The Interoperability of Being

As ridiculous as it sounds, multiple people get a notification every time my cat, Raja, uses his smart litter robot and any time there is a sound in my hallway. I or someone else can act on those notifications with connected devices. Does Raja’s litter need to be changed or is he just tripping the system? The robot will tell us. Is there a package at my door? The camera will let us know. App makers connect us to our pets, our cars, our fridges, our shoes. We live in the age of connection and while broadcast has been slower to the trend, we’re now seeing a growing demand for interoperability and flexibility in the enterprise broadcast and media sector.

“For years, people sat on panels and said the NRCS (Newsroom Computer System) needed to be that interconnect. Everybody listened. Nobody did anything about it,” said Blake Russell, the Executive VP for Station Operations and Content Development at the Nexstar Media Group. Mr. Russell envisioned a world where multiple systems opened up secure endpoints to connect with the newsroom computer system. “That’s our NASA, our Mission Control,” he explained. Nexstar owns, operates or provides service to 199 television stations and their related signals reach approximately 62% of all U.S. television households.

Mr. Russell and Nexstar were among the first to push for this, but they are not alone. This has become a routine request from media clients. Recently a buyer said, “We really love having our video and transcriptions and metadata in latakoo, but I like that it also shows up in Avid.” latakoo’s backbone is built on agnostic collaboration. Our cloud infrastructure and API exist in such a way that we can provide secure connections to integration partners.

There’s a natural instinct for self-preservation: a catch in the throat, a protective fear that occurs when broadcast vendors talk about interoperability. No matter what customers want, it sounds suspiciously like we are being asked to build a bridge into our service that allows some other company to sell something to our customers that maybe we could have built and sold ourselves. Why give up business to an interloper? After all, this is not the consumer web. We support a niche industrial market that some of us have carefully developed, groomed and served for decades.

And when I say “we,” there are doubtlessly some tenured technology vendors who look at latakoo today and see an “interloper.” The reality is that whether we’re talking about new technology startups in a market or newly arrived immigrants to a country, the temptation once one has arrived and survived is to immediately turn around, close and bolt the door. Let’s build a wall, because we can clearly handle things from here. I can understand the trepidations here as I am both an immigrant and a startup technology founder, but we can’t let fear create handcuffs.

While the temptation is strong to create closed branded ecosystems with locked-in customers, there are at least two problems with this bar-the-door strategy. First, it is a guaranteed superhighway to mediocrity. And second, it does not serve the best interests of our customers. Truly free markets are scary precisely because they are not protected, and that means that some innovator (not interloper) can surprise and disrupt the market with a superior service or business model. That is also why free markets are awesome for customers. Innovators create the future through their imagination and skilled execution. Everyone benefits.

After Eliud Kipchoge, a personal hero and the Kenyan marathoner, ran his epic sub two-hour marathon, he said, “No human is limited.” His “why” resonated with the world, “The reason for running 1:59 is not the performance. The reason to run 1:59 is to tell that farmer that he is not limited; that teacher that she can produce good results in school; that engineer… that he can go to another project.” Kipchoge built a team of rivals to get it done, pacemakers who were among the world’s best distance runners. That’s how records get broken. And sometimes during the race, competitors discover they are faster when they collaborate.

For years, broadcast and media customers asked vendors to provide easy access to superior solutions under one umbrella. “We need to remove the level of complexity to use broadcast technologies and find out how we can all get along within the same environment,” said Mr. Russell. “You don’t need six things, each doing one element alone. You need one thing that can talk to everything and it has to be secure.”

Like almost every major station group in the United States today, the Nexstar Media Group grew quickly as it acquired other station groups. This created a communications challenge which the Nexstar team brought to latakoo. How does a station group operating in 100+ markets realize its potential economies of scale through real time communication and content sharing? Another station group simultaneously described the same scenario. We tackled the challenge and called our solution, Manifest.

