A+E Networks UK Migrated to a Cloud Playout Solution in 1 Month Using AWS Partner Amagi

Executive Summary

A+E Networks UK (A+E UK) increased the performance and distribution of its TV channels across three continents and cut costs by engaging AWS Partner Amagi. When the media network’s former playout service provider ceased operations suddenly, Amagi built A+E UK a playout solution on AWS and migrated 22 TV channels to the solution in one month, without affecting customers. Using this solution, A+E UK has been able to meet its service-level agreements, spot and resolve issues within minutes, and spin the environment up and down to meet demand and adjust costs.

Searching for a New Playout Solution

After learning its service provider was going out of business, media network A+E UK had no time to lose in finding a playout solution to continue broadcasting its TV channels across three continents. The tight timeline and business continuity challenge encouraged A+E UK to engage Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Amagi for support. Amagi built and rapidly deployed a fully managed solution that significantly improved A+E UK’s service.

Finding a Fast, Reliable Solution

In October 2019, A+E UK learned that its service provider—a facility-based video playout solution—would be ceasing operations in January 2020. That presented a significant challenge to A+E UK, which reaches 60 million homes across 100 countries with its TV and over-the-top (a media service offered to viewers through the internet) media brands, including HISTORY, Lifetime, BLAZE, and Crime+Investigation. Playout includes the broadcasting processes, equipment, and software required to convert and play source media and channel content to an external on-air environment. Without it, A+E UK wouldn’t be able to distribute its channels to its more than 360 operators broadcasting throughout the Nordic region, Benelux, Central Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The typical migration of broadcast operations takes 6–9 months, but selecting a cloud provider and starting the migration would take A+E UK 18–24 months. The company needed to rapidly find a backup playout system at a low cost. “That’s where Amagi came in,” says K. A. Srinivasan, Co-founder of Amagi. The fact that A+E UK needed such a system arose during ongoing discussions between the company and Amagi. “We told A+E UK we could give it a business continuity solution that’s relatively asset light because we are a cloud-based solution provider and because everything will be on AWS.”

"This partnership is an important milestone in our goal to create an effective, scalable, and future-facing operations in the cloud that is well positioned in our supply chain. It allows us greater flexibility to manage our evolving EMEA portfolio. With the level of visibility, agility, and control that the cloud offers, we can now manage our broadcast operations in EMEA remotely and this has been a huge advantage for us especially during the COVID-19 pandemic".

-  Matt Westrup, Vice President of Technology & Operations, A+E Networks EMEA

Migrating a Playout System to AWS in 1 Month

Amagi is a media technology and services company that builds live and on-demand video infrastructure for TV and over-the-top media. In November 2019, Amagi began the first phase of creating a playout solution for A+E UK. Because A+E UK previously delivered its media through multiple sources and teams, Amagi had to integrate those media pipelines and set up media ingestion workflows; over 50,000 hours of A+E UK content were ingested into Amagi’s solution on AWS. Then Amagi established and tested playout and internet-based channel delivery.

By December 2019, Amagi had created a solution that supported business continuity for A+E UK and had migrated 22 A+E UK channels to that solution. “The migration to AWS was done in 30 days, which is a record time for any major broadcaster to migrate its entire playout solution,” says Srinivasan. Furthermore, the migration from the previous provider to Amagi was smooth, with no impact to A+E UK’s customer service. Because Amagi integrated its own services into A+E UK’s existing processes, A+E teams were able to continue to operate with very little process change. In the second phase of the migration, Amagi and A+E UK transitioned all pay TV operators to the Amagi solution within 10 days. In May 2020, A+E UK launched three new channels with Amagi.

“The migration to AWS was done in 30 days, which is a record time for any major broadcaster to migrate its entire playout solution.”

- K. A. Srinivasan, Co-founder, Amagi

Simplifying Distribution and Improving Performance on AWS

Amagi accomplished A+E UK’s rapid, seamless migration using Amagi CLOUDPORT, its internally built broadcast-grade cloud playout system for TV and over-the-top media built on AWS. For compute, Amagi CLOUDPORT takes advantage of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. For storage, it uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), an object storage service. Because Amagi is on AWS, there isn’t a lead time for most components. Amagi spins up instances as A+E UK needs them, meaning that A+E UK doesn’t have to wait months for hardware installs. The flexibility and scalability of AWS have led to cost savings for A+E UK as both playout and internet-based channel delivery can be spun down when they’re not in use. When the COVID-19 pandemic affected advertising revenues for all businesses globally, Amagi was able to adjust the playout system and lower costs for A+E UK. The media network was also able to manage operations remotely when its employees worked from home. 

Amagi CLOUDPORT simplifies the distribution of A+E UK’s TV channels to hundreds of operators worldwide in two ways: using either a broadcaster running on Amazon EC2 or using AWS Elemental MediaConnect, a high-quality transport service for live video, which A+E UK also uses to distribute its live streams. Amagi has permanent headends in many collocation data centers. These are connected using AWS Direct Connect, a cloud service that links business networks directly to AWS. Many of the A+E UK channels are delivered using cross-connects to operators through these Amagi headends. Since April 2020, using the Amagi solution has supported A+E UK in meeting its service-level agreements with customers. “On AWS, the technical resources required are highly available, and we can take advantage of that to meet service-level agreements and provide quicker turnaround on service requests from our customers,” says Srinivasan. 

Amagi CLOUDPORT performs the parallel processing of media assets by using both Amazon EC2 and AWS Batch, which dynamically provisions the optimal quantity and type of compute resources based on the volume and specific resource requirements of the batch jobs submitted. Amagi also powers batch processing and graphics processing using Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, which let users take advantage of unused Amazon EC2 capacity on AWS. 

Using the Amagi solution, A+E UK resolves issues quickly and simply. A media company typically feeds media files and a playlist into playout, after which a validation process checks that the playlist matches the video assets. Amagi’s solution on AWS automated that formerly manual process. “We set up similar interfaces, but the beauty of our system on AWS is that everything is accessible by web browser,” says Srinivasan. “A+E UK can log in on a web browser without waiting for its service provider, so it doesn’t have to wait to solve incompatibilities between a playlist and the media asset. It sees issues within minutes and solves them by itself more often than not.”

Simplifying Distribution and Improving Performance on AWS

By taking just one month to deploy a playout system on AWS, A+E UK and Amagi have shown that major broadcasters can virtualize their entire broadcast operations within a short time, even with large operations and complex workflows. Srinivasan says, “On AWS, we took A+E UK’s media and playlists from touch-and-feel hardware, put them on a virtual environment, and then brought them back to the physical world of cable and satellite, which is key for distribution.”

A+E Networks UK

About the Customer

A+E Networks UK is a media network that reaches 60 million homes across 100 countries with its channel brands, including HISTORY, Lifetime, BLAZE, and Crime+Investigation. A joint venture between Hearst and Sky, it partners with over 360 operators globally.

About the Partner

Founded in 2008, Amagi offers cloud-managed broadcast services and targeted advertising solutions. The AWS Partner and AWS Independent Software Vendor provides live and on-demand video infrastructure for TV and over-the-top media to over 40 countries.

Published January 2022