Cruising the Freeway

For British broadcaster UKTV, the move to the cloud has been central to reengineering its media supply chain. It moved from a largely outsourced model of media management and processing, to an in-house managed cloud-based system known as Freeway that went live in September 2020.

UKTV

The cloud has been central to reengineering UKTV’s media supply chain

UKTV use case.png

Working with its partners Codemill and eCreation Media Technology, UKTV implemented an off-the-shelf MAM system in the AWS cloud. Workflows and user interfaces (UIs) were built to UKTV’s specific needs, integrated with the MAM’s APIs. The Freeway UI, for example, has custom components and also makes extensive use of AccuratePlayer and other Accurate.Video components for video playback and review.

Ongoing developments will soon allow content review functions – including technical quality control and editorial compliance review – to also be performed with the system. Browser based tools will allow users to mark-up content where edits are required and generate Edit Decision Lists (EDLs) to be imported into a non-line

CHANGING LANES

Despite the early success, the UKTV team quickly found that the solution it had implemented didn’t quite deliver the level of agility, transparency, and control they were looking for. The MAM vendor was able to offer a cloud hosted solution, but it hadn’t been built from the ground up for the cloud. It was a virtualised deployment running on reserved computing instances, and architects at UKTV were keen to move to a highly scalable solution built mainly around serverless functions.

So only one year after launch, the Freeway team is already implementing more modular, cloud native components based on the AWS Media2Cloud reference architecture. This new version is called Mediaway.

Only one year after launch, UKTV is implementing more modular, cloud native enhancements

Media2Cloud is not a single software, but rather a set of services that combine to provide many functions that might be offered in a traditional MAM.

This move has put the agility of UKTV’s overall solution – and its partners – to the test. The great promise of modular software, integrated via APIs, is that components can be swapped out and adapted over time. But most Solutions Architects will tell you it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Many of Accurate.Video’s components had to be updated to integrate with different back-end services, especially the new serverless components. But for the Codemill team, that effort is paying off as other clients are already implementing a similar architecture. And for UKTV, success is demonstrated by deploying a second generation of their architecture without causing disruption to users or the business.

WHY REBUILD SO SOON?

Many observers might consider it remarkable to reengineer such an important system within its first year of deployment. But software components have not been swapped without good reason; it’s all been in service of the business goals.

“It’s really important to have a clear strategy for what you’re trying to do. It’s like a lego set, and you need to know what you’re building”.

ANTONY JOYCE, UKTV

It is critical for UKTV’s technical operations that they have a high degree of transparency from their systems. The more monolithic software tools were seen as behaving too much like ‘black boxes’, without the ability to understand and interrogate individual components, extract logs, aggregate them across the whole system, and so on.

Monolithic software tools behaved too much like ‘black boxes’

Swapping to cloud native components also enabled enhanced system security, because every component operates using identity and access management (IAM) system provided by AWS.

And by implementing a more modular architecture, the flexibility to adapt and extend workflows is further enhanced.

CHOOSING COLLABORATORS

UKTV has a considerable in-house development capability, but partners such as Codemill have still been critical to success. Codemill was required to update and adapt its product line to meet UKTV’s needs, breaking it apart into more granular components, and adding new features along the way.

A shared vision was key to success. From the start, it was recognised that a combination of vendors, products, and even open-source solutions would be needed to deliver the end-to-end solution.

“The entire platform is designed around integrations with other systems”.

JONAS SANDBERG, CODEMILL

The AWS Media2Cloud solution itself is intended only as a starting point, and most implementers adapt it, add their own components, integrate different tools, and so on. UKTV is no exception.

CLOUD RELIANCE

Despite all this flexibility, there is no utopia of true vendor agnosticism. By

not only building on the AWS cloud platform but also using their reference architecture and software services, there is a significant reliance on Amazon. As discussed in The Cloud for Media, choosing one or more cloud platforms is a business decision that comes with risks, but also with benefits.

“You will tie yourself in knots and it will cost you a fortune to be cloud agnostic. So we’ve gone with one provider. We’ve drunk the Kool Aid, for sure. But we’re building with principles of interoperability wherever we can”.

ANTONY JOYCE, UKTV

The benefits of working closely with a cloud provider include access not only to a scalable infrastructure, but also to a team of experts, and an ecosystem of software partners. And by focussing on a single platform, the UKTV team has been able to develop DevOps and software skills in-house based on a common set of core tools and competencies.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL

The development of UKTV’s cloud-based media supply chain so far has transformed the business, bringing key functions in-house and giving the organisation greater control of its media and its workflows. As you would expect, a number of lessons have been learned along the way.

UKTV’s cloud supply chain has transformed the business, bringing key functions in-house

Multi-vendor architectures are not without complexity. They open up the possibility of duplication: should the audio waveform rendering function be performed by the AWS toolset or the Accurate.Video one, for example? And there are inevitably gaps that need to be filled, sometimes requiring the development of UKTV’s own bespoke software services.

Time must also be spent considering the fine details of the software architecture and operation; a structured approach pays dividends.

How you label the services, how you define them, the formats you use for system logs, and how you aggregate them. These are really important factors. They’re not sexy, but they’re crucial for operations, for incident management, and for cost management”.

ANTONY JOYCE, UKTV

With the foundations in place, the next phase of the project is now underway, taking automation to the next level by significantly increasing the use of machine learning.

This case study was originally part of the DPP Cloud for Media: Automating Media Report. https://www.thedpp.com/insight#automating-media

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