May 10, 2022

Balancing scalability and costs: What to look for in a video streaming backend

24i has come a long way since starting life in 2009 as a front-end application specialist. Today our expertise in app creation is matched by the power of our video streaming backend - creating a truly end-to-end offering for Pay TV and OTT. Our CEO Dr Neale Foster sat down with Backend Product Lead Tung Hoang to talk about some of the important features to look for in any streaming infrastructure.

Streaming is a complex business. Bringing video content to consumers requires a huge range of technologies that work seamlessly. The challenge for Pay TV and OTT service providers is managing that complexity in a cost-effective way. That’s why so many companies are looking to offload it to an end-to-end streaming solution provider. But what should you look for when evaluating a video streaming backend? 

Set your priorities for your video streaming backend

“There are a lot of factors to balance,” says Helsinki-based Tung Hoang who has been with 24i for seven years and oversees Videostage and Backstage, two essential parts of the 24i Mod Studio streaming platform. “Of course you want a solution that’s got the ingest, transcoding, content protection and content delivery requirements that match your service needs. But it’s important not to get so hung-up on a long list of trendy new features that you neglect scalability. There’s little point producing all your content in 8K if your streaming servers can’t handle the load and viewers end up staring at a spinning icon instead of your fantastic library of TV and movies.” 

Scalability also has budgetary implications. “When we’re developing the Videostage backend and Backstage, our content and app management interface which also acts as the Mod Studio integration layer, we’re constantly looking at balancing scalability with costs,” explains Tung who started his time at 24i as Product Architect. “Every streaming service would ultimately love to know they have infinite scalability to deal with the highest potential peak in traffic or volume of content to be ingested, but that can’t come with unreasonable expenses. We have to make carefully considered compromises where it makes sense in order to give our customers the best of both worlds. That’s what we’re working on every day. Getting the lowest latency and highest scalability possible while remaining in a reasonable cost framework.” 

“We also pay close attention to how fast our platform can be deployed,” adds Tung “because time-to-market is another element that matters a great deal to our customers. Our target is to have a new instance of our backend up and running in as little as a week. That is only achievable because we’re constantly optimizing the platform for deployment speed as well as stability and scalability.”

To cloud or not to cloud, that is the question

Balance is also an important factor when Tung and his team are looking at use of cloud-based technologies. “One way to get scalability is by taking advantage of the elastic hosting and transcoding capacity offered by major cloud service providers. We do just that with our fully cloud-based video infrastructure for OTT services offering VOD, live events and a small number of live streamed channels. It’s used by customers like Cinessance, CWC Flow Sports and Broadway HD and it’s excellent for their needs – removing the requirement for them to host any of their streaming infrastructure on site. A year ago we also gave these clients access to their video backend via Backstage – so they’re able to monitor the progress of transcodes and apply DRM profiles from the same interface where they edit their metadata or adjust the menu structure and layout of their front-end applications. It’s fast to deploy, scalable and cost-effective.” 

But fully cloud-based workflows don’t work for everyone. “Some elements of our video backend for multi-channel TV services have yet to be migrated to the cloud,” says Tung. “It’s a conscious decision based on usage costs that would have to be passed on to the customer. Many of our Pay TV clients like Delta Fiber and Youfone are streaming hundreds of live TV and radio channels 24/7, capturing catch-up content from many of them at the same time. Processing that amount of content in the cloud is simply not cost-effective today. I think we’ll get there in a few years time, but right now most of our operator customers prefer to have their multi-channel encoding and transcoding infrastructure on-site. One way we can help them strike that balance between convenience and cost is by keeping the video streaming backend on site but having our team operate it remotely as a fully-managed service. This is a very popular option!” 

Bringing balance through modularisation

In order to achieve the best balance between features, scalability and cost for each individual customer’s needs, we want our solutions to be as modular as possible. That’s one of the main drivers behind the “Mod Studio” identity for our platform. But it’s more than just a name. As highlighted in our recent technology blog, we’re leveraging containerization and microservices wherever possible so that increasingly we’ll be able to switch modules in the front-end and backend on and off for individual customers without impacting other parts of their applications or content preparation workflows.

“It’s my role to look at the whole backend ecosystem, see how the different modules work together and make sure it’s flexible enough to meet our customer’s needs,” says Tung. “Once again it comes back to balance. We already leverage a number of third-party solutions in our end-to-end: elements like CDN and DRM. Offering the ability to switch out internal modules for additional third party solutions is attractive, but we need to make sure that we can maintain all the integrations in an efficient and effective way. 

As I mentioned in my own recent blog post, 24i’s product development is focused squarely on meeting the needs of our customer’s customers. That’s why some of the next modules on our roadmap for inclusion in the backend will be capabilities added to the 24i family as part of our recent acquisition of AI-powered personalization service The Filter. These will help our customers to achieve goals like reduced churn and increased ad-revenue by surfacing more of the content that individual consumers are interested in. I’ll have more on that in a future blog post!

By Dr Neale Foster, CEO at 24i

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