Fox nets deal with Aussie company for online coverage of the English Premier League

Vividas, an Australian founded developer of video streaming technology, has penned a deal with America's Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) to provide live, high-quality streaming of some of the world's most prestigious soccer competitions.

Vividas' streaming of the Barclays English Premier League (EPL) began when the season kicked-off in mid August, with coverage of selected UEFA and FA Cup games to be announced shortly. The pay-per-view format will cost users anywhere from US$4-US$7 depending on the match. It will not be available in Australia.

Established in 1999, Vividas offers a self-contained media player that is compatible across all Web browsers and operating systems.

"With Vividas we don't rely on any installed software, so what we are able to do is use [our] compression technology: So our files are approximately 25% smaller than Windows Media files for the same quality," says Dave Winter, CEO of Vividas. "More importantly, it's a ubiquitous playback experience that works in corporate environments, on Macs, in Firefox, and any Windows machine back to Windows 98."

Prior to the Fox deal, Vividas has had successful campaigns promoting BMW, Ford, Sony Blu-ray, and and the America's Cup.

Winter explains how the technology differs to traditional modes of streaming live video content.

"The problem everyone has with live streaming is that the transport protocols used to deliver it are not standard Internet Protocols. The Internet is set up to deliver files over TCP/IP, whereas live streams have to be delivered over UDP (User Datagram Protocol) or RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol),"

TCP demands that what is sent be exactly what is received, so if a packet goes missing in transit, the user's computer will request the packet be resent. This is a problem in conventional live feeds because the packet no longer exists.

"What would happen over TCP/IP in this situation is that the packet could not be resent, the user's computer would keep sending unanswerable requests to the server and the media player would stop or quit after a timeout. UDP and RTSP don't demand the same integrity; the player will play whatever it is sent whenever it receives it. On the face of it this is far more sensible," says Winter.

When Vividas delivers a live stream, it splits the live feed into blocks. Each block is encoded as a separate file that is uploaded to a standard Web server.

"Vividas live streams are the only type of live streams that can be reliably delivered over http, so for the first time, event owners have a new technology option that can deliver a truly scaleable live event. It also has the advantage of caching live streams on the web server, so if you miss the start of the game you can go back and watch it from the beginning or watch it live - the whole event is sitting on the Web server and the streams are at 660Kbps or 330Kbps depending on the resolution and bandwidth that you have."

Although UDP servers are more suited to live video streaming, they are few and far between in the ubiquitous world of HTTP and TCP/IP servers.

"There is a major infrastructure issue, because the Internet is not UDP, its TCP, its been setup for Web pages. There are millions of Web servers and proxy servers around the Internet that aid in the effective distribution of HTTP and TCP/IP files but there is very little UDP and RTSP infrastructure around the internet."

This is why Vividas hasn't yet begun offering its services to Australian sporting leagues such as the A-League, NRL, AFL or the cricket.

"We would love to work with the big Australian codes to deliver their events, but the technology is new. We've been working with Fox Soccer Channel for nearly a year to get it up and running (in America), and the English Premier League is our first major commercial contract, so what we want to do is show the success and advantages of it to the major event owners in Australia now and in the future," explains Winter.

"The http infrastructure exists today to deliver a big live event but the UDP infrastructure does not; it is growing but it is expensive to maintain and requires a lot of maintenance. And the amount of infrastructure around [in Australia] for it is tiny compared to TCP/IP infrastructure".

"We believe we have such a key and critical advantage for any live event owners. The status quo with live streaming at the moment is fine as long as the even isn't widely watched. If the audience is small you've got no problems delivering by UDP," he says.

"But as soon as the audience, particularly in Australia, becomes moderate, the quality of the experience for the user becomes poor because there isn't enough UDP infrastructure to support it."