Monthly Archives: January 2014
DIALing up the competition
Last week, as I was fiddling around in the lab, I realized just how many of the devices in our lab were quietly using the DIAL protocol.
Example: I opened YouTube on my phone and tapped the “Cast” button, only to see a long list of devices including the TiVo Roamio, Roku 3, Chromecast, and even two generations of Google TV.
DIAL, or Discovery And Launch, is the protocol used for Chromecast, and, increasingly, other devices. It was developed by Netflix and YouTube, with a little help from Sony and Samsung, and has gained support from a number of other big players in both content and hardware.
In a nutshell, DIAL enables apps on 2nd-screen devices (such as your mobile phone) to discover and send content to 1st-screen devices (i.e. Chromecast or Roku) on the same network.
How does it work?
From the user’s perspective, you launch an app. Let’s say it’s Netflix. You launch it from your mobile device and choose an output device on the same wireless network.* Let’s say it’s Chromecast. Then, you can start playing content from your mobile device, and it sends a signal to the Chromecast to go and retrieve that content.
This means that the content streams directly from The Cloud to the DIAL-enabled device — not from the mobile device. This frees up your phone for checking email, browsing the web, searching out other titles to play, texting people, and all the other things we do with our phones/tablets.
Most importantly, it means that the second-screen experience won’t drain your battery life and then grind to a halt. Even with the phone powered off, the video plays on.
*Because the devices need to be able to talk to one another over the wireless network, DIAL won’t work on networks with Access Point(AP)/Client isolation – i.e. don’t bother bringing your Chromecast for the hotel room.
Here’s the tech talk of it. DIAL relies on UPnP (Universal Plug n Play), SSDP (Simple Service Discovery Protocol), and HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol).
DIAL consists of two parts: DIAL Service Discovery and DIAL REST (REpresentational State Transfer). In the first part, the DIAL client device (i.e. your phone) discovers DIAL servers (i.e. a Roku, Chromecast, etc.) and obtains access to DIAL REST on those devices. DIAL REST then allows the client device to query, launch, and stop apps on the DIAL server.
DIAL-enabled Devices (and how Chromecast differs)
Several of the devices in our lab already support DIAL, even though some of those devices are a couple years old. And because DIAL is based on UPnP, it may be possible to add DIAL support to other existing boxes through a software update.
Chromecast is a little different in that it uses Google Cast, which is based on DIAL but includes a few extras (of course it does) in the way of playback controls. It also has a more stable YouTube implementation than the other devices (it seems that way to us, anyway).
Chromecast also carries the distinction of using HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), for controlling your TV through the HDMI port. All you need to do is find a piece of content on your phone and send it to the Chromecast – it’ll then turn on your TV, switch to the right input, let you change the TV volume, and so on. This is a great feature and we wish more of the devices in the lab had it.
What apps support DIAL?
Currently, only a handful of apps use DIAL – on most devices it’s Netflix and YouTube only. Chromecast currently has a handful of other apps such as HBO Go, Pandora, and Hulu Plus.
More interesting is the DIAL name registry, which shows us which apps may be using DIAL in the future. Not surprisingly, Turner Broadcasting has entries for all or most of its apps, and Comcast is on the list as well. In the OTT space, Aereo, Redbox Instant, and Crackle are all on the registry. And as a heavy Spotify user, I was thrilled to see it listed there too.
However, just because a name is on the DIAL registry doesn’t mean that it will ever end up on Chromecast, or even have a working DIAL implementation – just that the app maker has started tinkering with DIAL in some capacity. As of this writing, the Google Cast SDK is still being finalized and Google is keeping the Chromecast partners to a select few. However, Google promises a busy 2014 on the Chromecast front, with a goal of bringing as many apps to the device as possible. Needless to say, we’ll be watching.
Wonder Woman Profile: Jodi Markley, ESPN
ESPN’s Jodi Markley: Born for Sports & TV
By Leslie Ellis
When Jodi Markley was growing up, in Miami, her older sister Barbara made this prescient observation: “All you do is play sports and watch sports on TV.”
At the time, television was a three-channel universe. And when she wasn’t playing sports, Markley parked herself in front of anything involving the Miami Dolphins or gymnastics, and was a devotee of ABC’s Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay.
