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Features Hub Interview

How the cloud enables TV platforms to think outside the box

Mon 21 Jan 2019 | Ryan French

Fresh viewing methods and innovations have turned traditional TV on its head. John Bensalhia speaks to YouView’s Ryan French about the cloud services and DevOps processes that underpin broadcasting 2.0

When John Logie Baird demonstrated the pioneering television in 1926, he couldn’t have foreseen that in the future, everyone would be able to tune in wherever and whenever they like.

Recent advances in TV technology mean our favourite programmes can be enjoyed not just on traditional televisions, but on laptops, mobile phones and iPads. The emergence of smart TV has also introduced a litany of benefits. As YouView’s Ryan French explains, a key driver has been sophisticated use of cloud services.

“The benefits of internet-connected TVs and set-top boxes are clear when compared to traditional broadcast technology,” Ryan says.

“Through the effective use of cloud services, we can deliver a much higher quality experience to our end users and we can release new features faster, and innovate at a much quicker pace. This includes an aggregated search across multiple content providers, enhanced and image-rich UI, and surfacing more relevant content.”

Cross-device integration

As the connected home becomes more and more common, a smart TV or set-top box is the perfect device for integrating with a range of other devices that you may find in your home.

“With the emergence of multiple VOD services, from Netflix and Amazon, to catch up services such as BBC iPlayer, a smart TV or set-top box can allow you to consume content on your own terms,” says Ryan.

“Traditional PVRs become less relevant in a world where you can watch content on demand, on a range of devices, at a time that suits you.”

Over the course of his career, Ryan has occupied a variety of roles, including as a rapid prototype developer in an R&D group for a dairy genetics company; a CMS solution developer for the gambling industry; and designer and developer of a HTML5 application for provisioning resources (VMs, email, cloud storage) within a cloud provider.

Ryan was initially employed by YouView as a cloud services engineer, building backend services used by the company’s IoT devices (set-top box and mobile applications) as part of a project to move to a cloud-native platform.

“Through the effective use of cloud services, we can release new features faster, and innovate at a much quicker pace”

“As well as building the backend services, I took an interest in improving the way that we built, deployed and tested these services, which eventually resulted in a move from writing services to focusing on infrastructure and DevOps tooling.”

Ryan’s position for the last two years has been as the tech lead for YouView’s cloud platform and Infrastructure team.

“We are responsible for improving the speed and reliability of deployments; triaging and resolving production incidents; and acting in an advisory capacity for other employees at YouView in terms of architecture and the use of AWS products,” he explains.

“We also ensure that costs are minimised, maintain the security of the platform and improve monitoring solutions and visibility of the overall platform.”

Thinking outside the box

The last year has seen a number of notable innovations with respect to television tech. These include rollable TVs with customisable screen ratios, and new ways to control the device, such as mobile phone applications and voice assistants.

“We have also seen new levels of co-operation between manufacturers and content providers (Samsung offering Apple TV, content sharing between BT and Sky) allowing a wider range of choice for the consumer.”

However, these developments are not without their challenges, as Ryan explains.

“Personalisation of a shared device, in an unobtrusive way, is a challenge. With a shared device such as a smart TV or set-top Box, trying to identify who is watching the screen can be difficult.”

“Some platforms make use of explicit profiles, where the user is able to tell them who is watching, but this still assumes a single consumer. It also relies on the user to remember to select their profile when they sit down.”

New media mesh

Another challenge is to observe the multitude of devices within the home, and look at how they can be integrated in a way to allow for centralised content delivery.

“Mobile phones, tablets, and computers allow the end user to consume content from multiple sources in any room of the home (or in some cases, outside of it), but this leaves the consumer having to manage multiple lists, in multiple places,” says Ryan.

In time, Ryan says that smart TVs and set-top Boxes are only going to become smarter.

“We’ve always aimed to bring together different ways to watch content, whether that be via traditional broadcast TV, multicast IP delivery, recordings, catch-up or on demand”

“As these devices become the main hub for the connected home, we’ll see more and more integrations with third-party devices and content providers being released. New ways of controlling the device will become key, and being able to aggregate content from a growing number of providers will drive the consumer’s choice.”

But traditional ‘linear’ TV is unlikely to be phased out any time soon.

“Looking at our own platform, we still see large spikes in traffic based on the linear schedule. This appears to be driven by the fact that even those who consume VOD content, typically look to do so when a linear show has ended.”

“While consumption of VOD is growing, this is primarily “active” consumption of content, as opposed to “passive” consumption, where the TV is turned on during family dinner, or is playing in the background while doing other things,” says Ryan.

“At YouView, we’ve always aimed to bring together different ways to watch content, whether that be via traditional broadcast TV, multicast IP delivery, recordings, catch-up or on demand. In our role as a super-aggregator, we need to find smart ways to organise and surface the most relevant content to our users, regardless of how it is consumed.”

Experts featured:

Ryan French

Senior Cloud Services Engineer
YouView

Tags:

Cloud cloud-native DevOps smart tv streaming tv
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