At its heart, Manifest is a searchable index of assignments that allows users to quickly discover what is being produced that day throughout the company. Teams can search through a huge organization’s assignments by category, geographic region and precise search terms. They can follow developing stories they discover for updates and request that the content be delivered directly to them the moment a journalist turns in a story by sending the finished product through latakoo from the field to that reporter’s home station.

Like every other part of latakoo, Manifest can exist on its own or it can integrate into another asset management system. For Mr. Russell’s team, there’s no time to duplicate work by re-entering data in more than one place. Instead, the systems used by reporters need to synchronize so that the same information and content is available on every platform they use. Today, Manifest already seamlessly integrates with three of the world’s most used Newsroom Computer Systems as well as a custom assignments system, called Daybook, built and used by Nexstar.

This year, latakoo is participating in the roll out of another collaboration product that provides broadcasters the benefits of two companies, each doing what they do best. The Panasonic US team reached out to us earlier this year with a proposition. Their PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) cameras are in demand, and they’ve got low latency streaming video built right into the cameras. The challenge their customers face is easily setting up the necessary web systems to support the cameras. Could latakoo help? As a web- based software service provider, latakoo used the tools Panasonic baked into its cameras to easily discover the cameras on a LAN, to send the video to the cloud, to control the cameras from anywhere in the world and to direct the video stream to on-premise broadcast playout. Panasonic makes hardware solutions. latakoo makes software services. Marry the two and broadcasters receive the collaborative benefits of each company’s specialty skillset.

All of this is not to say that companies should ever walk away from the creation of any disruptive service or product they see fit to produce. The key is to go ahead and build the things you know are needed in the marketplace, but also negotiate an entry point for others to integrate. Vendors will do better if customers choose their service because it’s better and not because customers feel chained inside their matrix.

Look great. Make slot. How the pros send video.

How do you send video files back to your station? Do you stick to a regimented daily schedule and allow time to send files? Or, are you working remotely, at the mercy of your deadline and Internet bandwidth?

As journalists, we know firsthand how complex it can be to figure out how long a file will take to send with the available Internet connection – or whether you need to make that file smaller to meet your deadline. In these cases,  a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

We gathered three broadcast experts to find out their methodology to transfer files back to the station. Along with Richard Metzler, our Video Scientist here at latakoo, our group discussed the best approach to sending video fast while maintaining broadcast quality. Here is what we found out.

 

How Wes Rapaport Sends Video

Wes Rapaport, the Austin Bureau reporter for Nexstar Media Group, serves more than 100 stations each day with content from the Texas capital city. He says that while he works to send his stories at least 30 minutes before the broadcast, there are days when breaking news intervenes. His goal is to make the sure the file not only arrives on time, but in a way that makes it seamless for those receiving the story across Nexstar stations.

“You’ve got some stations where there’s just one or two people doing most of the editing and producing, so my goal is to create a product that is the highest quality, but also can be downloaded in the simplest way,” says Rapaport. For that reason, he selects a high bit rate compression to send the video with the latakoo Flight app, delivering the file in a standard H.264, .mp4 format.

Wes noted there are times where bandwidth is just not available, such when he was covering a fire in the mountains of New Mexico. Working the story solo, time was limited and so was bandwidth. “There’s barely any (Internet) service out there. I’m making sure that I’m able to deliver the product when it’s supposed to be there, but also making sure that it’s high quality can be,” says Rapaport.

 

 

How Joe Little Sends Video

Quality is king for Joe Little, Director of Storytelling at KNSD-TV in San Diego. Little is also a faculty member with the National Press Photographers Association. The quality of his on-air work is so important to him, he told us, so he structures his entire day around allowing enough time for an uncompressed file upload with latakoo.

“I don’t compress my video ever. When I’m involved and I’m in control of my schedule, I back time my day like a producer. If my deadline is at 4:30 pm, then I need to start editing at 3:45 pm, which means I need to start writing by 3:15 pm. I build my day that way so I have time to send uncompressed files with latakoo, no matter where I am,” says Little.