These days, Markley is Senior VP of Operations for ESPN — the largest single department in the company — and is responsible for everything that needs to happen, logistically and otherwise, to put the network’s 3,000+ live remote events and thousands of hours of studio programming on the air.
“Jodi is the complete leader,” said Kevin Martinez, VP of Corporate Outreach for the network. “She walks the walk, learns constantly, and demonstrates that you are defined by what you’ve learned.”
It’s a job that requires grace under pressure, all the time. Like when a mobile truck caught fire on the way to an event, or when games run way long. “Nothing ends on time. Nothing happens when it’s supposed to happen. That’s what makes it so exciting!,” the 2014 Multichannel News Wonder Woman said.
Markley’s route to ESPN involves a very small suitcase, a “short” trip to Connecticut, a horrible movie, and plain old serendipity. It goes like this: After graduating from the University of South Florida with a communications degree, relatives hooked her up to work on the crew of a movie being shot in the nutmeg state.
“It was the worst film ever made — it’s not on IMDB,” Markley laughs. While there, she picked up a side job as an associate director with the ESPN mobile unit covering events at the Hartford Civic Center, and a weekend gig working in house, at ESPN’s studios.
From there, she worked her way up, and up, and up to SVP, Production and Operations for ESPN International– ultimately launching ESPN 35 times, around the world, as well as 13 versions of SportsCenter in different languages.
“I’ve worked with Jodi for over 20 years, on everything from network launches, show launches, and overall event management. She’s always the person who ensures that we’re extremely organized, and covering each and every detail,” notes Chris Calcinari, VP of ESPN & ABC Sports Remote Operations.
Six years ago, she felt the need for a change, and heard about an open spot in operations. She found out who would make the decision, walked to his office, learned that he was in the restroom — and waited. “When he came out, I said, ‘can I walk you to your office? I want to talk to you.’” During the short walk, she asked for the job, and ultimately got it.
Markley attributes her pluck to a family full of strong women, and a career full of strong mentors. Her mom and dad ran a para medical company in Florida; she’s one of four over-achieving daughters – one sister is a lawyer, one a pediatric surgeon and one a veterinarian.
(Little known Markley family fact: While on honeymoon in New York, Markley’s father won the showcase prize on The Price Is Right. The haul: $1,000, diapers for a year, a case of Dove soap, and a movie camera.)
Colleagues say Markley is a wonder woman because of her steadfast commitment to the people of ESPN. Several described scenarios in which they became ill, and Markley went out of her way to help — helping a colleague with a long-term illness every day; driving another to the pharmacy and pushing her way to the front of the line to get an inhaler during an asthma attack.
“One question I hear her ask her employees, colleagues and friends is, ‘what can I do?,’” said good friend and colleague Meg Green, Senior Director of Talent Negotiation and Recruitment for ESPN.
For Markley, it really is all about the people. “Any well-oiled machine starts with happy people,” she says.
Steve Anderson, Executive VP of News & Content Operations for ESPN, said that when Markley became head of the networks remote, studio operations and studio directing, “she immediately focused on the people — she created a strong, diverse management team that improved communication and transparency.”
Plus, she’s a life saver — literally. Once, while attending a dinner event at a National Association of Broadcasters show, a woman sitting near her began to choke. “I looked around. Nobody was doing anything. So I Heimliched her,” Markley nonchalantly recalls, adding: “She and I still get together from time to time — but she’s not allowed to eat any meat near me.”
At home, she’s a “die-hard gardener,” and yoga practitioner. After a hard day’s work, she’ll “bust into a down dog” to chill out. She’s very close to her family, near and far — siblings still in Florida, plus husband Paul Rochford, and three kids: Samantha, 22, a business major at Southern New Hampshire University; Alison, 20, studying biology at Roger Williams University, and son Jacob, 16, who starts the college search this year.
Her other passion — the Red Cross — emerged after watching her mother battle cancer, 10 years ago. “My mother was my beacon of strength and it was so painful to watch her suffer. During her treatment, the nurses kept bringing her bags of platelets. I was fascinated, and wondered where they came from,” Markley says, adding: “I realized, I need to help somebody else’s mother,” and became a platelet and plasma donor. She went on to join the board of the Conn. and Rhode Island Red Cross three years ago: “That’s my passion.”
