The Streaming Toolbox: Tedial, Frequency Studio, Mlytics
The set of tools I’ll explore in this article will help you orchestrate workflows, create FAST broadcasts, and do multi-CDN worldwide live streaming management. Using all of these tools, you could get your own channel up and running and deliver it everywhere—even in China. These set of tools were demo’d for me. In order for me to test an application, vendors need to provide dummy data, and not everyone can make it available within our editorial timeframe.
Tedial: Best-of-Breed Workflow Orchestration
Tedial is taking a step into providing a cloud taxi service between different media applications to enable best-of-breed workflow creation. For the past 20+ years, they’ve been known for their MAM solution, and they created smartWork as a no-code SaaS orchestration product to help less technical staff build workflows.
“When we talk about orchestration or business processes, it’s the set of steps needed to get media from one location to another,” says Tedial CTO Julian Fernandez-Campon. Previously connecting specific applications together required either someone who could work with each product’s API’s or hope your MAM could do this. “We have seen many [MAM] customers have suffered a lot,” he says. You don’t need to be a Tedial’s MAM customer to use this new product.
The product demo looked very straightforward and I’m looking forward to testing this application out in the future. Access to content storage, can be set up through drop-down menus to connect to cloud or on-prem archives. The marketplace interface is where you identify which vendors you want to connect from encoding, QC, CRM, CMS, AI, scheduling, and traffic. They can bring content in from files, camera cards, cable labs, and IMF formats for import. If there’s an upgrade for any part of your workflow, the system will allow automatic or manual installation for updates.
Each stage of the workflow can be assigned specific security requirements and their product aligns with the MovieLabs 2030 security guidelines. The security is oriented to the workflows. Specific access to an asset or workflow process can be assigned until conditions are met and then revoked. There is alerting functions to identify something which needs attention. My favorite is the “make sure this works” button, to test everything is connecting as it should before running a task.
This is a brand-spanking new product which they started building three years ago. Normally we wait a while to cover new products, but thought this was so compelling that we would make an exception. They have a number of customers right now: 2 in Spain, and 1 in Portugal, and a US customer sending content to 60 different platforms using their tool. “beIN sports in the UK are using our system to send to their platforms and in the Netherlands, we also have a couple of customers, like Red Bee,” says Fernandez-Campon.
The product is for use by both traditional broadcasters, as well as streaming media delivery. Fernandez-Campon says most customers need to supply content to streaming platforms, although it may not be their sole source of distribution. There is one customer with 250 different profiles to send content throughout Europe.
Their typical user is a media manager or someone who is preparing the content for distribution video editor. They support cloud, on-prem, and hybrid applications. Pricing is negotiated, via traditional CapEx model or SaaS.
“Frequency Studio empowers content owners and license holders to build and distribute what we call next-generation linear,” says Frank Chiu, Frequency SVP of product and platform. “It starts with content coming into our system. We have a whole bunch of processes to normalize and validate video. You can add ad breaks, overlays, graphics, interstitials, fallback experience, and scheduling to the channel.” The output is FAST or other scheduled programming, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The team started 12 years ago running an owned and operated direct-to-consumer VOD service. Three years ago they developed Frequency Studio, which is a browser-based, cloud SaaS. The interface looks easy to use, like an EPG with specialized bells and whistles. Within the scheduling there is the ability to mix live and VOD playout on a schedule of your creation to create various X versions of programming playout.
“The hardest part of distributing linear channels is [supporting] all the different specifications, delivery protocols, and transport mechanism to distributors, as well as [providing] the EPG scheduling metadata,” he says.
Typical users include channel programmers, scheduling programmers, and content managers. Frequency Studio customers come from traditional broadcast, FAST distributors, local news, and digital-first companies, and they have customers who went from distributing 1 or 2 channels to now doing 50 or 100 at a time.
“The end output is much faster channel creation, better control of curating content, and very high scale. It used to take many people to run a legacy broadcast channel in the earliest phase of fast OTT linear channels in our world,” Chiu says.
While they are a SaaS platform, there’s still a bit which is somewhat managed as they validate content and distribution points initially. About 50% of their customers have started form scratch. They provide a tech check on ingestion pipeline, a round of training for the tool, a launch checklist, and support as needed.
