and Avid.... for the most part, we're all tapeless, but we do have every tape format on the planet here, to accommodate ABC/Disney (D5, D2, DigiBeta, Beta...), MGM HD (D5) and the others.

For future articles (to Creative Cow, maybe the Cow doesn't allow this?), is it possible to include a link to apps mentioned in the article? Like the ABC iPad app, it would be great to link to the Apple Store. For Verizon, it would be great to find a link in the article to "Verizon Media Platform", which is great information, I didn't know Verizon offered that (I'll be sending an email to the person you mention in a reply).

Is there ever an open house at your facility? I'd be interested in seeing first hand.

Thanks Again,
RMoore
Encompass Digital Media
Los Angeles, CA
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by Sacha Thomas
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I like that you brought it back to three principles-flexibility, scalability, and accessibility. Nicely done.
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by David Komer
Hi Robert,

Great article!

I tried looking for Verizon Media Manager and couldn't find it on their website anywhere... any chance someone can steer me in the right direction?

Thanks!

http://omnivibe.com
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by Robert Longwell
Your best bet is to contact George Richards at Verizon Business. He can be reached at george.richards@verizonbusiness.com. Mention the article, he'll know what you're talking about.

Robert Longwell
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by David Komer
Thanks :)

http://omnivibe.com
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by Mike Cohen
I was intrigued that Verizon has all these different business services having little to do with telephones!

I was relating your article to a co-worker this week, since we are talking about devleoping iPad apps and/or videos for this platform. iPads are becoming very popular in the medical world.

Mike Cohen
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by Richard van den Boogaard
Great read! Thanks for providing this insight... it's great to see how you and your team really have grown with the flow of things!

Two question:
- for which purposes could you imagine integration of metadata into the media container itself instead of an accompanying XML? Mobile use, perhaps?
- Do you also actively use YouTube's partner program back-end for tracking/monetizing ABC copyrighted content?

Richard van den Boogaard
cameraman / editor / video marketing consultant

Branded Channels
W: http://www.brandedchannels.com
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by Robert Longwell
- for which purposes could you imagine integration of metadata into the media container itself instead of an accompanying XML? Mobile use, perhaps?

Embedding the metadata would only be necessary if the device actually required it. For example cable set top boxes traditionally require the CC metadata embedded in the video stream as that is the only way for a TV to decode. So far all online partners are not in this scenario, they accept the metadata delivered separately. As more TVs get plugged-in, I suspect we'll need to find a way to embed at that point.

- Do you also actively use YouTube's partner program back-end for tracking/monetizing ABC copyrighted content?

Admittedly that's more of a business question that I'm not particularly involved in. I deliver to YouTube and that's where my involvement ends.

Robert Longwell
Re: ABC.com: Start Here
by Andrew Kimery
Great piece. Going from capturing VHS to kicking out hundreds of thousands of videos a month in span of about six years is amazing.


-Andrew

3.2GHz 8-core, FCP 6.0.4, 10.5.5
Blackmagic Multibridge Eclipse (6.8.1)

Re: Article: ABC.com: Start Here
by Mike Cohen
Robert - fascinating article. Good to know that ABC/Disney has had to figure stuff out as they go just like the rest of us.

Mike Cohen
Re: Article: ABC.com: Start Here
by Robert Longwell
What can I say, it's been a fun ride and it's far from over!

Robert Longwell
Re: Article: ABC.com: Start Here
by Bob Zelin
I agree - this article was amazing. You started as an AVID editor, and all of a sudden, you have to worry about digital distribution, countless formats, and become an expert in Telestream Episode.
Very inspirational article.

Bob Zelin

Re: Article: ABC.com: Start Here
by Robert Longwell
Yes I was hired solely to Avid edit. By heart, and by trade I suppose, I was more of a computer/video geek for lack of a better term (I will never say "expert" because I don't and never will know it all).

It was sheer fortune that ABC recognized I had far more skills than for what I was originally hired. We've both grown together.

Robert Longwell
Re: Article: ABC.com: Start Here
by Bob Zelin
none of us know it all. I was the original AVID tech in NY back in the stone age - I knew nothing about it then, and I never really was an expert, even though I fooled people into thinking I was all those years ! Today, I fool people into thinking that I know everything about shared storage.

Bob Zelin

Re: Article: ABC.com: Start Here
by Nathan Veer
Great article. Thanks for candidly sharing your experience. I think many of us are in similar situations if not on the same scale. We are currently looking at switching from Apple's Compressor as our house encoder over to Episode 6 with Engine. Your article rekindled my interest in Episode. Someday I would love to come see your facility and learn.


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