With no shortage of digital content available today, consumer attention spans are fragmented – and as content creators look to reel in audiences, they’re moving toward interactive forms of storytelling. MediaMonks, part of the S4Capital family, is a pioneer in this respect. Daily, its global team of 4,400 creatives spanning 31 countries pushes the boundaries of emerging technologies, including AWS cloud-based services, to connect with and engage audiences in new ways, whether building a simple app for a major airline, heavy-duty CG projects, interactive websites, or large-scale VR experiences.

A recent project in partnership with the NBA is breaking new ground, moving live VR production beyond 1080p into 4K 60fps to deliver a more realistic experience. Scheduled for ten games this season, the 4K 60fps VR broadcasts are available via Oculus Venues, a free app for Oculus headset owners, which mirrors an in-person experience that lets fans catch all the courtside action while also interacting with others in the virtual space.

Reflecting on the project, Lewis Smithingham, MediaMonks Director of Creative Solutions shared, “The NBA has always been ahead of the game in delivering innovative experiences for fans, including VR broadcasts, but what makes this project unique is that we’ve upped the ante with 4K 60fps to make it feel even more authentic like you’re interacting and talking with your neighbor as you would in the real world. It’s at 4K 60fps that VR gets interesting, and you can enjoy it for a longer time.”

Reflecting on an overwhelmingly positive fan response to the broadcasts, Smithingham continued, “It’s so rewarding to watch a collaborative experience like this unfold and see a row of people hanging out, watching the game together at the edge of their seats, and talking about what’s happening in real-time. In one recent game, we saw two fans from opposite sides of the country, who hadn’t seen each other in over a year, reconnect over a shared experience. Those are the kinds of magical moments we strive to make possible, and the sort of emotional connections forged that make our work fun.”

At the core of MediaMonks pipeline for the project sit 46 Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) GPU-based G4 instances, along with other camera and encoding technology that allow its team to achieve 4K UHD 60fps. Amazon CloudFront delivers the broadcast directly to the Oculus headset, while AWS Direct Connect helps ensure that the signal does not traverse the open internet and prevents fluctuation, protecting the stream quality and preventing dropped frames.

As MediaMonks has moved more of its workflow into the cloud with AWS, it’s eliminated physical and geographical barriers to innovation, opening new doors to create experiences like those developed for the NBA. “With the cloud, we can enlist the best creative directors, pipeline designers, and graphics teams from around the world and bring their skills together under one virtual roof to make creative progress together. At the same time, we’re able to expand mind share on projects by bringing in a larger team than we would on-location due to travel expenses and other costs,” Smithingham explained. “AWS solves two of our major challenges in that we’re a distributed team, and require a high level of redundancy for live broadcasts. In any live production, things can go wrong, and you need to have the ability to scale and drop in redundancies at will, which is what AWS provides us.”

MediaMonks has also found that its broader adoption of cloud-based technology is helping reduce its carbon footprint, and recently signed the Amazon Climate Pledge. “The cloud virtualizes racks of hardware that would have been transported on production trucks and keeps air travel to a minimum. Instead of flying in a 20-person crew from around the world to an event venue with haul gear, we can send a lean team on-site with a portable flypack; we turn on the servers, connect, and we’re working with virtually no limitations to innovation. The cloud is fundamentally reshaping production as we know it; for broadcasters, it’s like making the leap from horse-drawn carriages to rocket ships.”

As MediaMonks continues to chart new storytelling territory, it anticipates leaning on a host of other AWS offerings, from AWS Elemental MediaLive to AWS Elemental MediaConvert and beyond depending on the project. Their global pipeline team is also exploring how artificial intelligence solutions from AWS might help to enhance their workflow for live VR broadcasts, whether to advance captioning or consider different approaches to provide imaging.

Smithingham concluded, “Advances in 5G deployment and globalized internet access at a faster speed, as well as increased demand for remote workflows amidst the global pandemic have helped accelerate the shift toward a cloud-based way of working, as has an increasing demand from younger audiences for more immersive, non-traditional experiences versus linear content. With these changes, and the power of AWS, audiences are in for an exciting ride.”