Guest Comment: Sky’s OTT proposition

Matt McDonald: "Choice of content means massive scale"

Matt McDonald: “Choice of content means massive scale”

It’s really clear that OTT is growing in importance all the time for Sky, writes Sky Director of Broadcast Services Matt McDonald. We’ve dramatically increased our focus both in terms of our standalone OTT proposition NOW TV and in our core hybrid proposition around Sky+ HD and Sky Go. Why is this important? First, increased content consumption. For example, we are seeing about 2.6 billion downloads and streams in a given year. Second, our move into the ‘pay light’ market with NOW TV. This is a contract-free, flexible way to consume Sky content and it is growing all the time.

From a technology and operations point of view, multiplatform has to be inherent in everything we do. We have to be thinking about multiplatform and multiscreen, how we deliver VOD, and the implications of these trends in our VOD and linear OTT workflows.

Customers want choice with content — to watch it when, how, and where they want. We need to have platforms that can make that happen. From a quality point of view, this means providing the best possible customer experience and picture quality for the device, content genre, and available bandwidth. At Sky, we maintain and continuously optimize more than 20 different profiles for our VOD content to achieve this.

In addition to choice, customers want minimum delay from the action appearing on screen the first time to when it reappears in catchup. We have 38 different catchup channels on Sky Go. For big events and shows, viewers expect content to be there at the time we say it’s going to be there. At Sky, we say modern day “black to air” is when a VOD asset is not there at 9pm and consumers were expecting it to be there at 9pm.

Speed is really, really important: we need to make sure that we can process content quickly and that it’s highly available and reliable.

Choice of content means massive scale. We are a big volume operation and must be able to provide the massive catalogue of content customers expect. We process tens of thousands of hours of assets a month and we need to be able to scale to deal with peaks in demand. Of course, nobody in Sky wants to compromise. We want it all: picture quality; ubiquity across all the bitrates; and high availability and scalability. Hence, our encoder choice is key.

How do we provide VOD content to all of these different OTT propositions? The Sky content supply chain is effectively a completely automated end-to-end workflow from ingest to publish. We can manage assets rights, asset scheduling across different platforms, orchestration of assets through content preparation, and track assets through each individual stage – ingest, transcode, QC, encryption, and/or publication. This engine enables us to operate at mass volume and to provide VOD catalogues both in terms of throughput and how you want to see it today as a Sky customer.

Elemental sits right in the heart of our supply chain, powering this engine and all our VOD assets. Why Elemental? We chose Elemental first and foremost because of balance. We needed picture quality across all the different bitrates and we needed high-speed processing. Elemental really hit the mark and satisfied our needs; it is a well-rounded transcode product.

Architecturally, Elemental is the right fit for us. We know it can scale to big processing peaks and it integrates well into our highly automated workflow engine.

Lastly, the software-based approach is simply faster. We see quicker feature development as well as fast roadmap turnaround and bug fixes. It is a key part of why we like working with Elemental. At the moment, Elemental is powering the Sky content supply engine, including all our VOD assets across Sky Go and NOW TV as they exist today.

But, at Sky, we don’t like to stand still. We have fantastic live linear content and that presents us with new challenges. Currently, we are in the process of re-engineering our linear, or as we refer to it, our IP video headend. With an end-to-end IP video architecture (content acquisition to stream conditioning and publishing), we can deliver both better quality for customers and dramatically accelerate Sky’s ability to provide new features and capabilities.

As part of our IP headend rebuild, we selected a new transcode platform; we chose Elemental. We made this decision for reasons similar to those that led to our initial purchase of Elemental solutions: we liked the balance with Elemental’s ability to deliver quality across different bitrates and we liked them architecturally. The software-based architecture is a really good fit. Their views and roadmap are very much aligned with where we are going.

Over the next couple months, we will have rolled out our premium linear services on the Elemental platform and will go forward evolving with Elemental. We know OTT is important. We know it is critical for Sky. And, we know that we need an architecture that is fast and responsive in this very dynamic OTT world. We see Elemental as a key component of this infrastructure.


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