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New Nanoservices Platform Powers BBC Sports Streaming Explosion

A new internally developed platform, BBC Live, will help the BBC deliver an additional 1,000 hours of streaming video from 30 different sports.

Aditya Kishore

November 9, 2017

4 Min Read
New Nanoservices Platform Powers BBC Sports Streaming Explosion

Last week the BBC announced that it would be delivering an additional 1,000 hours of streaming video covering 30 different sports on the BBC Sport website and the BBC iPlayer. This content can be viewed on the usual collection of devices, i.e., PCs, tablets, mobiles and connected TVs; and it is compatible with the BBC's personalization features, so users can select the sports they most want to follow.

The platform is also being used for non-sports content across the BBC's online properties, including music festival Glastonbury, the elections, and arts events like the Hay Festival and Manchester International Festival.

But the announcement is mostly about the huge increase in the already substantial sports coverage offered by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) ; that's clearly the lead here. According to Neil Hall, head of product at BBC Sport and author of the blog announcing the coverage, it is the BBC's biggest increase in live sports coverage in a generation. It's been testing and trialing the new service for the past six months, offering about 500 hours of content to evaluate and tweak the platform before rolling it out full-scale.

Some of the footage used in these tests include matches from the FA Cup football tournament, Women's Super League football, the Rugby League Challenge Cup and a whole host of other sports. Coverage of England's under-17s World Cup victory gained an audience of nearly 400,000 online viewers, which was probably a decent-sized challenge to test the platform.

This dramatic increase in live streaming coverage is built on BBC Live, an "internal technology product-platform" that supports large scale web streaming delivery of live events. According to Hall, the technology has its roots in the London 2012 Olympics (much like the more innovative services BT Sport has rolled out in the past five years), but was first deployed in beta at the end of 2013, as part of a broader exercise in helping the BBC stream live events at scale.

According to Hall, one of the key evolutionary achievements for the team since 2013 has been the creation of a cloud-based isomorphic JavaScript platform. This helps to covert and aggregate data into templates that enable the audience-facing elements of the service and create shareable web components. Hall said this made it much easier to distribute live content across the range of BBC properties while also accelerating download speeds for mobile delivery.

Integrating BBC Live into the BBC Sport app for connected TVs was made considerably easier as an example, according to Hall. He also references a presentation by the BBC's head of technical architecture, Matthew Clark, which you can see here.

Clark talks about the use of "nanoservices," small units of logic that are easily understood, deployed, operated and shared that have been used to build the BBC Live platform. The evolution of nanoservices stems from broader evolutionary trends in the IT world -- from data centers to the cloud, from standard technology release cycles to continuous delivery, and from separate development, operations, UX and test teams, to DevOps.

This gave the BBC more flexibility and freedom in terms of technology, operations, capacity and resulted in more frequent releases and end-to-end ownership of the product. The next step was the adoption of microservices, which helped bring together multiple teams and technologies, was more shareable, flexible and easily scalable and was smaller and safer to deploy. However, microservices also come with some challenges: higher maintenance and communications overheads, multi-version challenges, increased costs and difficulties in refactoring, according to Clark. In fact, microservices can bring considerably more operational complexity. This led Clark to nanoservices.

Nanoservices are responsible for a "single, non-trivial, business-understandable task." They are smaller than a microservice but larger than a function, according to Clark. They are great "Lego bricks" for sharing, and reduce barriers to entry. They look after many operational issues such as scaling, resilience and monitoring among others, and have resulted in faster deployment and greater development speeds.

According to Hall, the development of this new flexibility and speed of development has led the BBC to now look at working more closely with various sports leagues to bring in more coverage of their sports. As part of this effort, the BBC is giving the leagues access to its live-streaming technology as well as training and advice from BBC producers to help deliver high-quality coverage.

In addition to the BBC Live platform, the broadcaster is also using other technology platforms it has developed, including the cloud-based Video Factory used by the iPlayer, as well as web-based TV production tools aimed at cost-efficient live event coverage over IP.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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About the Author(s)

Aditya Kishore

Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

Aditya Kishore is the Principal Analyst at Diametric Analysis, a consultancy focused on analysing the disruptive impact of Internet distribution on the video and telecom sectors, and developing the necessary strategies and technology solutions required to drive profitability. He can be reached at [email protected]

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