Sky: “The OTT challenge is TV quality at TV scale”

Ben Forman,  Principal Streaming Architect,  Internet TV,  BskyB

Ben Forman,
Principal Streaming Architect, Internet TV,

Content Delivery World keynote Ben Forman talks streaming and QoE with IP&TV News.

IP&TV News: How big a challenge does the content delivery side of its converged offerings present to Sky?

Ben Forman: The challenge is huge, for several reasons. Sky is a company that differentiates itself based on quality. Our HD service was the first in the UK, and we take pride in the fact we deliver a high quality and varied HD service to millions of UK homes; our customers expect that the same level of quality should be available to them whether watching Sky content through their set top box, games console, NOW TV box or mobile device.

The challenge is there because of the quality our customers expect, and the challenge is there because the internet was not designed as a large scale video viewing platform, and CDNs were not designed to deliver video at scale; however the convergence of technologies which brings adaptive bitrate video technologies that are HTTP based, to an Internet which uses CDN technology for distribution at scale means that these two technologies have become key to provision of high quality video services.

Still, the amount of traffic that’s required to deliver live video over the Internet to millions of people simultaneously is a really difficult challenge to take on, and at the quality that we and our customers expect – which adds another degree of complexity to that challenge.

The OTT challenge is TV quality at TV scale.

To what extent is Sky able to control this QoE?

I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, and my experience is that, actually, there’s more that you can control than you’d think you could control. You have to have a bit of a mind-set change though. You have to stop accepting the fact that the Internet is an unmanaged network, and to, start looking at the bits that are manageable, and asking how do we manage them to get the best quality of experience to our customers. Then you have to bring your vendors and your technology partners along with you in order to make it happen.

Can you tell us any more about that process?

In general terms what I can say is that over the last eighteen months we’ve put a huge amount of monitoring into our platform at every point that we can in order to measure the performance of every single component involved in OTT delivery. What we’ve done with that information is start to understand how customers on different networks and different devices and streaming technologies experience video differently; and we’ve started to look at how we optimise the experience across the wide range of networks and devices that customers can use so that we can provide the highest quality experience possible.

What are you looking to get out of attending Content Delivery World?

Last year the conference was one of the most interesting ones I’ve attended. The convergence of TV people and network people talking about the shared challenges we have made for a really, really valuable couple of days.

So when I was asked to present this year I was really quite honoured, I was really glad it was something that I could contribute to because the people I watched present last year each made some really valuable contributions to the conversation. I’ll be talking a bit about video stuff, and a bit about how the content delivery side of it impacts the quality and the experience that customers get.

This conference is an amalgamation of two previous conferences from last year, the TV in the Cloud conference and the CDN World Summit, and I think Sky’s interest in both of those areas is because we see converged technologies as providing the kind of services consumers expect – converged conferences and converged products are meant for each other, aren’t they?

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