Amazon knows a thing or two about web services and video streaming, and has just introduced a new, fully managed service that the company says makes it fast and easy for customers and partners to set up live, interactive video streams.
Run and sold through its subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon Interactive Video Service (Amazon IVS), it allows customers to configure and stream live video through their own website or mobile application, “with scalable delivery that supports millions of concurrent viewers globally. With the Amazon IVS SDK and APIs, customers can also build interactive features into their live streams like virtual chat spaces, votes and polls, moderated question and answer sessions, and synchronized promotional elements.”
“There are no additional charges or upfront commitments required to use Amazon IVS, and customers pay only for video input to Amazon IVS and video output delivered to viewers.”
Amazon IVS uses the same technology that powers the live streaming service Twitch, which served nearly 10 billion hours of video watched in 2019. Amazon says latency (the time video takes to go from the camera to the viewer) will be less than three seconds, “significantly lower than the 20-30 second latencies common with online streaming video today.”
Amazon owns Twitch, having bought it in 2014.
So what does this have to do with digital signage? It offers up the ability for digital signage software companies, other software developers, and solutions providers, to create interactive video experiences without building hosting and delivery infrastructure.
I regularly have companies send me video files, with the hope and expectation that I will load them up on Sixteen:Nine to run in posts. I tell the senders to put them on a platform like Vimeo, as my site and hosts are not set up for streaming.
UK-based CMS shop ScreenCloud has long been a user of Amazon’s streaming devices, and is part of the news release announcing this service: “The ease of use and simplicity of Amazon IVS allows us to focus on delivering innovation rather than worrying about video infrastructure,” says Luke Hubbard, CTO of ScreenCloud. “We have been able to quickly integrate video conferencing tools with Amazon IVS to provide our customers an interactive broadcast solution.”
This reflects something Signagelive CEO Jason Cremins rationalized for me, years ago. I’m paraphrasing him here, but he essentially said it made little sense for his company to put its precious development resources into building capabilities that already existed through other companies. So he partnered like crazy.
I am going to assume there are some other options out there, from companies of varying sizes, but AWS is a monster, with the scalability of hardware and pipe., as well as economies of scale, that will resonate with existing and potential customers.
Given the state of our working lives in this ongoing pandemic, it is very likely there will be a growing demand for things like remote advisors and customer service people on screens at interactive kiosks in retail and public spaces.
So you don’t go to a counter. You launch a live video that brings on someone who may be a continent away. In some cases, that might just be a safety thing, or a means of reducing staffing at distributed sites. But as someone who “tries” to do DIY work around my house, I’d love to hit a live stream in-store to talk to someone who genuinely knows a subject – like plumbing – instead of getting possibly dubious advice from a random staffer I managed to corral in an aisle.
The Amazon PR says:
Online audiences are increasingly turning to mobile and web applications for live video across sports, entertainment, education, and work.
Today’s viewers require higher-resolution content and smooth video playback without buffering or delays no matter where they are or what device or application they are using. Viewers have also come to expect more interactivity in live streaming, so they can engage with those experiences (and others watching) as events unfold, not moments after they happen. Setting up the infrastructure to keep pace with consumer demand for live video is complex, time consuming, and expensive.
Today, it takes customers months to build interactive applications with video workflows for content ingestion, processing, and distribution, and then they still need to configure transcoders for adaptive-bitrate-formatted streaming to support multiple types of devices, select the appropriate streaming protocols, set up the content delivery networks (CDNs), and integrate video players.
Even after all this work, live-streamed interactive content still requires minimal latency for a good user experience. However, traditional video streaming requires video to be produced in various resolutions and divided into segments for delivery. Multiple segments are then stored in a buffer by the viewer’s video player so that playback resolution can be changed depending on the viewer’s network and device to optimize quality of service, all of which creates a lot of extra latency. This can mean that viewers experience latencies of 20-30 seconds, making it impossible for content creators to interact live with their audiences without sacrificing service quality.
Amazon IVS removes the cost and complexity associated with setting up live, interactive video streams, allowing customers to focus on building engaging experiences for their viewers.
To get started, customers simply send their live video to Amazon IVS using standard streaming software like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). Amazon IVS ingests the video, then automatically transcodes and optimizes it, making it available for live delivery across AWS-managed global infrastructure in seconds using the same video transfer technology Twitch uses for its live streaming service.
Content creators and developers can use the Amazon IVS player SDK to give audiences a consistent, low-latency live streaming experience across different viewing platforms and devices, without compromising video quality or increasing buffering. Customers can then combine the Amazon IVS SDK and APIs to attach structured text data to video streams, and create interactive content, including polls, surveys, and leaderboards, all of which are automatically synchronized to the live video.
For example, a developer making a trivia application or a virtual town hall can use the API to ensure that viewers see the same questions at the same moment in the live video stream. With Amazon IVS, customers can now directly access the same technology that powers Twitch to create engaging live video experiences in their own applications and deliver them to viewers around the world.
“Customers have been asking to use Twitch’s video streaming technology on their own platforms for a range of use cases like education, retail, sports, fitness, and more,” said Martin Hess, GM, Amazon IVS. “Now with Amazon IVS, customers can leverage the same innovative technology that has taken Twitch over a decade to build and refine. Any developer can build an interactive live streaming experience into their own application without having to manage the underlying video infrastructure.”
The Amazon IVS Management Console and APIs for control and creation of streams are available in the US East (N. Virginia), US West (Oregon), and Europe (Ireland) regions, with video ingestion and delivery available around the globe over a separate managed network of infrastructure that is optimized for live video.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.