Amidst the chaos of 2020, millions more people sought their news, information, sports, and entertainment via online video. This was evidenced by on-demand subscriptions up a record-setting 39% to 770 million viewers around the world. Overall video streaming increased in all regions, with Conviva reporting that time spent streaming in the fourth quarter of 2020 jumped 44 percent from 2019.
This increased volume of video content from over-the-top (OTT), IPTV, and other streaming platforms created multiple challenges for content providers: more viewers has meant more traffic – and more congestion – on the internet, which makes it harder to consistently deliver a reliable video stream. At the same time, more content choice increases viewer impatience with performance problems like buffering. If one stream has a problem, viewers have a lot of other options and they’re quick to “change the channel.” In response, content providers have increasingly looked for better video compression technology that lets them reliably deliver great looking video content to millions of viewers at the same time.
Earlier this week, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) announced that it is recognizing Amazon Web Services (AWS) with two Technology and Engineering Emmy® Awards for AWS technologies in the video compression space. These awards recognize how important it is for customers to optimize their video compression to give viewers higher quality viewing with less bandwidth.
The first 2020 Tech Emmy award, “Development of Massive Processing Optimized Compression Technologies,” recognizes technologies that optimize video quality and file sizes by using the elasticity of the AWS Cloud to bring by bringing lots of computing resources to bear on each encoding job through parallelization. Adding more compute has always been one way to improve compression. In a traditional broadcast data center, this meant building a large physical fleet of transcoders, which meant spending lots of capital on equipment that might go underutilized most of the time. But, as many companies have migrated their computational and analytical workloads from traditional company-owned or shared data centers to cloud infrastructure, the transcoding and packaging of assets no longer have to compete for a set level of resources – the cloud makes it easy to scale up when you need to transcode a video, and then scale down when the job is complete. The result of this combination is reduced turnaround times in asset packaging and transcode, increased quality, reduced bandwidth, and lowered production costs. AWS won in this category for the software stack it innovated to encode and compress video materials, specifically the Accelerated Transcoding feature in the AWS Elemental MediaConvert service.
Accelerated Transcoding increases the processing speed of file-based video encoding jobs by up to 25 times, and is a feature in AWS Elemental Media Convert, a service that converts video into multiple output formats to support viewing from a broad array of devices at varying resolutions. For example, EPIX, a 24-hour premium TV network, now uses Accelerated Transcoding to convert 4K UHD content for streaming to approximately 70 million U.S. pay TV homes. With the addition of Accelerated Transcoding, customers can deliver more content faster via social media in parallel with their linear broadcasts.
However better real-time video compression isn’t just about more compute power; it’s also about being smarter, and that is where machine learning plays a role. One of the biggest challenges in video encoding is striking the optimal balance between compression efficiency and perceptual quality, or how good the video looks to the viewer. Intelligent content aware encoding configures the video encoder in real time according to the content of the video clip, allocating only the bits required for a given video based on its complexity.
The second Technology and Engineering Emmy Award recognizes AWS Elemental’s content aware technology called QVBR or Quality-Defined Variable Bitrate. QVBR is “smart” about using more bits to encode scenes where humans are likely to notice the difference, like fast action sports. When content switches to more static content, like a commentator in a studio, QBVR reduces the amount of bits allocated for encoding. To do this, QVBR analyzes every area of each frame of video in the video source, and automatically allocates bits to address information differences: higher bitrate use during complex video segments, and lower bitrate use during less complex video segments. This enables content providers to maintain consistent video quality for viewers. To further enable this capability, AWS also developed a new class of algorithms that perform motion-compensated temporal filtering, which reduces artifacts that can impair video quality, such as blurring, during fast motion scenes. Among the media leaders leveraging AWS Elemental QVBR are FOX, SonyLIV, Cengage, EPIX, and Glo.
With scalable, elastic cloud processing and new technologies, such as QVBR and Accelerated Transcoding, compute-heavy workflows are processed with reduced turnaround times, allowing customers to meet studio requirements for transcode and quality assurance.
This year’s Technology and Engineering Emmy Award recipients will be honored at the 72nd Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy® Awards Ceremony, which is scheduled to be held virtually in partnership with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show on Sunday, October 10, 2021. For more details, visit: https://theemmys.tv/tech/
Broadcasters and online video streaming service providers rely on AWS to power their video infrastructures, and to deliver high-quality viewing experiences. For example, Prime Video and Discovery use AWS behind the scenes when you’re streaming your favorite content. CBS Interactive (CBSi) uses AWS to support its extensive online content network, and to stream major events from March Madness to the Super Bowl. And both Discovery and FOX NE&O (Walt Disney Television) recently collaborated closely with AWS and AWS partners Evertz and SDVI to shift their media supply chains to the cloud.
To learn more about AWS Media Services, please visit https://aws.amazon.com/media-services/