AWS digs in its claws as ITV declares streaming flaws

UK broadcaster ITV has upped its reliance on AWS Elemental to improve the infamously poor quality of its ad-supported ITV Player streaming service – a compliment the cloud encoding expert will be getting pretty used to.

ITV has forked out to deploy the AWS Elemental Live software in its two playout centers, encoding ITV’s services into multicast streams for multiple connected devices, before being sent to ITV’s content delivery network (CDN) – for which we believe ITV uses a combination of CDN technologies from Akamai, AWS Cloudfront, and Varnish Software.

It is unusual for a company to come out and slam its own streaming service, but ITV has done exactly that in a refreshing display of the huge challenges in OTT video. “Our old streaming technology was risky and prone to failures; the new platform’s inherent resilience largely eliminates that risk. We now have a system which is largely automated, and readily responsive to changes in requirements, which addresses our operational efficiency concern,” said Tom Griffiths, director of broadcast and distribution at ITV.

Ericsson has a playout contract at ITV which was extended in 2015 running until 2024, so initial suggestions that this could mean a switch out blow for the Swedish vendor were nipped in the bud. This was the same year AWS got its first contract at ITV, prior to it owning Elemental, for which it shifted ITV’s legacy IT infrastructure over to the cloud in four weeks.

Ericsson provides playout services for ITV’s portfolio of channels including ITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, ITV HD, CITV and associated regional variants. The deal it signed two years ago covers playout of ITV’s newest TV channels, ITV Encore and ITVBe. As part of the contract, Ericsson says it has designed, built and integrated a state-of-the-art scalable simulcast platform for ITV.

ITV also uses software from UK company Saffron Digital, which was acquired by US firm NeuLion last year, using its MainStage video platform, which includes DRM, a secure player, international geo-blocking and filtering, as well as payment and subscription management.

ITV’s production arm ITV Studios is a customer of Ooyala, using its full-featured workflow with operational and creative dashboards to allow editing, content review and metadata entry. Also installed at ITV is a recommendations engine from ThinkAnalytics and dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technology from Yospace.

Elemental now has strong live TV encoding deals at all four of the UK major broadcasters – BBC, BT, Sky and ITV – with only pay TV operator Virgin Media to go for the full set.

A representative from Swedish caching company Varnish Software unfortunately could not comment on whether it has a contract at ITV or not, but the company claims its open source web accelerator, or cache, can improve performance by up to 99%. It works by keeping regularly requested pages already made up as images, so there is no processing time taken in creating them.

This type of HTTP acceleration technology, which can sit on any traditional server in a customer data center or cloud, has been kicking up a bit of a fuss in OTT video in recent years, particularly with its ties to pirated content sites. However, Varnish and similar companies aid both streaming services directly and CDN providers by selling data back to the likes of Akamai, allowing it to fine tune its own CDN web.

ITV’s Griffiths added, “The advanced capabilities afforded by AWS Elemental-powered video infrastructure position ITV to make the most of future opportunities as the network plans initiatives such as cloud adoption, dynamic advertising, high-efficiency video encoding and MPEG-DASH streaming.”

A survey from UK regulator Ofcom last month on “The changing TV landscape,” revealed that ITV is well behind the BBC in terms of OTT viewer share in the UK – with some 63% of viewers use BBC iPlayer to watch on demand programming, as well as 40% using ITV player, 38% using YouTube and 31% using Netflix.  But of course Netflix is the only one that is paid for, the rest are AVoD except for the iPlayer.