Simplify complex media workflows with M2A Connect and AWS

This article was written by Marcus Box, CTO and Co-Founder, M2A Media. This article was originally published on the AWS Media Blog.

When AWS announced the release of AWS Elemental MediaConnect in 2018, we at M2A could immediately see all sorts of benefits. MediaConnect is a reliable, secure, and flexible transport service for live video. Using MediaConnect, you can build live video processing workflows and securely share content with your partners and customers, all using the AWS Cloud. We envisioned various use cases and possibilities for this AWS service. Over the past 18 months, the innovations that MediaConnect powers outstripped even our initial hopes and it has become invaluable for a wide range of media workflows.

Introducing M2A Connect

M2A Connect is primarily an orchestration and scheduling layer on top of MediaConnect. Fundamentally, M2A Connect allows users to spin up media flows based on a schedule and securely share content with distribution partners and customers, all using the AWS Cloud. This is ideal for event-based workflows – especially sports. Customers have used M2A Live to do this for direct to consumer streams for years. At a small scale, some users can manage this manually themselves.

It’s when connected media workflows solve more complex problems, however, that M2A Connect can help. If for example, you have a small number of MediaConnect flows that must start and stop a handful of times a week, it is easy to do manually using the AWS Management Console. However, consider a workflow with dozens of channels that originate on-premises. These channels need secure transport to the cloud over diverse network paths. The on-premises handoff and transit to the cloud also need to start and stop around the schedule. Once in the cloud, these flows might also require transport to other AWS Regions for distribution. A sports rights owner or content aggregator can ingest their content into two local AWS Regions, for example Dublin and Frankfurt, and then require distribution to two other geographically diverse locations, like Virginia and Singapore, in order to best suit the needs of their global customer base.

M2A Connect wraps a complex topology of interconnected MediaConnect flows and manages them as a single ‘source’ entity. In the preceding example, a single API call or event scheduled in the M2A Connect console starts and stops dozens of underlying components around event boundaries. When a customer has hundreds of events across dozens of channels it becomes impractical to operate the workload manually.

Another level of complexity which M2A Connect handles within a single ‘source’ is a transformation workflow or to archive to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Amazon S3 is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. M2A Connect can provision AWS Elemental MediaLive for processing. MediaLive is a cloud-based live video encoding service that offers fast, reliable, and easy-to-use delivery of high-quality live video streams without the need to manage infrastructure. Content rights holders and aggregators can use MediaLive to add graphics overlays or to archive live video to Amazon S3, for example. M2A Connect loads the appropriate MediaLive profile during the pre-transmission window depending on instructions provided in the source data.

Now that we have a source setup within M2A Connect that abstracts the complexity of transformations, inter-Region routing, redundancy options, and multiple outputs, we can use M2A Connect for one or more of its main purposes. These are acquisition, routing, and distribution. Each tier of the M2A Connect product enables more features and is licensed separately.

M2A Connect for Acquisition

The simplest use case is acquisition. In this instance, M2A Connect provisions a MediaConnect flow and lets you select from several video-specific network-level protocols, including Zixi, RIST, RTP+FEC, and RTP. If HLS or RTMP protocols are needed, M2A Connect can optionally provision a MediaLive instance to pull these and push a transport stream into MediaConnect. This expands the available protocols through an added transcode step, provided that meets the specific requirements for the workflow. This workflow is proven to be popular for e-sports and similar types of live event workflows. We are also testing AWS Elemental Link to ingest flows into M2A Connect via MediaLive. Link is a device that connects a live video source, like a camera or video production equipment, to AWS Elemental MediaLive. Link offers a configuration-free, cost-efficient way to securely and reliably transfer video to MediaLive for delivery to viewers. Once the content is safely in the cloud, M2A Connect’s acquisition feature set allows users to monitor throughout the chain, alert on anomalies, and configure a number of outputs to send the content to downstream workflows.

M2A Connect for Routing

Next we have the routing feature set. This setup offers everything that acquisition does, but with the addition of inter-Regional transfers, more output variants, archive to Amazon S3, and processing using MediaLive. An M2A Connect routing setup offers a viable alternative to the standard point-to-point distribution workflow over fibre or satellite networks.

M2A Connect for Distribution

Lastly, we have the distribution feature set that builds on top of routing. In distribution mode, M2A Connect allows users to onboard subscribers, administer metadata on events and sources, and entitle subscribers to a selection of events and sources according to their rights package. This feature is primarily designed for sports rights owners to comply with contractual rights agreements and to rapidly deliver on changing needs of their customers. For example, a sports rights owner can deliver their international feed via satellite, fibre, and cloud, but supplementary and value-added content might only be available via cloud delivery. M2A customers can tailor rights packages to maximize the flexibility of cloud-based IP delivery and even allow the subscriber to choose from multiple supplementary feeds.

Figure 2: M2A Connect for live sports distribution

M2A Connect source selector

M2A recently announced support for a source switching feature that allows subscribers to choose the content that they receive from a rights owner.  M2A Connect provisions the required MediaConnect outputs and manages the offers and subscriber requests to route the content.

For example, the rights owner may offer court feeds of a Tennis tournament in a various packages to its rights holders. All ten courts can be in use at the same time, and made available to the rights holder (subscriber) in the ‘offer’, but the subscriber is limited to only using four at a time by their rights package.  This restriction is controlled and enforced by M2A Connect. The subscriber is free to choose which four they have running and if the content becomes more relevant on a different court then the subscriber can easily switch over using the M2A Console or API. The rights holder maintains a static handoff point to their downstream workflows as the switching is performed upstream.

There are many more exciting features coming to M2A Connect in the near future. Contact us to learn more about how M2A Media can help future-proof your broadcast operations.

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