With a new 196,000 square foot digital center set to open in May, including a brand new set, with brand new animations, for Sports Center; the launch of the SEC network; the opening of a newly constructed production facility in Mexico – all coupled with applying multi-platform elements to the thousands of events ESPN produces — it’s going to be a big year for ESPN, and for Markley. And she’ll take it all in stride. “We work in sports. We work in TV. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
This profile originally appeared in Multichannel News.
Multicast and the Super Bowl Problem
It’s Super Bowl time, and for network technologists, the big action has little to do with Broncos or Seahawks, and everything to do with how many people will watch it as a video stream over the Internet, vs. a traditional television broadcast.
In network terms, the SuperBowl is to technologists what Mother’s Day is to the people who built and maintain the original telephone network: The day the network gets stress-tested for max usage. Conversationally, network engineers tend to append the word “problem” to it — “the Super Bowl Problem.”
Telephony engineers even came up with a unit of measure for it — the Erlang (for Agner Erlang, the guy who came up with it). The Erlang measures the average number of concurrent phone calls carried by a circuit, over a period of time.
So far as we know, there’s still no official “video erlang,” but the concept is the same. The numbers: In 2012, the Big Game hit the Internet as a live video stream for the first time. A little over a million people (of over 100 million) tuned in.
Last year, about three million people (out of 108 million) watched the game as a live Internet stream.
At issue is what happens when half or more of SuperBowl viewers tune in over the Internet, and/or using Internet Protocol. What happens, for instance, when 50 million people are all watching the same thing, as a live video stream? What happens when they pause, or rewind?
“If it were something you could hear, what you’d hear is a giant flushing sound,” one technologist quipped about it last week.
Refresher: “Multicast” is the Internet-y way of saying “broadcast,” meaning one to many. Right now, when you stream anything over the Internet, you’re watching it “unicast.” A special session is set up between you and the server holding what you want to watch. If your neighbor chooses to watch the same thing, she gets a different unicast stream. One to one.
Were all 108 million football watchers need a unicast stream, of the same thing, all at the same time? This is what people are talking about when they say the Internet would buckle.
So where are we with multicast? Cable technologists say they’re making steady progress, but are divided over models of when things go wrong. Some say the efficiencies enabled by multicast only kick in when 30% or more of viewers are watching the big game over the Internet; others say the operational impacts, and especially ad insertion, are going to be significant.
So here’s my wager: Either the Broncos or the Seahawks will win, and six million people will watch the game as a live Internet stream.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.
Observer’s Notebook: 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show
LAS VEGAS — At this writing, my feet have logged three days and 15.2 miles of walking the 1.8 million square feet of 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and there’s still two days of Show to go. Here’s the bigger takeaways so far.
1: This is the year we all were made acutely aware of how dumb our homes are. And everything in them. It is Sensor City at CES this year, with everything from connected toothbrushes (perhaps to go with last year’s connected forks?) to connected washing machines (which will send you a text message if you forget to move a load to the dryer.)
People call this “the Internet of Things,” of course, and “the Internet of Everything.”
A common refrain, during demos: “And after you pair your (name of dumb thing) to your house, you can (make your house / your thing smart.)” Ask the oven what it’s doing. Ask the dishwasher. The garage door. It goes on and on and on.
2: If it doesn’t come with a sensor, it comes with a camera. We saw a small rubber ball outfitted with six tiny cameras (for law enforcement to throw or roll into a room, to get a better look before entering.) Cameras that clip onto the bathing suit, to stream live video directly to Facebook (great.)
3. Health and fitness gadgets, which go under the category of “wearable technology,” took up 25,000 square feet of exhibit space this year, and are further proof that CES is a hypochondriac’s paradise. Alongside the now-saturated wearable pedometer marketplace, there were wristbands that measure the amount of sun your skin is receiving, and gadgets that collect 5,000 data points from your body — every hour.
There was even a fitness collar for your dog, to track its breathing and heart rate and so on. (A companion app ties to veterinarians and health records.)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 4K television, which also goes by UltraHD. It was (predictably) everywhere, and sure, it’s gorgeous. It’s also still way ahead of the rest of the television ecosystem, from the cameras that can film in 4K, to the HDMI connector on the set itself — and everything in between.
I’ll stick with a 2013 observation about 4K: If it’s of interest to you, find somewhere else for the bookcase, or whatever else is currently occupying your largest wall.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichanel News.