What things do customers need help on? Best way to deliver content, metadata requirements per distributor, art formats, caption requirements, frequency and duration of ads, and even industry standards for ad load.
There’s a variety of business logic the platform has to replace previous manual programming. This includes inserting SCTE markers, black field detection, scheduling content, interstitials, and ad breaks. They can work with pointers to playlists for content being delivered on the fly for either VOD or live content. “We have something called Magic Wand which re-times ad breaks,” Chiu says, fitting them into the right amount of time allocated per platform.
Most commonly content is delivered as Media RSS feeds via cloud delivery, and they support multiple clouds as well as on-prem storage. A typical workflow use case: For a local news media company that runs 4–5 hours of daily news, Frequency Studio integrates with the customer’s CMS, which records and manages their live broadcast and ingest that separately from their short clips or episode VOD. They also program slots that are fallback content in case there is no newscast or whatever is scheduled for that time. “We’re listening to and ingesting live a newscast and re-airing it by actually systematically making changes on their schedule for each of the DMAs,” Chiu says.
They have a graphics tool included for creating four different categories of dynamic motion graphic, supporting triggers points for program start, program end, before ad break and coming back. Or they support After Effects integration to do more transformational graphics.
The provide monitoring, for uptime, blockiness, and even inclusion of expected ad breaks (for a configurable amount of time). Some of the QA/QC is through Interra Systems’ Orion OTT and Orion IP, all other functionality was developed within the product.
At NAB 2022, they showed a new tool called Connect which records all the technical information for playout historically for up to seven days, you can review down to the six-second increment for review or troubleshooting. I’m looking forward to trying this product out in the future. There is no public pricing.
Mlytics provides worldwide multi-CDN management. A couple areas their of focus include live streaming delivery and service into China, which they’ve offered since 2017. Unlike other CDN comparison tools that measure to the closest node, Mlytics measures to the origin.
“The issue is that [one specific CDN] cannot cover the entire world with equal high density in terms of servers,” says Mlytics Solutions Architect Tony Lepage. They help combine services of multiple CDNs to fill in the blind spots using real-time monitoring to make those decisions. “Basically, we monitor every 30 seconds.”
About 25% of Mlytics’ business is CDN management for live streaming and another 25% is for VOD (cacheable) content. You can make choices by latency or costs. In any location they provide a list of the closest edge nodes and track service levels. Customers can set configurable business rules to balance between latency and costs and can also set up customer routing rules.
“We are standardizing our pricing across the CDNs to make it easier,” says Lepage. “We try to simplify that and just charge by the gigabyte.”
I saw a product demo which showed an overview of a live account; the number of DNS queries, the amount of traffic, the number of requests. “You can mouse over to see performance of the different CDNs,” he says. “This measurement is round trip to your origin server, not to the cache node.” The analytics dashboard shows how much has been cached vs. what’s coming from the origin server, geographical traffic breakdown, routing decisions, performance, and costs. They will also handle billing if the customer prefers.
Based Taiwan, one of the things Mlytics does is help companies who want to office service to China. “All of these domain names [from Google] are blocked and the associated IP addresses are also blocked,” Lepage says. “Using a CDN that has a location close to China allows the origin server using the Google IP addresses to be hidden with a firewall. [This] gets all of the Google content from their server available inside of the mainland. We have a few customers who will come to us specifically with that use case.”
That’s one option; the other is they sell Chinese CDN services like Tencent and Alibaba. “When you onboard with them they ask, ‘Do you have an ICP [Internet Content Provider] License? If you don't have an ICP license, you can’t use any of the nodes within China, but you can use all the nodes in Tokyo, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.”
“We’re trying to make that clearer for the customers because once they onboard, they shouldn't have any outages,” Lepage says. “As soon as we want to switch, it’s a three-second delay. It’s quite quick compared to making a DNS change [which can take 15 minutes or longer]. If customers are hesitant to put that code on the web site, we have virtual machines in every region that CDN vendors offer and we use those for monitoring instead.”
Mlytics has public pricing and both a self-serve tool, as well as managed service for custom projects.