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3xScreen Media: Live Streaming Is No Longer Optional for Major Events
From the Vans x Crossfire Halloween Massacre to Ted Baker's fashion shows, the London-based streaming services provider is coming up with innovative ways to deliver live events online and compete with broadcast
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"The time for live online is now," declares Scott Robinson, director at 3xScreen Media. "Event managers are no longer asking whether to live stream. Live streaming is the starting point and integral to production."

A recent example for the prolific London-based provider of live and on-demand online video services is The Vans x Crossfire Halloween Massacre at House of Vans London.

The centre piece of this branded event, held at the beginning of November, was coverage of an international skateboarding competition for which 3xScreen produced and live streamed including "near to live" upload of highlights.

When a highlight such as a great trick was captured by the EVS machine, it was automatically sent to a laptop to be trimmed, have graphics added, and uploaded to the Vans website. Viewers of the live stream could watch highlights moments after they appeared on the live stream.

During the Vans x Crossfire Halloween Massacre in London, 3xScreen Media was able to turn on-demand highlights around for viewing within moments of the action appearing in the live stream.

"All the live streams we do include a social media component," explains Robinson, a business consultant and project manager of 25 years before launching 3xScreen in 2011. "Social encourages greater viewer engagement and interaction, ultimately increasing dwell time with the brand."

3xScreen has delivered "traditional" social media live formats in which the event host shares a hashtag and/or Facebook link to generate a conversation, perhaps as chatroll or ticker alongside the video (which 3xScreen has done for underground house music channel Boiler Room and the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship).

"Where you have social built around the video and you are taking the event on multiple platforms you may not be taking your social media interaction with you," he observes. "The conversation may dissipate on those other platforms. But integrating moderated Twitter feeds, for example, into the live feed will retain the conversation with the video."

There are an increasing number of "made for social" events that are built around a direct interaction, usually by Q&A, with talent (Universal is among the studios to have called on 3xScreen's services to help promote recent releases; Manchester City FC allows closer connection with its players with live Q&A fed by social media and produced by 3xScreen).

Social media-based productions are also on the rise. 3xScreen's work in this area includes a Google Hangout and YouTube-streamed cook-along with chef Valentine Warner produced by Electric Robin, and The Fox Problem, a live entertainment chat show delivered through a Google+ Hangout, streamed live on YouTube, and produced by Telegraph Hill.

Another example of making interactivity more meaningful, says Robinson, is 3xScreen's work for the Ted Baker Autumn Winter 2014 fashion show. It produced three live streams  to give fans the opportunity to choose between viewing a catwalk, dancer and aerial camera. Viewers were encouraged to share a link with friends so that when the streams reached ten thousand views, a fourth camera located backstage was unlocked. An on-screen "thermometer" showed fans in real time how this sharing was going.

Even stronger interactions between the live event and the audience can be solicited. M&C Saatchi's 2013 production for Castrol tasked soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo with controlling a football and hitting one of four targets chosen by Twitter followers during the live video feed which was produced by 3xScreen.

At launch, the company primarily offered encoding, CDN, and the web experience as an adjunct to the output of a production company.

"We wanted to address the disconnect between traditional and online broadcasters where there were two different approaches to broadcasting online," Robinson explains. "The economics of traditional TV production with large outside broadcast trucks and crews don't work online, but on the other side there were smaller prosumer outfit who were perhaps not delivering good enough quality to represent the major brands and events.

"Our mission was to make broadcast-quality production affordable to increase the market for live online," he states.

3xScreen set about re-imagining the live broadcast workflow by using its expertise in IT and web technology to strip out costs.

"We've gone through every step of the workflow and tweaked it while keeping the functionality," he says. An illustration of this is replacing the large amount of copper cabling required to be rigged at live sports with one km of fibre optics that can travel as airline carry-on.

"That one small thing makes such a difference to the economics," says Robinson. "You don't need a truck, a truck driver, or extraneous technicians."

3xScreen has streamed live from all manner of innovative acquisition gear including quadcopters and Google Glass, and from racing motor vehicles, overhead wire sleds (Dactylcams), and even from the POV of a dog for the Stylist Ford Fiesta 24-Hour Challenge using a LiveU app on an iPhone 5S mounted on the back of an office pooch.

"More and more video production companies are getting into streaming rather than using a domain expert like us," asserts Robinson. "That's put the onus on us to clearly differentiate why our services are of value.

"We decided we wanted to be open and encouraging to production companies, to share ideas and our expertise and use that cooperation with people who are newer to the industry to flush out more and more opportunities."

So effective has the production side of its business become that it has won pure broadcast clients. It has produced live teleshopping and Under-19 Champions League soccer for Roma TV, and live news reports for Italian broadcaster RAI TV. Its largest outside broadcast is a 24-camera production for e-sports championship Gfinity, a scale of event once the preserve of specialist OB truck and satellite uplink suppliers.

3xScreen flyaway kit may involve Sony EX3 camcorders with Teredek Bolt wireless links back to a NewTek Tricaster TCXD850 video switcher, Panasonic HE60 robotic cameras, and LiveU or Dejero-equipped roving reporters and camera operators offering cellular bonded connectivity over 3G/4G.

"We will arrive in a taxi and deliver the same or better quality that our competitors need an army of people, OB truck, tender, and satellite truck," claims Robinson.

Where live multi-camera streams are required, 3xScreen's approach is to create professionally produced gallery feeds (as it did this for the Ted Baker AW2014 event).

Production can be done onsite but invariably the video feeds are routed out of the LiveU backpacks and over 3G/4G cellular links (or satellite where necessary) back to 3xScreen's Master Control Room (MCR) in Clerkenwell.

This is also based on 24-channel Tricasters each supporting up to eight HD live cameras, eight virtual/mix channels, green screen virtual sets, the integration of clips, images, PowerPoint slides, and other network sources and audio mixing.

It mostly uses Blackmagic Design cards, converters, embedders, and monitors to interface the HD-SDI workflow in the MCR.

Running on Intel Quad and Six Core i7 computers for adaptive multi-bitrate live streaming in Flash , a variety of encoders are employed for live streaming. Elemental is used as a primary with Wirecast 6, Cisco AnyRes Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder, and Inlet Spinnaker also on hand.

"Much like a traditional MCR, the unit brings in live feeds from an array of sources including numerous bidirectional BT Tower links, satellite links and video sent from LiveU backpacks," says Robinson. "We can perform all manner of packaging on the feeds including playing pre-event promo clips and countdown clocks; adding tickers to welcome or update viewers; add scores, lower thirds and other graphics; clip, upload and playout half and full time highlights; play in VTs; live split the commentary for different markets; record and loop events at completion; and distribution to various platforms."

For CDNs it uses a combination of Edgecast, Akamai, Limelight and Amazon Web Services Cloudfront and regularly uses Brightcove, Ooyala, and Kaltura OVPs.