The Sponsors Perspective: Directing The Supertanker To The Cloud In Micro-steps

Sky directors of technology and content processing assess the challenges and benefits of evolving media supply chains from traditional on-premise to the cloud.



This article was first published as part of Essential Guide: Cloud Workflow Intelligent Optimization - download the complete Essential Guide HERE.

Anyone that is seriously considering moving to a virtual supply chain quickly realises that the transition doesn’t happen overnight. The operational and financial benefits in terms of the agility and efficiency of the organization might be well understood but every broadcaster will take a different path to get there. It also takes courage to talk about the challenges of turning the super-tanker around and about the lessons learned along the way.

Europe’s leading pay-TV broadcaster Sky began exploring its transition to cloud before owner News Corp (via 21st Century Fox) sold its controlling stake to Comcast. We sat down with Sky directors of technology and content platforms to talk about their journey to cloud-based media supply chains.

“We started thinking about cloud long before Covid,” explains Darren Long, Group Director of Content Processing at Sky. “We weighed up the cost of renewing our aging on-prem equipment or going to cloud and there was only one answer. What’s more, moving to the cloud should lead onto other opportunities.

“We started where every large organization that has on-prem kit starts. We had sunk costs and a large operating unit, and it took an inordinate amount of time to look at some fundamentals.”

There were big ticket questions for Sky: how much would a move to cloud cost against any long-term benefits? How would the organizational structure be reconfigured? How would operational teams adapt? Was Sky even ready to begin the transition? 

“When we looked at all of these we kept freezing as large organizations tend to do,” Long says. “There was no button we could switch. It was a long journey involving a lot of naval gazing to understand where we needed to go and to ensure everyone was confident in that process.”

In October 2020, Dave Travis joined to spearhead the strategy. A highly experienced broadcast engineer, most recently as Red Bee Media’s Chief Product and Technical Officer, Travis arrived as Sky’s Group Director of Content Technology and Platform.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but a lot of people try and boil the ocean with this,” Travis says. “People talk flippantly around agile and flexible methodologies but that disguises considerable complexity when it comes to putting cloud into practice.”

He warns, “If you think with a monolithic software and on-prem hardware stack mentality you will be unsuccessful. You need to be thinking more about Lego blocks that you can move around.”

For Sky, this required a business mindset as much as a technical approach.

“I got my fingers burnt with this,” admits Long. “We had over 460 on-prem systems that were fundamentally processing content and we tried to phase out all of those in one hit into a hybrid infrastructure. We realised pretty quickly that that was too great a mountain to climb.

“I would warn other CTOs that they need to be very careful to ensure they don’t go too hard too quickly.”

Sky revised its strategy and began breaking the monolith into component parts, building a path to cloud using microservices and the SDVI Rally Media Supply Chain Platform.

“Rather than boiling the ocean I’d go for agile development of MVPs, (Minimum Viable Products)” Long advises. “Start sectioning up those MVPs to build your cloud supply chain bit by bit and you will end up with a really solid infrastructure. The clear direction of travel for us is having all of our content processing and management in the cloud.”

Long’s big picture ambition wasn’t changed entirely. While Sky united as a single company with the Comcast acquisition, as an engineering company it has only moved to Group in the last 12 months. Impressively, Sky UK and its sister operations Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia have had their on-ramp to cloud
supply chain managed at the same time but within a microservices-based architecture.

Geoff Stedman – Chief Marketing Officer, SDVI.

Geoff Stedman – Chief Marketing Officer, SDVI.

“The speed is what shocks me,” Long says. “With cloud, the 

time needed to integrate and execute new functionality is significantly reduced. For example, using one of our on-prem workflows would take three to four months to process some assets. But when transitioned to cloud with SDVI the same workflow could be done overnight.”

The cost efficiencies gained in moving to OpEx in the cloud are significant but are arguably of second order to the speed of the operation and the business opportunities it opens up.

“It is phenomenal what we have achieved but the potential is the future,” Travis says. “We know we can process content in volume. We know we can distribute our content at volume and also how we can aggregate content from our third parties at volume. All these pieces are coming together.”

Broadcasters like Sky shouldn’t need to take this journey alone. Vendors and third-party suppliers are vital to reorienting the enterprise.

“You need a good relationship with your vendor and a partner who shares the same agile methodology and service philosophy,” Travis says. “The right partner will advance its own technology at a very fast pace. We’ve seen the benefit of that in functionality from SDVI that didn’t exist in our platform last quarter and is suddenly available for us to take advantage of.”

Sky have learned the hard way but have emerged the stronger for it. “Building with microservices to the cloud is a mindset where we have to maybe fail sometimes but fail quickly, learn and move on,” Long says. “Cloud enables us to do that.”

“Don’t be scared to make a mistake,” Travis agrees, “because these things are fixable, small incrementable steps, which you can fine tune. Eventually, you will get there.”

The implementation of cloud-based media supply chains at Sky illustrates the importance of organizational alignment, strategic leadership, and cloud-native media supply chain platforms like SDVI Rally. For more insights from our customers, including a video interview with Mr. Long and Mr. Travis, please visit https://www.sdvi.com/case-studies.

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