 

 

How Jose Otero Manages Video

Jose Otero, the manager of technology KDEN in Denver, says his responsibility is to ensure stories look great when they are broadcast, no matter where they are coming from. One of the ways he ensures quality is to teach his team how to send files quickly with latakoo.

“Our team is only as good as their ability to use their tools. latakoo is one of those tools. They need to know what the application does and what time and bandwidth constraints are. We give them the tools, but they need to plan ahead,” says Otero.

 

 

Tips from latakoo Video Scientist Richard Metzler

latakoo’s Video Scientist Richard Metzler shared his tips on how to send video fast while complying with quality requirements.

1. If you’re in a rush, you’ll get better visual quality by reducing resolution compared bitrate.
2. For compatibility with most players and systems, always encode in AVC (h.264).
3. For most purposes, AVC (h.264) is sufficient.
4. If you need to move high quality, 4k video or beyond and have plenty of time and battery power to encode, then HEVC (h.265) is a better choice than AVC (h.264).

5. If you have to send an Intraframe-Only format (like ProRes, AVCI, and XDCAM) be sure you’re transferring over a fast and stable connection. These files are HUGE and will take time.
• If you use the latakoo app, you can safely preserve quality by compressing to the “Visually Lossless” setting, which will greatly decrease the overall transfer time.
• We recommend Visually lossless for all upload connections less than 50 Mbps, although in specific cases we might recommend that you use Visually Lossless compression even if your connection exceeds 200 Mbps up.
• But if you have over 200 Mbps of upload bandwidth and use the latakoo app, don’t hesitate to use the “No Compression” setting. There are improvements in the latest 6.5 series apps that can fill your bandwidth and send those files super fast. No need to compress first.

6. If you’re recording a conference, watch out for compatibility and visual issues caused by variable framerates and resolutions.
• Your best bet is to lock in a framerate between 15 and 30 fps in your conference software’s settings whenever you have a stable connection.
• If you don’t have a stable connection, drop the maximum resolution in the conference settings as low as you can tolerate.

For journalists and photographers committed to sending the highest quality file possible, we’ve got great news. The latakoo Flight app versions 6.5.4 or above has major speed improvements when sending uncompressed files.

That’s why we built the latakoo Flight application with the flexibility to simultaneously compress and send files – or to send the files with their original size and quality as quickly as possible. The application’s visible speed gauges and estimated upload times give journalists critical information they need for their environment and deadline.

However you choose to send your file – whether you structure your day so you have plenty of time to send your file without compression, or use the latakoo estimated upload times to choose a compression setting, latakoo gives you the flexibility send in a way that works best for you and your organization.

latakoo COVID success story

From our office in downtown Austin, Texas, there is a clear and often meditative view of the popular Lady Bird Lake and Trail, where on most days, you find hundreds of people enjoying the water or the trail. As Covid-19 began to permeate into Texas, it was like a valve suddenly shut off — the people disappeared. State and local governments issued lockdown orders. We sent our employees home. Our clients cleared out their newsrooms, production facilities and studios. Journalists began reporting from their living rooms instead of broadcast centers. Todd Bynum, KXAN-TV’s Chief Photographer told me, “We made sure laptops had the latakoo app installed, then handed them out to our crews and said, ‘you’re not coming back here for a few months, use latakoo to send us your stories, latakoo will be your friend.”

latakoo is a native cloud company celebrating our 10th anniversary this month. Our clients are some of the world’s largest broadcasters. Their staffers were already comfortable using latakoo to transfer files quickly and securely from around the world. As the pandemic set in, they began to count on us more than ever.

What we saw in the wake of the shutdowns was unprecedented usage by current clients – with uploads from users growing 172% year-over-year in just one month. In the case of one major broadcast client, users from one of its divisions, uploaded an explosive 1800% more minutes of video than in May 2019. latakoo’s cloud offers a platform for collaboration, downloading and viewing. One client streamed nearly 150,000 minutes of video in a single month, up an incredible 8,000% over the same month last year.

