Broadcasting companies have faced an increased challenge in recent years with the proliferation of not only mobile devices and superheats mobile broadband, but also increased competition from a content perspective from online content streaming services, such as Netflix.
Content is still king, but the technology, availability and choice also matters to the customer. The days of relying on viewers to sit in front of their TV after their evening meal are long gone.
These are challenges that Sky TV Germany are all too aware. Speaking at Couchbase’s user conference in Paris this week, the broadcaster explained why it is slowly but surely moving away from its legacy MySQL environment towards NoSQL and a micro-services architecture – closer mimicking the architectures of the Internet-native content providers.
Whilst Sky is using Couchbase for a number of use cases within its new architecture, which it also hopes will ultimately deliver it a ‘360 degree view of the customer’, it is also aware that it cannot yet move away from its supporting legacy systems.
Speaking to delegates, Bernhard Kreitmair, from Sky TV Germany, explained how the environment is changing. He said:
Coming from a classic broadcast world, with DTH cable distribution, now making a very, very quick move into on demand – and on demand is really picking up with being on a par with broadcast. Content is still king, but it needs the technology to drive the content.
There is a lot of diversification in products but also a lot of diversification in device support that we have on our platform. Coming from a set box delivery, moving into iOS products, Android, consoles, and other devices.
And this changing environment prevents a number of challenges for Sky. Krishnan Venkatasubramanian, head of IT architecture at Sky, explained:
One of the key challenges that we face is scalability. Why do we need scalability? We have exclusive rights for sports contents, like Champions League, where we do expect spikes and peaks during the key matches.
Customer authentication is also a major use case for us. Authenticating the customer and providing the customer profile, will be a key challenge, especially for customers that are trying to enter via different omni-channels. Especially at the 11th hour of the match. This is a major challenge from the technology side, but also the business side. To tackle and provide a seamless customer experience.
We are also faced with a lot of technological innovation, from Apples of the world, Googles of the world, introducing new operating systems etc. This is a real challenge for us to quickly adapt to these technological changes and provide the digital experience to the customer. And there are other challenges. For example, seamlessly capturing the information between different devices on multi-channel.
Which lead Sky to Couchbase. The broadcaster first engaged with the NoSQL vendor back in 2012 and was attracted to the promise of scalability, flexibility, a flexible schema and advanced monitoring, said Venkatasubramanian.
And the first problem Couchbase was deployed to solve was in relation to enabling customers to use multiple devices seamlessly. Venkatasubramanian said:
We first started using Couchbase mainly on cross-device features. For example, a customer tries to bookmark an asset and they can seamlessly continue from the bookmarked place from another device. The next thing is, if you wanted to do binge watching, this is a classic example of a cross-device feature.
There is also a regulatory requirement from the German authorities to keep the last 50 watched assets of the customer. And then we use Couchbase for self-care use cases, like the customers can query the last six months of their bills, and these are stored as documents in Couchbase.
This fragmentation also presented another problem for Sky – identity. Key to a unified experience for customers is the underpinning identity authentication. However, the fragmented nature of Sky’s traditional environment had made a consistent user experience across platforms difficult for the broadcaster. Kreitmair said:
There’s a tendency that your technology timeline is not necessarily keeping up with your product timeline. So we ended up in a very fragmented world across product and also across devices. What we really had to reconsider was the way we authenticate and authorise customers on our platform, to have a very generic approach to support multiple devices, schemes, protocols on our platform.
From a capability point of view, we wanted to mimic an industry standard identity platform, establishing a proven industry authorisation framework, it was all about storing data, encrypting data, centralised data management for identity.
Kreitmair said that Sky’s technology stack was “very legacy” and would not necessarily scale out in the way that it needed, in that it was not cloud friendly and could not maintain the continuous changes in requirements. The architecture was too strict.
[We use] MySQL as our data store, and it is being a bit abused as a key value store as well. It wouldn’t necessarily give us the performance that we wanted to have, so we thought that we could definitely improve here. The fundamental principles that we wanted to follow when we built the identity platform was that it should simply resolve the previous monolithic architecture that we have, following more of a micro service pattern. We wanted to really break it down to a micro-service level and all the benefits that come with that – being agile, scalable, self-contained.
As a result, Sky has created a new environment that has an API abstraction layer, a service layer framework (using Akka), and all of its applications are Dockerized, using Kubernetes. However, whilst this is helping to solve the identity problem, Kreitmair admitted that Sky hasn’t been able to bin its MySQL environment just yet. He said:
This is something we can leverage and build our future architecture around. It’s not necessarily that we are cutting the chord with [the MySQL] architecture, it’s really about this is how we want to run future services with this data store. And we are slowly migrating, whenever the opportunity arises. Projects unfortunately demand that we cannot do a cutting chord migration project, we would not get the budget, so we really have to sneak it in and slowly migrate.
However, Venkatasubramanian added that Sky has big plans for the future role of Couchbase and the micro-service environment, in that it is hoped that it can be used to better analyse customer data, with a view of getting that much sought after 360 view of users. He said:
We are also focusing more on data, which we have collected, and we want to do more analytics on data. We have a data lake, which is collecting the data from all different sources for our local territory. And we want to do more capabilities using this data. What we do with this data is we collect and use and process and try and propagate to the capability platform.
This could be used for search recommendations, for example. Couchbase plays a major part here, Couchbase is now a caching layer, which can acquire all this and provide capabilities to the customer. One such use case, which we have foreseen, is the 360 degree view of the customer. We are in the phase where we want to propagate the existing Couchbase into an engagement DB model. Couchbase’s pitch is to revolutionise the digital experience of the customer, this exactly matches the vision of Sky – so I’m pretty sure that Couchbase will support this journey.
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