March Madness Live: Behind the Scenes

Beyond the hardwood

The 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, aka March Madness Live, was a slam dunk for iStreamPlanet and our incredible partners at CBS Sports and Turner Sports. NCAA March Madness Live set a new record of for 98 million live video streams during the NCAA Tournament, up +33% over last year. The National Championship game garnered 4.4 million live video streams, an all-time record for the title game. Check out the overview infographic which offers the big picture on the partners and the product.

 

The view from the pit

To deliver a great fan experience at scale, we need a system which supported both automation and human operation in tandem.  Our team rehearsed endlessly and perfected their playbook, so at game time we were ready to drive video quality, scaleable distribution, and manage the advertising operations. As you can imagine, delivering millions of high-quality video streams over 15 days to basketball fans requires total focus (and ample quantities of caffeine, snacks, and creative problem solving).

 

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The control room is a zero chill zone

 

Broadcast quality and reliability

This was the first year we delivered March Madness Live — we had some some interesting new challenges to meet, particularly in regards to high availability of the video streams. Every second counts in basketball, we never know when a buzzer beater will happen!

Our goal was to ensure complete redundant stream coverage all the way from upstream video source (arenas, studios and ads) downstream to the video app player, so that fans caught every tick of the clock. Dan Penn, iStreamPlanet’s Director of Software Engineering, and his team architected and developed the workflow that powered the games. Read more about it in Dan’s detailed blog post.

 

Flexible advertising options

Monetizing the product efficiently and providing flexible ad tooling is a critical component to help Turner and CBS drive revenue. For March Madness we chose to run a high availability, tightly managed ad insertion software platform component we created for this event. This design allowed us to directly control ad and video mixing in our Aventus media processing engine, and avoid many of the issues that negatively impacted other high scale events in recent months.

iStream operators actively managed the experience – monitoring audience metrics, inserting and swapping ad pods from the digital control room, and reflowing the ad schedule in near-real time as advertiser obligations were met. This allowed us to maximize the value to both the advertisers and broadcasters. This workflow infographic shows how dynamic ingest offers flexibility for source control and ad insertion.

 

Breaking records, popping bottles

While every large scale event has a few hiccups, we were proud (and relieved) that there were no major problems — our core engineering discipline, long hours of operational rehearsals, and close collaboration with our partners paid off! The system proved resilient to minor bumps from external factors, and we were able to rapidly mitigate impact to the fan experience.

We are extremely proud to keep breaking records. The 2017 NCAA Tournament on TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV is the second most-watched in 23 years (1994), averaging 10.827 million viewers, which is also up +16% from last year (9.373 million viewers). At the end of the championship, it was time to bust out the champagne.

March Madness Live 2017