Delivering Growth and Capacity for ITV
ITV is an integrated producer broadcaster and the largest commercial television network in the UK. It is the home of popular television, from the biggest entertainment events, to original drama, major sport, landmark factual series, and independent news. ITV also operates a family of channels including ITV, ITVBe, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4 and CITV, which are broadcast free-to-air.
ITV is also focused on delivering its programming via the ITV Hub, mobile devices, video on demand (VOD), and third-party platforms. ITV Studios is a global production business, creating and selling programs and formats from offices in the UK, US, Australia, France, Germany, the Nordics, and the Netherlands. It is the largest and most successful commercial production company in the UK, the largest independent non-scripted indie in the US, and ITV Studios Global Entertainment is a leading international distribution businesses.
Today ITV channels are broadcast over all digital platforms, and also are streamed live to online and mobile devices. The channels originate from two redundant playout centers, one in west London and the other in Leeds, 300km to the north. Online services are currently originated in ITV’s two data centers, to the east and west of London.
"We relaunched the ITV Hub, our online portal, in 2015, and took that opportunity to give live streaming much more prominence,” said Tom Griffiths, director of broadcast and distribution technology for ITV. “Our ITV simulcast services had been growing organically, but this pushed us towards a tipping point where the viewing numbers and the quality expectation meant that the old technology, we had just evolved, was no longer viable.”
The requirements for a new architecture were clear. Quality of experience on any device was critical, particularly for a premium broadcaster like ITV. But equally important were reliability and flexibility.
ITV’s commercial strategy had successfully achieved a wide range of syndication for the channels through partners to reach other platforms. But delivering live streams to their requirements was labor and technology intensive. The new platform had to make it seamless.
The technical team at ITV evaluated a number of proposals for the new architecture. AWS Elemental, an Amazon Web Services company, stood out for technical quality, and for the willingness of the company to work in partnership with ITV on continuing developments of the solution.
ITV’s live streaming platform is spread over four geographically separated locations. At two playout centers, AWS Elemental contribution appliances encode broadcast video into high quality multicast streams. At two data centers, AWS Elemental appliances receive the multicast streams and transcode to device-ready streams for distribution via content delivery network (CDN). The multicasts are also made available to syndicated partners to be processed for their own platforms. This design is highly resilient and can maintain service if a playout center and data center are simultaneously lost.
“One of the advantages that AWS Elemental brings is that it is providing very high-quality encoding in a very high-density form factor,” Griffiths explained. “The contribution installation requires only two racks in each playout center, and the distribution encoders are similarly compact. That saves space and cooling, which are always key issues."
This system is part of a much wider modernization program at ITV. “We approach every project with three lenses,” said Griffiths. “Risk reduction, operational efficiency, and business agility.
“Our old streaming technology was risky and prone to failures which we now regard as unacceptable; the new platform and its inherent resilience largely eliminates that risk,” he said. “We now have a system which is largely automated, and readily responsive to changes in requirements, which answers our operational efficiency concern.
“And the agility of the platform means we can respond to new requirements – like dynamic advertising and new syndication partners – without significant increased costs, expanding our audiences and revenues.”
The ITV installation is, at present, an on-premises system. The company is already working with AWS on other cloud applications.
“We are looking at cloud adoption in all sorts of areas,” Griffiths said. “Our speed of adoption depends on many factors, including economics and the necessity of hardware replacement. It is a pragmatic approach, but our expectation is that at least some of this functionality will migrate to the cloud in due course.
“Part of the rationale in choosing AWS Elemental is that not only is this a market-leading product, the company has a clear and progressive roadmap,” he added. “Our current platform is just a foundation. We will need to build on it.”
In the immediate future is the need to boost monetization through dynamic advertising, tailoring commercials to specific parts of the online and mobile audience. This involves content packaging at the point of distribution, readily supported by the AWS Elemental technology.
“We are also looking at migration to newer formats like MPEG-DASH: that is likely to be the way forward,” Griffiths said. “We are also looking at HEVC [H.265] for the best quality/bitrate balance.”
Finally, he emphasized that the continuing relationship between ITV and AWS Elemental was very important. “AWS Elemental has been very co-operative,” concluded ITV’s Tom Griffiths. “We have a support contract in place, and we put requests into the UK team which are readily taken up.
“We got a very good response from AWS Elemental as we discovered things during the implementation. Now we continue to work together in partnership. We can help them with their roadmap, they can help us with our requirements. This is very definitely not a one-off, install and forget purchase.”
"Our ITV simulcast services had been growing organically, but this pushed us towards a tipping point where the viewing numbers and the quality expectation meant that the old technology, we had just evolved, was no longer viable.” Tom Griffiths, director of broadcast and distribution technology for ITV
"...the agility of the platform means we can respond to new requirements – like dynamic advertising and new syndication partners – without significant increased costs, expanding our audiences and revenues.” Tom Griffiths, director of broadcast and distribution technology for ITV