As a managed services provider to the media industry, Red Bee offers broadcasters, media companies and content owners the opportunity to outsource flexibility and innovation. Chief product and technology officer Dave Travis tells IBC365 how the company is able to keep ahead of developments in the media landscape.
“All Red Bee customers profit from our aggregated knowledge and experience of working with day-to-day operations and technology transformation projects for some of the biggest broadcasters and media brands in the world – including ITV, Channel 4, BT Sport, NPO, TV4, Canal+ International and many more,” says Red Bee’s Dave Travis. “Drawing from this experience combined with on-going evaluation of the best solutions and combinations of technology, we provide access to a level of innovation that is hard to achieve independently.
“Our customers don’t have to make heavy investments following technology shifts, changing viewer behaviours or increased complexity,” he adds. “Instead they can benefit from ongoing and relevant technology updates and new ways of working.”
Background in innovation
Chief product and technology officer Travis has been personally involved in all aspects of the company’s services since 2016, with a broadcast engineering background that includes two years as CTO at Babcock Media Services and five years at WRN Broadcast.
‘Covid-19 has also accelerated our live and remote production roadmaps, which include allowing customers to do live production from multiple sources’
“With over 20 years’ experience working for broadcasters, pay-TV providers and in managed services I have been a part of many large scale and successful media projects,” he says. “With each one of them you learn what works and what does not. I am a strong believer in the ‘fail fast learn fast mentality’ – you must use your learnings to ensure the next project or platform is better than the last. I use all my previous experience to ensure we are always learning and progressing with our platform development. You can never deliver perfection, but you can always incrementally improve so that you can deliver the best possible result.”
At Red Bee, part of Ericsson Group, Travis works closely with all product teams to ensure they are delivering the latest technology innovations for customers. “This includes ensuring we are staying aligned with how we scale and deploy our services,” he explains. “Firstly, with Covid-19 spreading across the world, the health and safety of our staff is the number one priority and we have had to adapt quickly to create new workflows, including setting up remote working. Covid-19 has also accelerated our live and remote production roadmaps, which include allowing customers to do live production from multiple sources. Other innovations currently on the road map include a self-service on-demand OTT platform and personalised object-based playout.”
‘When assessing OTT platforms, companies need to pay close attention to how platforms scale with subscribers’
Two years ago, Red Bee changed strategy and focused on building a single multi-tenanted platform rather than discrete technology environments for its operations. “This has given us the ability to deliver a set of end-to-end managed services that include live and remote production, playout, access services, media management, distribution, OTT and content discovery services that are at the forefront of market demands,” says Travis. “As a platform business we host customer advisory boards to ensure our roadmaps are in aligned with customer requirements, industry standards and latest innovation.
“Our customers want to focus on creating the best media experiences for their viewers and in this context, we deliver unmatched speed-to-market, security and commercial and technical flexibility,” he continues. “From a security point of view, our platform includes ISO 27001 and the DPP Committed to Security Mark in broadcast and production. Our advanced deployment and scaling technologies in cooperation with, for example Red Hat and Cisco, as well as our productised service wrappers, ensure our customers can benefit from economies of scale and fast deployment.”
The firm has spent the last five years building a managed OTT platform, so Travis is well-placed to gauge the health of the streaming market. What’s his advice to content providers wishing to not only survive, but stand out from the crowd?
“We have seen many [providers] come and a lot go. We see less competition that can deliver a comprehensive end-to-end solution now than some years ago,” he observes. “Yes, there are a lot of companies that can stream, but that is the easy part of any OTT offering. When assessing OTT platforms, companies need to pay close attention to how platforms scale with subscribers, the speed the company can deploy new services and offerings, the security, viewer engagement features, UI / UX and subscriber management.
‘Our live streaming services are created as a strong value chain, where every link is as strong as the next one’
“OTT is considerably more complicated than most companies understand and unless you have the capability to spread your internal development across multiple customers or entities such as Disney+ or Red Bee Media, I would not recommend anyone to venture into this space unaware,” he continues. “The investment required will always be considerably more than you expect, take longer than expected and might not always deliver the desired outcome. Outsourcing provides certainty around all the areas and allows companies to hold that company to account. Red Bee will take care of all technical aspects required to deliver a stunning, secure and scalable video experience. This enables our customers to really focus on what makes them stand out from the crowd – their audience engagement, their content, creating amazing narratives and developing their brands.”
The delivery of live events can be a minefield in terms of customer experience on OTT platforms, so where does Travis see the problems lie, and how does Red Bee ensure low-latency satisfaction?
“Our live streaming services are created as a strong value chain, where every link is as strong as the next one,” he says. “It’s about focusing the whole end-to-end service and finessing every step to enable fantastic end results like low latency or on-demand instant launch of live events in UHD.
“The stumbling blocks arise because there are so many relatively complex elements that must be brought together,” he continues. “Every link in the chain needs to be secure, integrated, rapid, scalable and yet flex to changing needs. Some organisations that seek to build their own live streaming services get seduced by a specialist feature or technical component without fully considering the impact on the end-to-end chain. The result is often a poor user experience due to integration challenges, security, flexibility or scalability. The beauty of a managed service like Red Bee’s is that the customer is buying the outcome – a fantastic viewer experience. We create a standardised set of integrated components that deliver wonderful outcomes, reliably, every time.”
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With the pace of development in cloud services so rapid, it can be a challenge to keep updated across the board, even for the biggest or most experienced companies.
“With our fail fast learn fast approach we have found that while technology may cause you some issues, the biggest challenges are related to following consistent deployment and scaling methodology across multiple development programs and third-party application rollouts,” says Travis. “The methodology must ensure common ways of working, including security and operational support.”
Skill gaps are also a big issue. “It has taken some years to find the right approach – initially we failed to find the right talent to employ. It was easier to find contractors with the right skill level, but this is an expensive way of working,” Travis admits. “We now focus on developing our own graduates and although we are early on this strategy, we are seeing success from this way of working.
“We are also channelling a lot of resources into upskilling our current workforce and changing the philosophy on how we work,” he adds. “The upskilling doesn’t just include engineers but also project managers and commercial managers who need to understand the way we work and more importantly how we deploy.”
With the increase in VOD and OTT services driving higher energy demand, it’s important for companies to reduce the impact of their services and also encourage clients in sustainable practices.
‘[we] designed the entire platform with environmental sustainability as one of the core features’
“Modern platforms do consume more energy, but there are many other benefits that improve the TCO of the carbon footprint,” responds Travis. “We have invested in building our own private cloud and designed the entire platform with environmental sustainability as one of the core features. We ensured we could extract heat and deliver cooling where it’s needed in the most efficient manner. Once all customers have transitioned to our platform, we will reduce our data centre footprint by 65%. For example, the RMS temperature of the data centre areas hosting our platform is higher because COTS equipment has a higher operating threshold.
“With customers spread across multiple time zones, but on a single platform allows for greater sharing of resources,” he continues. “Having a large customer base does not only translate into not only a larger R&D budget but also greater sway with our partners. We can work towards producing more efficient and less resource-hungry code and we can use our leverage to ensure our partners do the same.
“Finally, we run our own environmental initiative called Green Bee, with global and local representatives around the world focusing on reducing our environmental impact as a company, including reduction of energy use and carbon footprint. Through Green Bee, Red Bee was one of the first companies awarded the DPP Committed to Sustainability mark, with a 4/5 score.”
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