Move Harbingers Things to Come in Direct-to-Consumer Premium Video Market
By Fred Dawson
In a sign of things to come Sky’s UK operation has opted to implement CDN technology from Nokia in its own datacenter facilities at various locations across the country rather than continuing with use of public CDN services for delivering on-demand video to subscribers.
As previously reported, several suppliers of CDN technology, including Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Imagine Communications and others as well as Nokia, have launched initiatives aimed at providing content owners and distributors who don’t own local broadband networks the means to ensure TV-caliber delivery of streamed video content with functionalities suited to new monetization and personalization strategies. Such initiatives, positioned as alternatives to reliance on traditional turnkey CDN services, aim to provide distributors the kinds of benefits Sky’s UK CTO Mohamed Hammady says his company has achieved with use of Nokia’s Velocix CDN technology.
“Using Nokia’s Velocix CDN, we have greater traffic visibility in the network, allowing us to regain control of managing the network capacity,” Hammady says. “Deploying the solution deep in the network also ensures we can manage delivery more effectively to improve performance and the customer experience.”
Sky’s move, just announced after nearly a year of experience with the Velocix deployment, marks a first for Nokia, which built its position as a leading supplier of CDN technology through sales to network owners. “The Sky project represents a milestone for Nokia,” says Paul Larbey, head of Nokia’s IP Video business. “It shows that our Velocix CDN – which delivers high-quality programming – aligns with the needs of broadcasters and content providers in addition to those of IPTV and cable operators.”
Indeed, along with selling CDN platforms directly to broadcasters, Nokia and other suppliers are also working with network owners to tout use of their technologies in the creation of CDN infrastructure in edge facilities that could support a wholesale business model targeting broadcasters. Here the idea is that CDNs positioned in headends, central offices or hubs much closer to end users would offer more robust delivery along with advanced features specifically targeted to the direct-to-consumer market.
In Sky’s case, closer proximity to subscriber has been achieved by using datacenters facilities it controls in multiple locations across the UK. As a result, the company is able to take a hierarchical approach to maximizing performance leveraging a centralized as well as dispersed regional datacenters, notes Roland Mestric, marketing director of the video business unit at Nokia.
“Distribution of traffic is architected based on the popularity of content,” Mestric says. “Centrally, for longer tail content there’s a need for more storage capacity but lower volumes of throughput capacity, while, at the edges, storage capacity is lower but throughput is higher.”
In the first phase of its use of the Velocix platform Sky has focused strictly on meeting mounting demand for on-demand content delivered through its Sky On Demand service, which had grown to where the existing operations model was straining delivery resources and costs across the company’s entertainment and communications service networks. But Sky’s choice of the Nokia platform also took into account potential future needs, including support for live broadcast content, which is now in preparation for the second phase of the engagement in conjunction with delivering Sky Go, the OTT multiscreen component of the satellite pay TV service.
Support for time shifting provided by Velocix is also part of the phase two discussion, Mestric says. “We’re looking at both catch-up (short-term availability of replay of live content) and restart,” he notes.
Another consideration vital to Sky’s choice of CDN technologies was the ability to seamlessly transfer CDN operations from the public services to the new locations. “The introduction of Velocix CDN to support growth of our video on demand services was seamless,” Hammady confirms.
“Our platform includes what we call Velocix Proxy language,” Mestric explains. “This made it possible to make sure our CDN provides exactly the same capabilities with the Sky set-top boxes that they had before.” Call flows were easily customized without requiring product development,” he adds.
Another priority feature for Sky was ensuring it could have greater visibility into traffic demands and flows to ensure it had greater predictability of performance and network usage than it had before. The CDN caches are able to sense what’s going on with each device and to report useful metrics back to the operations center to ensure quality of experience is sustained under changing conditions.
Other attributes that factored into Sky’s choice have to do with support for personalization and dynamic advertising tied to the manifest manipulation capabilities that the Velocix platform can execute at the network edge. Specific plans remain to be spelled out, but it would be no surprise if Sky takes advantage of dynamic advertising capabilities enabled in the IP domain by the platform, given that, as previously reported, the company intends to expand its long-standing addressable advertising capabilities to its multiscreen feeds.
With Velocix Sky can modify how a request for content from subscribers is treated depending on a user’s location or device, Mestric says. “Customization on a per-subscriber basis is a potential future application that was quite important to them,” he adds.
Beyond the current phase 2 implementation, there’s a possibility Sky could expand use of the Velocix platform to other markets. “Hopefully, in phase 3 we’ll consider extension to Italy and Germany,” Mestric says.
Nokia has met another key requirement in the current market for software-based CDN solutions, which is to ensure the Velocix system can run on whatever recent vintage commodity hardware might be in a customers’ data centers as long as certain performance requirements are met. “We’ve moved from requiring specialized hardware to commodity platforms,” Mestric reports. “Sky is using HP servers, and we’re running on other datacenter hardware with other customers.”
Nokia is optimistic other satellite and terrestrial broadcasters will soon join Sky in use of the CDN platform. “Sky is just the beginning of this new market opportunity for us,” Mestric says, noting Nokia is in discussions with many other players in the DTC market. “We believe content owners will look at building their own CDNs for all the reasons Sky is doing. We see this as a key trend in the near future.”