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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: IBM Cloud Video Powers NASA Live Streaming

November 22, 2016 No Comments

Fifty years ago this month, U.S. viewers huddled around their TV sets to watch Gemini 12 take early astronauts into space. On Thursday, Nov. 17, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson along with colleagues from Russia and Europe — began a journey to the International Space Station (ISS) to carry the new Expedition 50-51 trio to its new home in space.

We presented several questions to Alden Fertig, Vice President of Product for IBM Cloud Video’s Ustream, and he brought us along the evolution of NASA’s live streaming.

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  • Q: Before the internet, the public observed NASA activity through television broadcast networks, satellite TV and cable providers. How has live-streaming video over the internet changed the way NASA engages the public?

A: In the past, viewer access of NASA was typically limited to terrestrial broadcast networks or cable, with limited time available for programming. NASA has used live-streaming technology to better engage the public through a combination of 24/7 channels and special event broadcasts of the space program’s many scientific and technological feats. Instead of just footage of major launches, NASA can provide the public a behind-the-scenes look at the many activities of the space program, including the build-up to the mission and unprecedented access to discoveries made throughout the mission.

  • Q: When and how did this internet-transition take place?

A: NASA began live streaming missions in 2004. Streaming video technology and capabilities expanded exponentially over the next decade, thanks to the cloud and to emerging technologies like Ustream. At the same time NASA’s programs grew, so did the demands of their followers and NASA’s needs from streaming video providers. NASA has created more than 60 Ustream channels with 18 active today. NASA’s top three Ustream channels attracted last year more than 55 million views.

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  • Q: How does IBM ensure a reliable, high-quality experience for viewers?

A: IBM Cloud began streaming NASA content over the cloud with Ustream, part of the IBM Cloud Video unit, in 2009. Since then, NASA TV’s streaming capabilities and programming schedule have grown considerably. Today, IBM and Ustream video technology enables NASA TV to air pre-recorded and live programming, 24 hours a day. NASA live-streaming viewership at any given time can range from a few people to millions of people, and it’s hard to predict when viewership will spike. Last year, one NASA channel drew more than 2 million views over a two-day period after NASA confirmed evidence of liquid water flows on Mars.

IBM Cloud Video’s Ustream service can dynamically adjust network capabilities to ensure uninterrupted delivery of high-quality video even with massive swings in viewership.

  • Q: What are viewers able to watch through this coverage?

A: NASA airs live International Space Station coverage and related commentary each morning, and it repeats throughout the day. Ustream has also facilitated live viewing of NASA missions regularly throughout the year, including rocket launches, ISS resupply missions and events (spacewalks, media interviews, educational broadcasts), and press conferences. NASA’s broadcasts often provide opportunities for space enthusiasts to ask questions of ISS astronauts via social channels, giving viewers a real-time, personal connection with NASA and our missions.

  • Q: Why is it important to NASA to have their missions and launches streamed to the public?

A: NASA’s premier missions, programs and projects help ensure that the United States remains the leader in space exploration, scientific discovery, aerospace, technology development and aeronautics. To maintain that leadership, NASA depends on public support and awareness. Thanks to streaming technology, space enthusiasts the world over can still gather around a screen to watch an astronaut’s journey, but now that screen can be on a computer, a smartphone and a wide variety of other devices. NASA’s partnership with Ustream has enabled us to bring space out of the clouds and down to Earth.

  • Q: What could businesses and other organizations learn from NASA’s use of live-streaming video?

A: Never underestimate the power of letting people see something for themselves. NASA has fully embraced live-streaming because it knows the access it provides is important for groups big and small. Businesses can use the same approach to connect with employees, consumers and business partners around the world. Sometimes, it’s about reaching a small but important group with targeted content. Other times, it’s about a broader message with mass appeal. Either way, live-streaming deepens the connection and makes it more convenient than ever to engage.

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Since people around the world first gathered around black-and- white televisions to watch the 1969 moon landing, the general public has been fascinated by space, craving more visual information about the final frontier. At NASA today, they are on a mission to find new ways to share their discoveries on Earth and in space. IBM and NASA are giving millions more people around the globe a front row seat as they strive to make the next giant leap for mankind.

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Alden Fertig, Vice President of Product for IBM Cloud Video’s Ustream

Alden Fertig is Vice President of Product at Ustream, leading Product, Marketing and Customer Success. Alden started at Ustream in 2010 and held positions in Live Event Operations, Product Management, Product Marketing and Customer Success. He has been a featured speaker at industry conferences and his instructional videos and courses about online video production and live streaming have garnered over 1 million total views. Under Alden’s product leadership, Ustream has developed several new product offerings for enterprises, including Ustream Align and Ustream Demand.




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