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Cash Line: DGN 2.0 Is Here as DGPT Ditches Vimeo

Originally published at: https://discgolf.ultiworld.com/2024/02/22/cash-line-dgn-2-0-is-here-as-dgpt-ditches-vimeo/

Cash Line is an email newsletter for Ultiworld Disc Golf subscribers that focuses on the business of disc golf, with insider knowledge and original reporting. It is currently on hiatus as an email newsletter as we rebuild our email service after our provider shut down. We will re-launch the newsletter soon.

Full disclosure: I am a paid contractor with the Disc Golf Network as a play-by-play commentator on some DGPT events.

Maybe you saw all the fanfare from the Disc Golf Pro Tour back in December: Disc Golf Network 2.0!

From the DGPT:

The Disc Golf Network (DGN) is pleased to announce a major update to its core service with the migration of its content and customers away from Vimeo OTT to a newly built platform hosted by Insys Video Technologies (Insys VT) – an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Advanced Tier Services Partner. All DGN content is now available for viewing on a refreshed web app (discgolfnetwork.com) as well as on multiple supported mobile and smartTV applications.

The newly designed platform features many organizational changes and updates to the look and feel of Disc Golf Network. Content is now more easily navigable thanks to additional menu options, content groups that appear as sliders, and a new bookmarks function. Additionally, the new platform will allow subscribers to pause and rewind live broadcasts (live DVR functionality) and will process live broadcasts for instant replay (VOD) access almost instantaneously after each round has ended, meaning that subscribers won’t have to wait to rewatch a live broadcast once it’s over.

It’s kind of a “Thanks for joining us in 2024” situation here, as the severe technical limitations of DGN’s previous platform were the exception in the industry, not the rule. But there is no question that the new platform promises a substantially better streaming experience: it is simply a must to have the ability to pause and rewind a stream.

Long-time DGN watchers might remember that, before 2023, you could pause and rewind the DGN streams. But when the DGPT went to Vimeo in the offseason, they asked them to fix a different problem: very long transcode times. It meant that as soon as a broadcast ended, you’d have to wait hours to watch the archived VOD version. It was a terrible user experience, especially if you got kicked out while watching behind real-time.

So Vimeo fixed the transcode problem…by switching to a setup that no longer supported rewinding a livestream. Internally, the Tour was furious and spent much of 2023 preparing for this shift to a new platform.

What’s the Insys Story?

Insys is a Polish company that has been building and deploying OTT (over-the-top) streaming platforms for more than a decade. They have a couple of fairly notable European clients, like Canal+, a prominent sports network. The DGPT opted to go with a company that could white label a streaming OTT platform for them, rather than trying to build their own from scratch. That makes sense: the Tour doesn’t employ a team of developers to handle a massive project like this.

All of the hype from the DGPT about the backbone being on Amazon Web Services is a bit overdone — AWS is an enormous piece of the internet infrastructure as the #1 cloud computing provider. Vimeo OTT stores videos on AWS. Ultiworld’s servers are hosted on AWS. If the Amazon servers go down, so does half the internet. So while AWS is certainly a reliable solution for a content delivery backend, saying that DGN “will now make use of some of the same tools used by the NFL, PGA Tour, Formula 1, Bundesliga, the Olympics (NBCUniversal), and the Super Bowl (NBCUniversal) to broadcast live events and ensure stable digital infrastructure” is true technically but in the same way that I might say I breathe the same air as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Roger Goodell.

Another key piece of the technology switch is that the Tour will no longer be hampered by the poor encoding experience Vimeo offers. Ultiworld used Vimeo OTT for years, and the UFA (formerly the AUDL) broadcasts games live on Vimeo OTT. The service has a difficult time broadcasting in 60 frames per second at 1080p, forcing you to either drop the resolution to 720p (grainier) or reduce the frame rate to 30fps (choppier for sports). Now, DGN will be able to send through 1080p60, which means they won’t have limitations on the image quality on the delivery side. (They may still face issues with cellular networks, the fuzziness from their camera->cloud LiveU system, or other parts of their broadcast workflow).

