ITV moves delivery of simulcast channels into the cloud to accelerate innovation
With a wealth of programming accessible at the push of a button, the average consumer is viewing more content than ever, whether binge watching the latest BritBox series, keeping up with the local news, or catching up on their favourite program. Coupled with rising audience expectations for more reliable viewing experiences, this unprecedented demand for content is prompting media providers to rethink traditional on-premises infrastructures. More of these companies are making the leap from on-premises to cloud-based workflows, allowing for faster and more efficient innovation. ITV, the largest commercial broadcaster and streamer in the UK, is a prime example having recently refreshed its platform for delivering simulcast channels with cloud-based technology from Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The ITV live streaming platform provides six linear channels to the ITV Hub app and delivers these channels directly to third-party distribution partners like Amazon Prime. Its content offering runs the gamut from children’s series to soap operas, talk shows, major events, live sports – including the UEFA Euro 2020 Football Championships – and reality series’ like “Love Island.” Historically, ITV Hub relied on 15 on-premises encoders, but the company has moved a majority of its video processing and transport into the cloud with the help of AWS Elemental MediaLive and AWS Elemental MediaConnect. The latest update is part of ITV’s larger strategic initiative to embrace a more cloud-native infrastructure for greater flexibility in developing and deploying new approaches to content distribution while reducing its datacentre footprint.
“Linear transmission is alive and kicking, but the trajectory is shifting to more stream-based viewing. Having more of our live stream workflow in the cloud will allow us to better serve all of our audiences and keep pace with evolving viewer expectations,” shared Andrew Pearson, Principal Solutions Architect, Content Supply and Distribution, ITV. “Considering the scope of the project, we carefully examined our options, and AWS emerged as a clear winner in many categories. We’re confident that AWS will continue to bring us innovative new features that will allow us to elevate the viewer experience.”
The updated platform is distributed across two playout centres located in the north and south of the UK. These playout centres provide the six ITV channels for satellite and terrestrial transmission, and to the live streaming platform encoders. The AWS Elemental Live encoders process the incoming HD SDI video into contribution quality transport streams at 25 Mbps, which are then received in the cloud by MediaConnect, providing secure and reliable transport. MediaLive then transcodes the feeds into three adaptive bitrate variants for PC, mobile and connected TV devices. This cloud path is across multiple Availability Zones for added resilience. Multi-region operation is also an option to add another level of resilience. Additional stream processing provides packaging to HLS and DASH, digital rights management (DRM), advert replacement conditioning, and distribution via CDN.
“SaaS and the cloud in general are attractive because they’re simple and convenient. We can use MediaConnect to MediaLive and spin up resources, even from a home office if needed, to handle peak audiences for a major live event and then spin them down once complete, and that flexibility is economical; it’s transforming broadcast as we’ve come to know it,” explained Pearson. “MediaLive, in particular, is a robust transcoding engine that provides all of the functionality we need, while MediaConnect enables reliable handling of the ground streams for onward distribution within the cloud. We also appreciate what the AWS team is doing to add additional features to MediaConnect so we have greater control and flexibility in how our streams are delivered.”
For the kind of high-profile services that ITV offers, downtime is not an option, so maintaining a highly available architecture that keeps services running for the large numbers of viewers was a key part of the update. Every component has full 1:1 redundancy, from on-premises to workflows in AWS. This allows the live streams to continue in the event of site or individual equipment failure. In addition to relying on MediaLive and MediaConnect to detect any potential failures and facilitate a rapid recovery, the team deployed a new generation powerful AWS Elemental encoders. This will allow the retirement of the fleet of older encoders to further reduce ITV’s datacentre footprint.
Improved monitoring is also an important requirement. Using services such as Amazon CloudWatch, the team is able to see, monitor and track in-depth metrics that point to potential stream issues. “There’s no point in having the highest quality streams in the cloud if that’s not how they appear to the viewer, so within this update, making sure that we are aware of what’s happening in AWS was a key factor. We were able to achieve this by bringing all of the monitoring capabilities that CloudWatch offers (alarms, events, logs) into an aggregation system that alerts us to any issues in real-time” added Pearson. This latest refresh to ITV’s platform has also provided the company with a solid foundation for launching new services, such as linear IP streams and improving the quality of its existing services. “The flexibility that our cloud-based streaming platform provides has been instrumental in launching new services,” noted Pearson.
Cloud streaming to the ITV Hub is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ITV’s embrace of the cloud. As the company continues to push boundaries, it’s evaluating how other AWS solutions might improve both internal operations and the viewer experience. Amazon Rekognition and AWS CloudFormation are just a few of many additional AWS services that the company is exploring. Pearson concluded, “The volume of technology that AWS is continuously rolling out is impressive, and as new services emerge, we’re looking at how we might implement them to improve our workflows, whether using AI to detect missing advert markers or creating regional stream variations in the cloud. By building our video workflow on AWS, there are all sorts of improvements that we will be able to implement in the coming years.”