Streaming Forum Keynote Preview: Why Should We Care About Video Quality?

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This is the fifth of five articles examining the decision-making process behind the creation of Sky's state-of-the art live streaming services. See the bottom of this article for links to the earlier installments. The author will be delivering the keynote at the 2018 Streaming Forum in London.

Over the past four articles, we have discussed the transition of content through the video workflow until it is ready to be consumed on the customer's device. In this final article, I shall attempt to bring together these threads and answer the question, "What is the formula for running a successful streaming service?

Content + Engineers + Developers + Network + Customers = Quality

Just like at the Oscars, where an actor's name is read out and they thank all the people who have helped them get to this moment, so I'd like to take the opportunity to recognise the many different teams involved in providing a world class streaming service. 

Our customers know that we have the best sports, entertainment and movies content in Europe. We also have some of the most talented engineers in the industry producing amazing software enabling millions of customers using many different devices to consume content delivered over the network.

Our premise when defining the architecture for our live streaming platform was to design it in such a way that we could achieve several key objectives. The platform must be flexible, adapting to changing needs. It must support virtualisation and containerisation from day one. All components must have very high content throughput and most importantly, it must be highly resilient and tolerant to failure.

So, What is Video Quality?

Video quality is composed of two main components, picture quality and the HTTP streaming experience. Previously we described how the choice of an effective ABR ladder balances the needs of high picture quality with reachability on broadband connections and the critical role that CDNs play in scaling out the platform to meet that demand.

Why We All Need to Care About Video Quality

When we first launched the Sky Sports streaming service in 2009 for iOS devices, we started with a single CDN partner. As the service became more popular, we would have a concurrency of over 100,000 customers during Premier League matches, with occasional buffering. Later in 2011, Sky Go was launched and it was very clear that we would need to introduce a second CDN for resilience. Whilst this was easy to implement, both CDNs acted independently of each other. In 2015 after the launch of NOW TV, we added a third CDN partner and realised that adding more CDNs added complexity that needed to be addressed to offer the best viewing experience.

With the belief that "You cannot manage what you cannot measure,” we developed a multi-CDN strategy to monitor each of our client applications' streaming experience in real time. Being able to see real-time performance data has dramatically reduced our fault resolution time from hours to minutes and has supported the development of an automated resolution tool. Sky CDN selector is designed to detect changes in device behaviour such as a fault, and using pre-configured business rules, make dynamic changes as to which CDN content is being consumed.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series of articles and that you found them informative.

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