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Netflix Development: The Cost of Life on the Bleeding Edge

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Leaders in the online video space have to blaze their own trails, something Netflix has shown with great success. At the recent Streaming Media East conference in New York City, one of the most popular sessions was "A Brief History of Netflix Streaming Technology," where David Ronca, manager of encoding tools for Netflix, walked the audience through the many innovations during his five-and-a-half years with the company.

"Today, Netflix has more than 80 million active devices," Ronca began. "We're on phones, tablets, game consoles, smart TVs. Pretty much, if you buy a connected device, it's going to have Netflix on it. Certainly, if you're going to buy any Blu-ray Player, any connected TV anything in a store, it's a given that it's going to have Netflix. In fact, Netflix is even starting to show up on remotes."

In his talk, Ronca addressed the milestones that have shaped Netflix streaming delivery, including the evolution of the adaptive streaming model, the rush to support the Apple iPad in under 60 days, and the move to standards-based streaming.

"We started very simple: just the Internet Explorer plug-in. It gave our executives and the internet teams the opportunity to collect metrics as we started doing projections," Ronca said. "We had a very incremental evolution. Silverlight was our first innovation platform, and it was not just innovative: It was a platform for innovation even to this day. We use Silverlight because we can do really great and quick A/B testing on Silverlight."

The road was not always smooth. One costly glitch came during the rush to support the newly released iPad.

"We started with two bitrates because even with 10,000 instances that was all we could get done in two weeks. If I remember correctly, I had gotten my tooling ready, they spun it up, they ran almost half the catalog and we realized we had a problem -- a bug in my tool," Ronca remembered with embarrassment. "I went home one night like, 'Oh crap, I just wasted $100,000. I thought I would be fired. I told my VP the next day, 'I'm sorry, I messed this up.' His comment was, 'Look, we're on the bleeding edge. This is the cost of life on the bleeding edge.''

For more on Netflix's history, watch the full presentation below. Be sure to download the PDF of Ronca's presentation.

 

A Brief History of Netflix Streaming Technology

Netflix started streaming in 2007 with an Internet Explorer plugin that hosted Windows Media Player. Today, there are more than 80 million active Netflix devices including smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and connected TV’s. This session walks through the technical history of the Netflix streaming service, looking at some of the key engineering decisions, codec and packaging, and a few key hacks. Some of topics that will be covered include Netflix’s first adaptive streaming client, their most unusual project, the BD-Live adaptive streaming client, and how Netflix developed their iPad app in just 60 days.

Speaker: David Ronca, Manager, Encoding Tools, Netflix

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