First steps toward interactive live streaming by@amazonivs

First steps toward interactive live streaming

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Amazon Interactive Video Service (IVS)  HackerNoon profile picture

Amazon Interactive Video Service (IVS)

Easy low-latency live video streaming at scale.

Live video is central to many aspects of modern life, from the way we socialize and keep ourselves entertained to how we work, learn, and more. More companies are looking to leverage interactive livestreaming to build stronger community engagement. However, successfully executing an interactive live video strategy, whether building it into existing or new apps or websites, can be challenging. 

The internet wasn’t designed with live video in mind (let alone interactive live video), so there are inherent limitations for which technology developers have built workarounds to deliver reliable, high-quality streams. Leveraging established social platforms with existing live streaming components, such as Facebook, YouTube, or Twitch, is one way that companies are incorporating live streaming capabilities into their online presence.

Tapping these platforms is pretty easy and straightforward; but, while streams can be embedded on third-party sites, the audience belongs to the platform. Taking this route makes it very challenging for companies to create unique experiences for their communities and monetize their live streams.

Another approach is to build interactive live video directly into a website or app, allowing for a seamless, native experience, but success hinges on having the appropriate setup. 

Mapping out a plan

Choosing the best path for integrating interactive live streaming depends on a company’s engineering resources, the level of custom integration required, and the desired timeline. Most choices loosely fit into three lanes: do-it-yourself by piecing together on-premises and/or cloud components, build on top of an online video platform, or use a cloud-based managed service.

Typically, DIY is the most difficult and expensive path, due to engineering and operational overhead. Also, relying on owned physical infrastructure requires companies to provision for peak usage, which means resources can sit idle or jeopardize reliability, or worse, turn away audiences, if demand is incorrectly estimated. Of course, it also requires companies to have the sizable upfront capital to pay for the infrastructure, which is not realistic for smaller companies. Managed online video platforms are great for affordably hosting recorded content but are generally not suited for live video as they lack interactivity features, analytics, and toolsets. A fully managed service provides scalable access to resources that are reliable and secure, reducing the time and costs needed to add interactive live streaming to your website or app. 

When evaluating live streaming solutions, there’s a lot to consider beyond tech specs and requirements, such as the content type and origination, target audience and location, and video quality and latency expectations. Budget is also key, though to accurately compare options, you have to look at the total cost of ownership. This means considering not only the upfront pricing of certain infrastructure or software but also the operational overhead of maintaining those resources, including engineering, real estate, and electricity. Future goals also factor into the decision-making process. Companies that want to innovate rapidly are going to find more success leveraging APIs in a managed service, which makes it easier and faster to experiment, learn and iterate. 

Determining the reach and scale 

A key factor in finding the right live streaming solution is how the video will be deployed. Live stream delivery is generally either one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many, with some variations. One-to-one live streaming might be a secure, private telehealth application for a provider to view and interact with a patient. Broadening the audience, one-to-many live streaming is when a singular broadcast is delivered to multiple people simultaneously, such as a live concert or keynote presentation. In these cases, the streams are often highly produced and can reach millions of viewers. Live streaming many-to-many is a hyper scaled version of one-to-many, in which multiple broadcasters are delivering streams to their respective audiences within the platform being used. 

Successfully live streaming in a many-to-many setup while maintaining a high-quality user experience is by far the most challenging feat, since the video assets that must be managed are constantly multiplying.

Building the necessary infrastructure to run live video requires significant investment in physical hardware and engineering resources, which can put the technology out of reach for smaller organizations. Virtualized infrastructure can be used to simplify the process using content delivery networks (CDNs); however, video encoding, transport, input and delivery software will still have to be architected. 

Despite the perceived difficulty to implement, leveraging live streaming functionality in a many-to-many scenario also offers the most potential for building communities. This could mean integrating interactive live video into an existing retail or e-commerce site to engage potential buyers, establishing a site dedicated to a special interest, replicating education experiences virtually, or nearly any other imaginable application. 

Choosing a lane 

Regardless of reach, for many-to-many interactive live streaming, the DIY approach is the hardest and most costly. On the other end of the spectrum, a full-service offering from a solutions provider takes away the heavy lift of development but can also be expensive and limiting depending on the use case. If you want the benefits of building your own solution without the sustained overhead, a managed live streaming service is a great option.

By relying on established technology for the most complex aspects of many-to-many live streaming – namely low latency video encoding and distribution, and metadata management – developers can instead focus on creating standout elements around the live streams. This reduces the resources needed to get started, allowing for faster development and better viewing experiences for users.  It also offers the flexibility to scale with your company’s needs, both up and down.

Preparing to build 

Leveraging the same technology that powers Twitch, Amazon IVS is designed to make the addition of scalable, live, low-latency interactive video to an application or website quick and simple. Using Amazon IVS APIs, developers can jump right into customizing their players and integrate interactive features, such as polls, surveys, and other overlays. And, the service itself is free. Costs are only incurred for the underlying AWS services used for active streams and stream views, so there’s little to no financial risk in experimenting with the service. 

Spinning up an Amazon IVS channel can be done in minutes, so if you’re interested in seeing what you can build, check out this user guide.

Helpful resource:

To learn about all AWS live streaming solutions, including Amazon IVS, and their ideal use cases, check out this overview

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