Vimeo is surely losing other customers due to their outdated technology, one presumably still based on the livestream.com operation that they acquired back in 2017. The stock chart is not looking great!

After we discussed some of these Vimeo issues on a recent Upshot podcast, I got an email from a listener who used to work there (anonymous by request):

Vimeo’s lack of innovation and overall unwillingness to take a stand on who their platform is even for has ultimately led to the departure of several motivated and loyal customers in the past several years. This failing is at the root of them going through three separate rounds of layoffs in the last 18 months

Some additional notes I figured you might find interesting:

  • Vimeo‘s OTT platform (the old back end of DGN) up until late 2023 literally used the Livestream.com service for its back end. That tech had not been meaningfully updated since 2019.
  • Vimeo‘s core product used a different live backend that actually did offer key features like 1080p and live DVR but did not make it available on their OTT platform despite customers like DGN being easily some of their most profitable partnerships.
  • In early 2023, Vimeo broke off the product team managing the OTT platform into an independently operating team. A move perceived internally as leadership not viewing it as an essential part of their business strategy any longer.
  • Another aspect of this move that DGN will likely benefit from is AWS’ potential to better handle high-motion broadcasts. As DGN continues growth, this can allow for more complex movement (think drones) in their shots. These are things that always lag on Vimeo‘s player.

Across the board, Vimeo has always had a bit of a reluctant relationship with live sports. Given the high motion and often less-than-ideal encoding scenarios, sports streaming requires a level of resource investment from the back-end partner that Vimeo never wanted to provide. Vimeo has always been a better service for VOD products like College Humor Dropout and consistently framed their roadmap around a one-size-fits-all netflix-lite experience. Something I always felt was insulting to organizations like the DGPT resting the trust of their business model in the Vimeo product.

Very interesting insights.

How Did It Go The First Week?

DGN 2.0 debuted last weekend during the All-Star Weekend, something of a preseason test event for the broadcast team. Aside from some early frame drop issues, the live broadcasts themselves went smoothly, though there were some graphics errors potentially due to new integrations with the PDGA Live API.

Still, complaints were pervasive across social media, thanks to a host of bugs that affected playback on certain apps and devices. On mobile, you could watch live in the app, but if you tried to leave the app, the stream wouldn’t continue to play, and re-entering the app left you back at the home screen and not where you last left off in the video. Many fans reported issues with Apple TV playback. For the most part, desktop playback worked well with only a couple of glitches.

An app update today on iOS devices has made picture-in-picture pop out possible, but it’s not as smooth as in some other apps.

DGN may also have felt the pressure of high expectations. Although the video product had some notable improvements — like the removal of the 1-2 second delay between what you see and the commentators’ reaction to it — many fans complained about image quality, over-usage of a noisy drone during some of the skills competitions, graphic hiccups, and other small issues. With an increasing number of fans following disc golf — and a high bar set by YouTube content creators like Jomez (now owned and operated by the DGPT) — don’t expect those wheels to stop squeaking.

New Graphics

One less-discussed feature of the UDisc-DGPT breakup is that UDisc’s data and design drove the majority of the graphics that you saw on DGN: leaderboards, player name badges, stat comparisons, and more. The data updated in real-time, and DGN pulled in the graphics directly from a private UDisc website.

Now that PDGA Live will host the live scores and stats, it will also drive the DGN graphics. It had its issues during the All-Star Weekend, especially because the PDGA Live platform is really built for singles competition and not match play or other irregular formats. But, largely, fans at home saw the same graphics as before.

Of course, the real test will be this weekend, as many more fans prepare to tune in to the season opener, the Chess.com Invitational. While things probably won’t be perfect, the DGPT is implementing the right set of customer-focused changes that should make watching disc golf on DGN a much more pleasant experience in the long run, even if there are some early hiccups as they get everything figured out and squash bugs.