“We had been using latakoo as a one-way street prior to the coronavirus pandemic, taking files from the field, to the cloud, to the asset manager,” said Rick Erbach, News Director of WGNO, in New Orleans, Louisiana during a webinar in April. “Now we’ve turned it into a two-way street. MMJs will say,  ‘I need this video or that video.’ And so what we are doing now is putting that video up to the latakoo cloud so they can bring it down to their desktop at their home.” Erbach says latakoo has been a “newscast saver” during the pandemic.

As we were scaling our service and adapting to the demands of increased traffic, clients started asking to use latakoo to enable novel remote workflows. We have always nurtured a very collaborative relationship with our clients. I was not surprised when they called us with questions like, “What if we used latakoo to record live feeds coming in from press conferences?” 

We responded with rapid innovation. We set up workflows to create files from live streams, enabled cloud editing in beta and launched a unique disaster recovery workflow. And, our team pushed out a new service called Manifest to help teams discover, follow and request stories – ensuring delivery to multiple locations. Manifest integrates with AP’s ENPS and literally helps news teams manage stories from birth to broadcast.

The question that always comes up, “Did you already have a plan in place?” We did have an emergency response plan, but if we’re all being honest, we have to admit that we had never faced a pandemic. It’s like a breaking news story where the facts as you know it will change in an hour, in a day, in a month. You are forced to operate with only the here and now. Our marketing efforts, which included two major conferences, had to be shuffled as NAB and IBC cancelled shows. We’re sponsoring and producing more webinars and using public relations teams in Europe and the U.S. to supplement marketing. 

My heart sinks and I feel pangs of guilt when I hear about companies that have shuttered. We are growing and adding staff. I remember the days when buyers were skeptical about “cloud” solutions. Now people are pandemic-proofing by using cloud companies. We don’t know for sure how it will all shake out, but we believe the way to continued growth is to listen carefully to our clients, intelligently and efficiently build what they will use, pivot as needed and continuously be ready for change. 

Our view is back, hundreds of people once again in the lake and trail here, but as the pandemic rages on, it’s clear that nothing will ever be the same. 

Taking the pain out of home work

The news anchor you’ve been watching report from their living room or kitchen, may be there for a while, as the coronavirus infection continues to set new records. Most television news broadcasters have dramatically limited the number of people in newsrooms and studios in order to protect their employees and prevent the infection from spreading. 

According to The At-Home Studio And The Future Of News Workflow webinar hosted by TV News Check on July 23, a majority of the attendees plan to keep more than 50% of their staff off-site permanently.

Broadcasters are increasingly turning to companies that facilitate their teams’ ability to work from anywhere. latakoo is one of those solutions, enabling the fast transfer of files from anywhere to anywhere, whether it’s to the broadcast studio or to a colleague for collaboration. latakoo users can transfer a file one time and have it arrive at multiple destinations with multiple workflows. 

Hats off to the journalists out there who are doing this important work,” said Jade Kurian, president and co-founder of latakoo. “These news crews are out there, protecting the rest of us and we are so happy to be able to support them.”

Austin-based latakoo has seen explosive growth in the usage of its file transfer and cloud-based system. In just one instance, a single news division is sending more than 32,000 files a month, or 1800% more files than in May of last year.

For many clients, latakoo was a known software tool that became the preferred way to move files when the pandemic began. “As far as sending video, latakoo was already a well-established workflow for us. We just expanded upon that once we started working from home and it has been super successful,” said Keith Barbaria, VP of Technology for NBC Boston, NBC Sports Boston, Telemundo Boston and New England Cable News.

Not only are customers sending more video, they’re using the cloud-based platform for collaboration as well. One latakoo news client streamed 147,570 minutes on the latakoo platform in May 2020, an 8,000% increase over the same month the previous year.

Cloud collaboration is the way dispersed teams are continuing to be productive, since the appetite for news coverage has only grown since the pandemic began.

