Clean sweep for AWS cloud in US OTT, but Hulu had little choice

Three months after the launch of its new live TV service to complement its VoD library, Hulu has announced that its 50-channel offering is being hosted in the cloud by the expert hand of AWS. This week’s press release initially gives the impression that Hulu has decided to shift its assets to AWS cloud infrastructure overnight, but it becomes apparent that AWS has been behind it from the start.

The news marks several significant feats. Firstly, this is Hulu’s first cloud project and a clear sign that the streaming service is planning to scale big – at first perhaps to Japan, the only country outside the US where Hulu is available, and then potentially expanding into new regions. This is merely speculation that Hulu plans to spread outside its two present areas of availability – albeit a move it should probably make sooner rather than later.

From AWS’ point of view, the deal means the cloud technology provider now hosts content for the top three OTT streaming services in the US – adding Hulu to its contracts at Netflix and, of course, its parent company’s streaming service Amazon Prime Video. Combined, the trio had around 78.7 million subscribers in the US at the end of 2016.

AWS’ infrastructure is handling stream ingest, repackaging, DVR storage, and origin serving. There is no mention of the Elemental encoding piece of the puzzle here, but AWS inherited its origin servers and there could be some Elemental GPU processing in play here too.

With AWS bagging the top three US pure play OTT video providers, it shows that unless companies have the financial flexibility to acquire company after company and build out their own cloud streaming infrastructure, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, then the smaller players only have two real options when planning to scale out – AWS and BAMTech, which is itself hosted on AWS. For live sports, BAMTech seems to be the streaming technology supplier of choice given that it was spun out from Major League Baseball Advanced Media, but is now majority owned by Disney.

That said, firms in the encoding business are finding it more difficult to differentiate themselves as the technology has improved so dramatically over time that it is becoming a serious task to squeeze out anything extra from the software.

AWS’ announcement was aptly timed, as we are currently in the process of our Global Opportunity for Transcoding Video report and market forecast, due out in the coming weeks – with some interesting insights already emerging from our conversations with various industry players.

Hulu’s website runs a video player platform from Adobe, using CSS and JavaScript with content in Flash streaming video. It encodes video using the On2 Flash VP6 codec for streams running at 480 Kbps and 700 Kbps, and a more intensive codec adhering to H.264 for high bitrate streams of 1,000 Kbps or more, likely Google’s VP8, leading on to VP9.

Hulu has also been running trials of an adaptive video acceleration (AVA) SDK from Israeli firm Giraffic Technologies, which sits inside apps on various streaming devices and claims to reduce buffering by as much as 80% with ABR playback savings of up to 200%. There are plenty more technical insights where these came from in the Hulu company profile published by our Rethink TV arm.

We fished long and hard for detail if Hulu was relying on AWS when the live streaming service launched in May, but came out empty handed, so we have to applaud this week’s news as a brand new win for AWS, despite it being three months late.

As well as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, AWS is also hosting video services for AOL, the BBC, Channel 4, C-Span, Daily Voice, Discovery Communications, Flipboard, GoPro, Guardian News & Media, Hearst Corporation, Lionsgate, NDTV, News International, News UK, Newsweek, PBS, Sony DADC (Digital Audio Disc Corporation), SoundCloud, Spotify, and Time Inc.

Hulu’s VP of Software Development, Rafael Soltanovich, said, “Hulu is redefining the television experience for viewers and we have set the technical bar much higher by bringing live TV into the mix. We selected AWS as our cloud provider because of its leading breadth and depth of capabilities. The elasticity, agility, and security they provide were key to deploying our new service. Putting our stream ingest, repackaging, DVR storage, and origin serving on AWS freed us from having to build out data centers and led to a faster time to market with higher availability.”

AWS VP of Worldwide Commercial Sales, Mike Clayville, added, “Leaders in media and entertainment like Hulu are looking for more efficient ways to build scalable streaming and OTT solutions. AWS’s unmatched scalability and reliability allow Hulu to continue to innovate and break new ground – like delivering live TV alongside its extensive on-demand programming – without having to spend millions of dollars and thousands of person hours building and managing data centers.”