Behind the Streams: How SRT and Haivision Brought the Virtual NFL Draft to Life
In our recent webinar, How SRT Powered the First Virtual NFL Draft, we went behind the scenes of this ambitious and unique event to understand exactly how it all came together in less than three weeks. In this webinar John Cave, VP, Football Technology Solutions for the NFL shared details of the NFL’s longstanding relationship with Haivision and how the league came to depend on Haivision video solutions along with the SRT protocol to deliver the first-ever virtual NFL Draft. In this post, we’re highlighting some of the key discussion points of the webinar.
The NFL and Haivison: A Long History
The NFL and Haivision have been working together since 2014 on a variety of different projects; starting with a live instant replay system to and from the leagues’ headquarters in New York over the public internet. By deploying Haivision video solutions, the NFL was also an SRT pioneer, using the protocol as an alternative to dedicated circuits for international games in London and Mexico City, to send very low latency video but high quality to and from New York, allowing those watching in the stadium to see the NFL RedZone channel and highlights.
This year the NFL has extended its Haivision and SRT solution to meet a new requirement with legalized sports betting to provide Sportradar, the official league data and content partner, a very low latency video feed to them in Frankfurt which allows it to distribute to international sportsbooks. Thanks to the solution deployed, Sportradar has been able to reduce latency from nine to just one second.
Adapting to Challenges: The Journey to a Virtual NFL Draft
During the webinar, John gives viewers an exclusive insight into how this year’s virtual draft came about and how the entire operation switched from the originally planned live event in Las Vegas to a completely remote, at-home, socially distant broadcast because of the coronavirus. In the run-up to the planned schedule, John shares how it felt like his team was chasing a moving target before they finally settled on a solution with less than three weeks to spare.
NFL Draft by the Numbers
Here are just some of the numbers surrounding the broadcast which help to give an indication of the scale and complexity of the operation:
- 100 camera kits sent to prospects
- Over 132 live SRT feeds total including 64 feeds from coaches and general managers and 58 from top prospects
- 7 Haivision SRT Gateways
- 32 Haivision Makito X video decoders
- 55 million viewers worldwide
Haivision and SRT: A Winning Combination
The webinar details the technology and workflows leveraged by the NFL including Haivision Makito X decoders and SRT Gateways along with the SRT protocol to overcome some of the key challenges it was facing, including unreliable networks, at-home deployment, and security. John shares how Haivision SRT Gateways were deployed in the cloud, at the league office in New York, ESPN’s Bristol campus, and NFL Media in Los Angeles to allow technical teams to securely route live SRT streams across internet connections and bridge networks while enabling local multicast for production resources that fed live to air on-demand playback workflows. He also explains that each NFL club used a Makito X decoder to receive low latency SRT streams for their team operations.
Security and Reliability
John highlights just how critical the S and R of SRT were in SRT. The “R”, or reliable part, was put to use to manage all of the inconsistent networks such as wifi and internet and guarantee the delivery of content. With many pundits believing that the virtual event was ripe for hacking, the “S”, or security part of SRT also played a critical role. With cameras in homes, it would be easy to potentially capture an embarrassing moment which would result in shutting down the whole event, so security was of paramount importance. In order to keep bad actors from hacking into the system and leaking valuable or compromising content the NFL leveraged AES 128/256-bit encryption offered by SRT to keep streams secure.
A Unique Experience
Hailed as a massive success, the virtual draft drew record viewing figures with 55 million fans tuning in to watch during the three-day event – an increase of viewership of 35% over 2019. What’s more, the event gave viewers a rare glimpse into the home lives of all concerned. From the commissioner in his basement to the General Managers, head coaches, and prospects, the virtual draft captured many unique and intimate moments. Next year’s draft is slated to take place in Cleveland and John reveals that the NFL is already considering ways that it can use the same technology to deliver a more engaging experience for its viewers.