Axel Springer adopted Microsoft’s cloud services to improve its encoding workflows, and chose Bitmovin’s encoding service with Cloud Connect to support its flexible, optimised cloud set-up.

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Axel Springer SE is one of the European Union’s largest mass media publishers and operates in over 40 countries. The company is responsible for a portfolio of Germany’s main media brands, including BILD, Welt, Insider, through a recent acquisition, Politico, spanning news, automotive, sports, lifestyle and entertainment content.

Launched shortly after WW2, Axel Springer’s heritage is print media, but when the internet began to overtake print as the preferred medium for news and entertainment, the company transformed itself as a mainstream digital media producer. Video and the associated services and systems – from web and video streams to live and on-demand content – are now central to the company’s business model. Consequently, in order to keep its top ranking as a destination for news, entertainment and culture, it needs to it needs to be prepared to adapt to and adopt new production and distribution methods.

Cloud Encoding

Axel Springer wanted to use Microsoft’s cloud environment and services to improve its existing encoding workflow. Doing this required migrating from the previous encoding services vendor, which restricted their use of the cloud in various ways. The company chose Bitmovin’s encoding system to replace it. A key factor in that decision was Bitmovin’s Cloud Connect option, which allows providers to use their existing cloud accounts for encoding, and to run encoding on the cloud provider of choice.

Due to this flexibility, Axel Springer can access and use Bitmovin and Microsoft’s respective tools at the same time. It gives the company quick, scalable encoding that optimizes the time it takes to generate short, VOD news and sports clips, all ready to insert into live streams.

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Video streaming providers need to compete intensely on speed of content delivery, especially now that more end-users are viewing on mobile devices. ISPs also struggle to achieve high connection speeds. The immediate answer is to use a specialised encoding service – like the API Bitmovin develops, for example, which includes multi-codec streaming, Per-Title optimisations, and 8K and multi-HDR support. Until now, opting for such a service has required passing the provider’s video data to Bitmovin’s servers but, by using Cloud Connect, that provider can use its private cloud hosting environment instead.


Codecs, Bitrate and Performance

Per-Title encoding is useful and interesting because it recognises that every video is different. Animations and static interviews require significantly less work to encode, for instance, and the lower visual complexity means file sizes can be reduced more. In contrast, high-action streams like live sports or open water are a challenge to encode efficiently. Video encoding algorithms that depend on a single encoding method for all files may cause lost data and quality for visually complex videos and oversized files on low-complexity content. Bitmovin uses an AI-assisted three-pass encoding method to ensure that the bitrate used to encode each video results in the best perceivable quality level, but no more.

The potential number of codecs providers might need to support is also growing. Most devices and providers support older codecs like AVC1, but some are beginning to support high-performance codecs like VP9 and HEVC, which may reduce bitrate – or improve quality – by a large margin. For the best possible performance, providers should be able to use the best codec based on their end users’ devices, which Bitmovin allows through multi-codec streaming.

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Historically, Bitmovin has supplied its API through a managed cloud installation where each customer’s Bitmovin instance can be hosted on a chosen cloud provider, with backups on the other cloud providers’ infrastructure for redundancy. This need to pass video data to Bitmovin’s servers may be a problem for users with restrictive content agreements or exclusive cloud hosting arrangements. Bitmovin Cloud Connect encoding now makes it possible to install Bitmovin’s API directly on the provider’s infrastructure, so that private data never needs to leave the cloud data centre.

Key Differentiator

Axel Springer also deployed the Bitmovin Player, which is seen on 1 billion web pages each year across its publications. Axel Springer chose the Bitmovin Player because of its ability to deliver reliable, high-quality streams across diverse device types and platforms, which is a key differentiator due to the huge range of devices consumers are using to stream content, combined with the sheer number of new devices entering the market.

Bitmovin maintains that their Player guarantees quality playback on most devices available today, which continues to be important for Axel Springer to ensure it remains a leader in online experiences. With the Player, hey have deployed Bitmovin Analytics for real-time monitoring and insights into stream health to make sure issues are revealed before they impact on the viewer.

Stephan Zech, Executive Director, BILD Video/TV Business said, “Speed is especially important to us because news is at the heart of our business model and there’s always a story breaking at any time. Bitmovin’s extremely fast VOD encoding means we can have VOD assets ready to go in seconds. As well, the Bitmovin Player ensures our audience can enjoy streams in the highest-quality while Bitmovin Analytics works continuously in the background to identify and debug issues before they impact the viewer. Bitmovin is an invaluable technology partner and their solutions have transformed our video streaming workflows.”