Delivering the all-digital CES 2021 with Microsoft

Delivering the all-digital CES 2021 with Microsoft

By Paul Finster, VP Innovation & Webscale Sales, MediaKind March 23, 2021 | 4 min read
Akamai, Bitmovin, CDN, CES

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) describes itself as “the most influential tech event in the world – the proving ground for breakthrough technologies and global innovators.” It’s the curtain-raiser on the technology industries’ calendar of events. However, it became very clear that this January’s show would not be possible as an in-person event. This meant CES had to go all-digital for the first time in its history.

Anyone who has attended CES will know that it is far from your average trade show, and delivering it via a compelling digital offering was certainly no short task. But MediaKind, alongside Microsoft and other partners, achieved this feat. So how did we do it?

Robust Video Streaming Blueprint + Collaboration = The Key to Success

Last year MediaKind and Microsoft developed an innovative video-streaming blueprint that helped to deliver a number of virtual festivals and shows. This platform was first implemented to deliver the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival. The highly scalable and flexible platform enabled the festival organizers to reach its 30,000 strong audience of independent movie lovers, delivering 50 independently made short feature films, several feature-length films, and a series of presentations and panel sessions both live and on-demand.

The strength of this blueprint was taken to heightened levels when we worked alongside Microsoft to produce a unique technology-driven solution within 60 days, which could bring the first all-digital CES trade show to a far bigger and truly international audience, spread out all over the world.

MediaKind’s end-to-end media processing and delivery solution formed part of a deep integration of technologies within a scalable, cloud-based, and highly interactive fan engagement platform. All teams made an incredible effort to get the show up and running in an unforgiving time frame.

It took a group of dedicated media experts behind the wheel to deliver the show from start to finish. My colleague Joe Claypool, MediaKind’s Director Sales Engineering, offers some great insights into how the project came together and was successfully delivered:

“The CES launch clock started ticking the moment the first call came in. We had roughly two and a half months to build a complex system with a gang of new integration points. Quality and stability were non-negotiable. The date was not moving. Failure was never an option. 

“The culture was set for ruthlessly efficient communication with no tolerance for dogmatic process adherence or people hiding behind emails. As time progressed, this mentality permeated every interaction and made all the difference in the program’s collective ability to hit the date. Absolute teamwork with Microsoft is not only the key thing that made CES possible this year, but it was also a whole lot of fun.”

Enabling Digital Innovation at CES 2021

Having previously tested the combination of our MediaFirst D2C TV platform alongside Microsoft Teams, we knew that our solution was proven and able to respond to live collaboration and engagement. Nevertheless, the scale of CES is something else altogether!  During discussions with the CES event organizers, it became clear that MediaKind would need to provide a secure hyper-scalable platform to support the VOD ingest and transcode of hundreds of assets in a very short time. This was crucial to delivering the virtual live streams to a global audience of tens of thousands of concurrent attendees.

CES 2021 comprised a mixture of exciting live and on-demand media, spanning exhibitor video content, interactive showcases, media events, conference programming, and keynote speeches. The more prominent production pieces, such as the keynote speeches, were recorded through Microsoft Teams and delivered into the Microsoft Studios workflow prior to the event. The MediaKind solution supported this production process to enable a rapid turnaround of video content produced both remotely and live-streamed from the conference.

MediaKind also handled the metadata, management, and publication of all content to multiple platforms, with a global industrial CDN provided by Verizon Media Services. Akamai also enabled backup load balancing for the remaining traffic via its robust global CDN. Many of the VOD assets – over 350 processed in two weeks – came directly from Microsoft Studios.

MediaKind also leveraged our deep experience with our MediaKind Media Player and advanced stream monitoring to enable analytics and consumer consumption with our partners Bitmovin and Telestream. Each of these provided real-time statistics on video starts. As requirements emerged, we also engaged in metadata management, Video Quality Control, and burstable transcoding leveraging the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Setting the Benchmark

One of the biggest benefits that this solution provided was a level of scalability that could adapt to any number of viewers. This ensured the platform was able to respond to any significant surge in viewership (e.g. the keynote speeches).

The 100,000+ attendees worldwide had access to all of the CES content on-demand for a month following the event. The VOD content increased daily as more first-run live sessions were completed, and the days following the event showed a steady interest in on-demand streaming of the content.

Trade shows and other in-person events will resume in-person in the (hopefully not too distant) future – that much is given. Yet, based on what we have been able to achieve in executing a virtual event from a concept into a reality, I think it’s safe to say that digital technology, which broadens the attendance and extends to the event, is here to stay as a value-add for all events in the future.

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