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Virtualizing broadcast operations

Tue 08, 12 2020

Matt Westrup 

Vice President of Technology and Operations

Srinivasan KA

Co-Founder

How A+E Networks UK partnered with Amagi to transition its entire EMEA operations to a cloud-managed service.

A+E Networks® UK, a joint venture between Hearst and Sky, is a leading media network reaching 58 million homes across 100 countries. With its global portfolio of popular, high-performing and creative brands - HISTORY®, Crime+Investigation®, Lifetime®, HISTORY2® and UK free to air BLAZE® - A+E Networks® UK has entertained and inspired audiences for over 20 years; telling the stories that need to be told. They currently partner with over 360 operators broadcasting throughout the Nordics, Benelux, Central Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In Q4 of 2019, A+E Networks® UK faced a serious business continuity situation with their then existing managed broadcast services provider. This placed the operations of their entire portfolio of 30 channels in Europe at unprecedented risk but without a clear idea of the likely outcome. A typical technical broadcast operations transition of this magnitude is planned and executed over the course of 6 to 9 months. And, it takes nearly 18-24 months in the case of issuing fresh RFPs. The company found itself in a conundrum. “On one hand, we had to build a backup option to ensure business continuity in response to the evolving business situation at our service provider. But, on the other hand, in case the service provider’s business situation improved, we wanted to stay on,” explains Matt Westrup, Vice President of Technology and Operations, A+E Networks® EMEA. The actual business risks and aforesaid constraints meant that A+E Networks® UK needed to be ready for a full-blown playout transition but needed to do this at very low costs to address a business continuity eventuality.

“The unique situation faced by A+E Networks® UK required a solution that was reliable, flexible, quickly scalable, and yet very cost-effective. It was a challenge that was tailor-made for cloud technologies,” says Srinivasan KA, co-founder at Amagi, a global SaaS leader in broadcast and streaming TV. Amagi is a pioneer in cloud-based broadcast of live linear content. “We are truly cloud-born! We started investing in cloud technologies as early as 2012, and deployed our first cloud playout solution in 2013 for a UK-based equestrian TV network. We have built all our broadcast solutions on the cloud enabling our clients to fully leverage the power of cloud.” Today, the company manages 400+ channels on its cloud platform, with deployments in over 40 countries, working with large TV networks, content owners, new-age digital networks, and streaming TV/OTT platforms.

Teams at A+E Networks® UK and Amagi collaborated and designed a two-phased approach to adequately respond to the evolving business situation. In the first phase, Amagi put together a ‘Cold business continuity playout’. If the situation arose, in the second phase, A+E Networks UK® would undertake a full playout transition. “This way, we would have moved and tested all the basic workflows to the cloud in Phase 1 ready to go if needed. We then would have had to manage minimal transition going into Phase 2. It meant we created a full shadow operation that could go live pretty easily but without the commercial commitment until that point. It was an ideal position to be in and only possible by using the cloud this way,” says Westrup.

Phase 1: Cold Business Continuity Playout

Business goals

  • Technical: Have the basic workflows rapidly ready for a Go Live scenario
  • Commercial: Limited cost commitment for implementation and ability to step everything back down

Implementation

  • Set up systems and workflow integration and media ingest workflows
  • Set up non-redundant playout, test the playout, and make playout dormant to save costs
  • Set up public internet (Zixi) based channel delivery, test the delivery, and make delivery dormant to save costs

Phase 2: Go Live – Full Playout Transition

Business goals

  • Technical: Deliver full channel portfolio to affiliates at short notice (in days, rather than months as is the norm) with no interruption to viewers

  • Commercial: Minimal transition cost from Phase 1 to Phase 2; Meet market-norm for playout and fibre delivery costs

Implementation

  • Start the non-redundant playout and IP delivery immediately

  • Setup redundant playout and move to traditional fibre-based delivery in parallel

The Amagi solution included a fully virtualized broadcast infrastructure based on AWS, CLOUDPORT cloud playout platform, dynamic graphics, scheduling, automated monitoring, multi-country distribution across IP, satellite, and fiber deliver models, and a 24x7 managed service to broadcast 30 channels across Europe.

Amagi’s innovative cloud-based broadcast infrastructure and adaptable workflows allowed A+E Networks® UK and Amagi to complete Phase 1 in about 6 weeks for all 30 channels. The cloud based on-demand infrastructure on cloud naturally lent itself to meet the technical and business goals in Phase 1. When the business situation demanded, A+E Networks® UK and Amagi triggered Phase 2 of the project. Within 10 days, all pay TV operators were moved to the Amagi solution!

Solution Highlights

  • Over 50K hours of content were ingested into the Amagi cloud instance of AWS demonstrating scalability and stability of solution as part of Phase 1
  • Highly localised channel playout supporting subtitles and local language audio for different countries in Europe
  • Fully automated process across broadcast workflow – ingest, scheduling, playout, and monitoring with complete control and visibility to A+E Networks® UK
  • Multi-redundancy cloud architecture to guarantee uninterrupted broadcast during natural disasters, pandemics or technical downtime
  • 24x7 monitoring and managed services aided by comprehensive L1, L2 and L3 support
  • Integration with ad-network partners in individual countries and workflows for management of ad schedules from ad-partner

“Now, we are able to access our entire broadcast operations from any remote location through a simple web UI, control and manage all aspects of the workflow. When the pandemic erupted and preventive measures across Europe were put in place, our channel operations continued with no extra risk, while safeguarding health and safety of our personnel allowing them to manage operations from remote locations,” says Westrup.

Through this engagement, A+E Networks® UK and Amagi have demonstrated to the industry that large broadcasters, in spite of their wide scale of operations and complex workflows, can virtualize their entire broadcast operations within a short time, and manage it from any remote location with full visibility and control. This could well usher a new thinking in the European broadcast circles as companies look to innovate adapting to emerging technologies such as cloud.

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