Norsk – Build vs. buy: the best of both worlds
Adrian Roe, CEO, Norsk
Build vs. buy might not be the oldest dilemma in the streaming technology book, but it’s close. And when it comes to complex live streaming, the horns of that dilemma are particularly pointed.
The streaming technology market is typified by off-the-shelf, line-of-business applications that do a few things very well, but are extremely difficult or impossible to extend if they don’t do exactly what you want. That lack of customization can be a dealbreaker.
On the other hand, for a broadcaster (or large enterprise, or betting company, or …) to build its own streaming platform from scratch requires a daunting investment of time and resources—resources that would be much better spent on their core business proposition.
So let’s dig a little deeper into both buying and building, as well as look at a middle path that offers media companies the best of both worlds.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail
Off-the-shelf solutions are great, if they do exactly what you need. The problem is, “what you need” is often not what you think you need. Here’s a case in point: About 12 years ago, Nasdaq was in the market for a tech refresh of their live event video capability for a simple “source in, ABR ladder out” workflow to deliver their financial fair disclosure webcasts. So they implemented source in, ladder out, along with a very clever field encoder with hundreds of settings and very clever central encoders that build the ladders, publish the live streams, and generate on-demand copies of everything. Very clever.
The simplicity illusion
Here’s the problem: Source in, ladder out really isn’t what financial fair disclosure is about. Source in, ladder out is just what everything looks like when source in, ladder out is the “hammer” at your disposal.
So what is financial fair disclosure all about for Nasdaq customers?
- Fulfilling a legal obligation not to unfairly disadvantage potential investors.
- Maintaining a relationship with customers and the wider market.
- Understanding how the event was received by viewers and the wider market.
- Making sure the CEO looked their sparkling best!
And that’s exactly what is important to Nasdaq. Delivering the above to their customers, with great quality, around 100,000 times a year. Here the sheer volume of events is a major contributor to the simplicity illusion. Doing something that frequently is a fundamentally different challenge than doing so a few times a week.
So what started life seemingly as a “source in, ladder out” slam dunk, really wasn’t. Instead it was a case of “Use video source 1 if you can. If not, use source 2 (sent over a completely different network). And let’s make a phone call to the venue so that even if the internet is down entirely we can still broadcast the audio over a customer-specified fallback video. And let’s be able to patch in trailers and promotional videos. And let’s add timecodes into the signal so we can sync accurately with the slides and data release points. And … And …”
And let’s do that flawlessly 100k times a year. With minimal human intervention. So let’s just pop to the shops and pick one of those up.
Except, of course, there isn’t “one of those”. And even when there is a solution in your space, it’s likely to come with quite the price tag and quite the integration project. We spoke to the CTO of a large regional sports broadcaster recently, and they bemoaned the amount of time and money they were having to spend trying to customize off-the-shelf solutions to meet their needs.
When the fit you want doesn’t exist, what do you do?
The roll your own trap
So you roll your own solution from scratch, writing hundreds of thousands or even millions of lines of code. Of course, that diverts even more resources—time, money, staff—from your core business.
When you’re done, congratulations! You used to be a stock exchange (or a sports broadcaster or a fitness studio or …), and now you’re a media technology company. For every line of code describing your business process—your amazing viewer experience—you probably have hundreds or even thousands of lines of media technology code.
And the problem is that nobody outside the streaming media industry gives a damn!
Public companies care about meeting legal obligations and delivering clear communications to investors and the markets. Sports broadcasters care about compelling viewing experiences, rights management, and the communities they build with fans.
Not a single consumer cares whether you use HLS or DASH. They care how entertaining it is, what it looks like, whether they can interact with their peer group, how much it costs, how reliable it is, how interactive and informative it is, etc.
So what did Nasdaq do? They chose id3as, a company foolish enough to have our own “roll your own” tech stack. We implemented their business rules, and they saw the number of errors in their webcasts plummet. At the same time, the number of events that their existing call center could monitor increased immensely due to the increased automation of QoE. id3as is able to keep tailoring our solution so that Nasdaq keeps a sustained market advantage.
So Nasdaq lived happily ever after, right? The End?
A better way
While the above is all true, it is not and should not be the end of the story. id3as has some exceptional technology, and we are very unusual in being in the business of building custom media workflows. We create compelling viewer experiences and implement our customers’ core business processes for them.
And therein lies the problem. Why is core customer IP gated behind id3as’ (or indeed anyone’s?) technology and our ability to react to client needs?
It doesn’t have to be like that!
We believe that media companies—or systems integrators, or large enterprises—should control their own IP while being able to build live streaming experiences that satisfy their needs and their customers’ demands. We have poured tens of developer-years into building Norsk, a low-code live streaming SDK that allows you to describe, implement, and update even the most complex live streaming workflows—all in just a few lines of code, using the programming languages your teams are already familiar with.
Under the covers there is immense complexity, but you can leverage the value customization brings without having to wrestle with this complexity.
Norsk frees you from the limitations of the simplicity illusion and removes the tyranny of “roll your own” complexity. It opens a world in which you can build amazing live streaming experiences with a few dozen lines of simple code, and where the focus is not on technical details but on value to your customers.
It is your control over this business logic that means you end up with a live streaming workflow that embodies your processes and KPIs. That’s what enables consistent quality and a compelling user experience for your audience.
Norsk is the media technology expert so you don’t have to be.