“(We’re) leveraging latakoo a whole lot in terms of getting material to and from home base,” said Brendan Falco, Senior Director of Operations for Spectrum Networks, on the collection of software tools or hardware ‘kits’ his team is using. “I think we’re in a groove on how those kits are set up and we’ve been happy with the result.”

latakoo’s Kurian thinks that the pandemic has not only brought lasting change to the way news crews work, but to the technology they use. “What I keep hearing from our customers and potential customers is the need for a solution that’s sophisticated enough to integrate with  other platforms and technologies they’re using, along with the simplicity in user interface, so you don’t need to be an engineer to use it effectively.”

Cloud with a silver lining

“I don’t know if you’re aware of what happened here,” said our client. “But we had to send our editors home – all of them – nearly 200.”

It wasn’t a choice. The state’s governor  ordered all non-essential workers to seclude themselves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And while these workers qualified as essential, they got sent home anyway because one sick employee could infect enough others to knock a critically important newscast off the air.

“Here’s the thing,” our client continued. “We’ve learned that the work can get done from home. These people are not coming back. We’re already converting edit bays for use as offices and other things.”

After years of tolerating, but not openly embracing the full potential of cloud technology, the pandemic forced broadcasters to rip off the Band-Aid and in-an-instant fully adopt the cloud as a primary tool for the construction of their newscasts.

Before the pandemic, our cloud based platform  was primarily used to quickly move content from the field through the Internet to a broadcast centre. It was an acquisition tool. But once people began working at home, that video had to go the other direction; from the broadcast centre to people’s dens and home offices.  The video also had to be accessible to watch in the cloud.

While content transfer has always been bi-directional and the video has always been watchable within the platform, what changed was where people were working. Confirmation for the anecdote our client verbally shared with us leapt off the page when we looked at their usage data. This customer’s team uploaded 1,800% more video in May 2020 than in May 2019 in their headquarters city.  The staffers watched 8,000% more video on the platform. They streamed nearly 150,000 video minutes in just one month. Welcome to the cloud.

The thing about the pandemic is that it hastened a change that was already occurring, and like those soon-to-be-converted edit bays, broadcasting itself will change forever going forward.  This opens up tremendous opportunities for broadcasters, production companies and the vendors that support this community to fully explore and develop the potential of massive amounts of scalable compute, endless inexpensive storage, integrations and interoperability.

No longer is an editor confined to a small room physically attached to a limited set of locked down on-premise tools. Now, that editor can connect to the most innovative services in the world. Some built by niche specialists who may literally do one thing better than anyone else.  The content creator gets access to that specialised tool if it is connected to her organisation’s cloud platform.

And that is the real key. We vendors must create systems that make integrations and interoperability easy and seamless in order for our shared customers to reach the full potential of the cloud. That is easy to say but is a huge step for the industry. It may even be a bigger step than the one the broadcasters took when they sent their editors home.

The video vendor industry has a long history of building proprietary products that attempt to lock-in a customer base to a specific brand. This lock-in practice has not disappeared as vendors have taken to the cloud. The competitive instinct of some storied brands is to attempt to build a single siloed cloud platform that does everything their customer needs.  The problem with this model is that even if it temporarily satisfies a customer, the silo is almost instantly out-of-date and will lag behind new solutions built by the rest of the world.

The true promise of the cloud lies in being able to easily access different cutting-edge technologies from your chosen platform, and that is available to your team if the vendors you choose make it easy to connect their system to services created by other companies.

Our core foundational belief is to be a bridge between the technologies that our customers use.  A perfect example of this philosophy is the provision of a service on our platform that tracks the metadata associated with video stories from birth to broadcast by seamlessly integrating with the newsroom computer systems that our customers use.

It is possible that the legacy of this pandemic will not all be bleak as it forced broadcasters and vendors to work together to unlock the full potential of a cloud that is still connected to traditional broadcast facilities and to the video editor creating something beautiful from her home office.