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NASCAR revs up video archive with AWS AI

NASCAR will convert and optimize its 18 PB library of race footage with AWS AI and other services to serve broadcast partners and fans in an era driven by consumer app experiences.

NASCAR will soup up its massive video archive with a heavy dose of horsepower through a wholesale move onto AWS -- an effort that underscores how a single, albeit major, cloud project can help specialized organizations transform key parts of their business.

The stock car racing association, based in Daytona Beach, Fla., valuated all major cloud providers, but settled on AWS for its video archive project, which will also involve AWS AI services for machine learning and artificial intelligence, said Craig Neeb, executive vice president for innovation and development.

AWS got the nod over rivals because it convinced NASCAR the relationship would be a success, and it has existing relationships with other sports organizations, Neeb said. Formula One Group and Toyota Racing Development are similarly invested in AWS AI and machine learning technologies for tasks such as video optimization and racing-related applications.

NASCAR had an existing relationship with AWS, as the Alexa digital assistant powers some fan-oriented, interactive applications. But this new pact focuses on the migration of NASCAR's 18 PB video archive -- approximately 500,000 hours of video, which spans decades, stored in tape systems on premises.

Craig Neeb, executive vice president, NASCARCraig Neeb

"It was getting to the point that, with the expense to manage and operate them, we really needed to pursue a more sophisticated solution," Neeb said.

AWS has credibility in streaming video, given it provides infrastructure for Netflix, as well as its own Amazon Prime Video service. Beyond video hosting, however, NASCAR will use the Amazon Rekognition image analysis service to add metadata tags -- such as the name of the driver shown, number of laps and times -- so users can more deeply search videos via text inputs, according to the companies.

The Amazon SageMaker machine learning service will also be in the mix, and NASCAR will use Amazon Transcribe to generate captions and timestamps for all speech within videos to enable rapid text-based search of videos.

Finally, NASCAR plans to adopt AWS Media Services such as Elemental MediaLive, which encodes and optimizes video streams, and Elemental MediaStore, a storage service oriented toward video. Both are part of a family of media services AWS introduced in late 2017, which provides lower cost and more flexibility compared to previous offerings, such as Elastic Transcoder.

NASCAR races toward the cloud

Sports are being revolutionized by the cloud, not only from a streaming on-demand, but from a fan engagement and interactive experience perspective.
Holger MuellerAnalyst, Constellation Research

About 80% of NASCAR's IT systems are now cloud-based, Neeb said, while operation-focused assets -- such as its race management system, which is used to time and score races -- remain on premises. But the largest governing body for stock car racing in the U.S., with about 1,000 employees, sees the AWS video project as crucial to its business.

"Our video is incredibly valuable to our business," Neeb said. NASCAR fans, racing teams, track promotors and other sponsors all have a keen interest in the archive and will benefit from its modernization, he added.

NASCAR intends to rev up the video archive project later this year and expects it will take 12 to 18 months to convert all 18 PB of video data, Neeb said. He declined to say how much money NASCAR will spend on the effort.

Initially, the video project will primarily serve NASCAR's internal processes for video delivery, as well as those of broadcast partners, Neeb said. In subsequent laps, NASCAR has its eye on fan engagement opportunities, such as apps that can help them stitch together and share historical race clips, he added.

This is a logical step for NASCAR to take, according to Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research. "Sports are being revolutionized by the cloud, not only from a streaming on-demand, but from a fan engagement and interactive experience perspective," he said.

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