Technical Challenges of Streaming TV at Scale
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Read the complete transcript of this clip:
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: What have the biggest challenges been on a technical level that you have faced as Philo has grown and continues to scale?
Ben Chambers: Yeah, couple pieces of that. So, first of all, we really are, we think of ourselves as sort of a customer-centric company. We really try to, first of all, build the TV experience that we would want for ourselves as users and then listen to the feedback we're getting from our customers.
So, one thing we've invested in a lot over the past year or so is platform support. So at this point we're on seven different, we have apps on seven platforms. It's iOS, Android Mobile, Android TV, Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, and Web. So, that's the seven. And we're working on Chromecast right now. We don't have Chromecast yet but that should be coming pretty soon, so we're really excited about that. Of the ones we don't have yet, that's the most requested. That's a big engineering effort.
Certainly, we're a small team and supporting that, that many platforms is a big effort but we think that's really important to have the devices, the support for the devices, that folks are using.
From a scaling perspective, there's a number of things, I'd say, that have been really interesting from a technical perspective. Obviously, with the growth rate that we've had, that I mentioned, like 350% over the last year, there's been a lot of scaling work just to keep up with the user growth.
So, figuring out caching and capacity planning, and just sort of identifying bottlenecks in our back end. We've built the whole tech stack in-house. We don't outsource any of our signal, ingest, and delivery pipeline except for the CDN, we've outsourced that. But, so, with a lot of scaling work to be done there, that keeps us pretty busy.
Another pretty unique piece of our tech stack is we do server-side dynamic ad insertion. Again, both the live linear feed and all the on-demand content. That basically means we are generating a custom, per-user, per-session manifest for each user. So that can't be cached, it means we are--the nice thing is that lets us show each user the ads that are most relevant to them and, hopefully, therefore, make the ads as pleasant as they can be, but that becomes quite a significant engineering challenge to keep up with the growth of all the stitching and manifest delivery. And then, just, I mentioned all the platform growth.
Another pretty interesting piece is just, with a small team, managing all those clients' applications and all the user interfaces for them. We increasingly want to do customized content recommendation and user-specific experiences and also be able to have curated content or collections of content for the season or things like that and being able to deliver that out to seven or eight different platforms in a scalable way is challenging, so we actually sort of re-architected our whole UI so that the definition of what is in the UI. And all that content is driven by the back end.
So we can essentially redefine what the UI looks like from the server side and have that UI show up across all the applications.
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