AWS for M&E Blog

Sky accelerates innovation with new software-defined encoding platform built on AWS

Optimizing the audience experience is a central focus for Sky, one of Europe’s leading media and entertainment companies and part of Comcast Corporation. To make that happen, Sky’s engineering teams are continuously advancing technology workflows from content creation through delivery behind the scenes. With video encoding, packaging, and distribution a crucial piece of that puzzle, three Sky teams across Italy, the UK, and Germany came together last year to develop a software-defined encoding (SDE) platform built on Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS). Part of Sky’s larger cloud migration, the new SDE platform aims to streamline operations across regional teams, and enable more rapid innovation of Sky offerings, while providing a solid disaster recovery solution.

Making a cloud pivot

Previously, each Sky team leveraged separate appliance-based pipelines to prepare content for distribution to a wide range of channels (i.e. satellite, terrestrial, over-the-top, etc.)—including encoding, multiplexing, and more. This meant regularly installing, configuring, and supporting on-premises equipment, which proved cumbersome across multiple teams and required hefty hardware investments. As each Sky team’s appliances neared end of life, they began exploring a cohesive migration to a cloud-native platform that would allow them to deploy one workflow from nearly anywhere. Platform design and testing kicked off at the end of 2022, with the first platform deployment launching in January 2023. The initial rollout focused on German cable and satellite transponder optimization, but the larger ambition is to complete a full cloud migration across teams in the next two years.

Built with a combination of proprietary and third-party software on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS), with Amazon EKS automating platform deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications, the new SDE platform unlocks cost savings and innovation opportunities for Sky. “Handing off Kubernetes cluster management to AWS allows our team to focus more time on the application layer on the video end of things. We’re also able to pay only for the tools we’re using, which is huge,” shares Davide Gandino, head of group distribution, Sky. “We can scale up and down in minutes, which is very efficient from a cost-savings perspective, but it also allows us to quickly execute ideas that previously would have required more time and resources. For instance, we can prepare hundreds of camera angles for audience consumption, as we recently did with F1.”

Tapping into cloud agility to advance the audience experience

With the new SDE platform, executing Sky Sports F1 live streams proved much easier. The new feature debuted in early March 2023 and let viewers watch one of 20 different driver camera angles on the Sky Sports app alongside Sky’s coverage of the races on TV. Based on that success, Gandino, and team are exploring additional applications for leveraging cloud scalability. As a part of this journey, Sky recently added tennis content within the sport app, with more to follow in the coming months as part of a wider sport offering.

As Gandino describes it, any production environment involving multiple camera angles now presents an opportunity to give the audience more control over how they view content. “Our job is to enable memorable Sky experiences. We want to give our business units avenues to entertain and delight audiences with exciting new features that put them in the director’s chair,” he adds. “Having a cloud-native SDE platform in place frees us from traditional hardware constraints, so we can easily turn ideas that will benefit viewers into realities.”

With a multi-regional deployment, the new platform doubles as a disaster recovery solution. It’s active in two AWS regions to ensure the viewing experience remains protected in the event of a disruption. With its previous on-premises setup, each team’s disaster recovery solution took minutes, even hours to spin up. “We strive to make the viewer experience as seamless as possible and this new platform ensures that in the case of a regional failover,” notes Gandino.

In addition to Amazon EKS, the platform also leverages AWS Direct Connect, other network related services, and the Amazon CloudFront CDN and Amazon CloudWatch for monitoring and auxiliary functions. “AWS is the glue that keeps everything together and simplifies our management of ground-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground operations,” Gandino explained.

Building for the future

Sky’s first SDE deployments earlier this year marked a major milestone in the company’s cloud journey, and the team anticipates new use cases will emerge as they continue evolving the platform. Gandino concludes, “We’re one of the first European broadcasters to execute an SDE platform like this and now that we’ve shown what it can do, we expect our colleagues to follow suit; the sky is the limit.”

Watch the re:Invent session detailing Sky’s journey to migrate live sports to AWS.

Emily McKinzie

Emily McKinzie

Emily McKinzie is an Industry Marketing Manager at Amazon Web Services.