Watching TV and movies in the cloud – the blinkbox way

The UK is a nation of TV and movie enthusiasts with the average viewer watching 3 hours 55 minutes of video-based content a day. However, consumer viewing habits are changing and we are increasingly living in a world where the viewer doesn’t want to wait for his or her favourite movies and TV shows to become available on broadcast TV – we want them here, now and on any device we choose.

Enter blinkbox, the on-demand movie and TV service from Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer. Every month a million users turn to the service to stream the latest and greatest movies and TV series which are available on, or often before, the day that they come out on DVD, without the need for a subscription. Using blinkbox and other services like it, the average viewer in the UK now watches 90 minutes of on demand video every month via devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

The challenge for blinkbox and other providers of on-demand content is to deliver an experience that’s consistent both in terms of reliability and ensuring that movies look great, regardless of the device they’re played on. Behind this sits a huge IT challenge. blinkbox has around 20,000 movies and TV episodes in its library, meaning vast volumes of video content needs to be encoded and repurposed for the huge range of devices it gets played on. It then needs to be provided to us, the users and we expect the quality to be flawless.

The challenge for blinkbox and other providers of on-demand content is to deliver a consistent experience
March 26, 2014

How’s it all done? The latest cloud media services technology is helping blinkbox surmount these challenges. Jon Robinson, Group Head of IT at blinkbox explains: “As our service got more popular we found that running our own data centre was getting prohibitively expensive and we were running out of the computing power necessary to encode our catalogue of movies quickly enough so we could get them to work on the multitude of devices and screen sizes we need to support. Using Microsoft Azure has got this process down from weeks to just days or hours. It means we can make the latest movies and TV programmes available very quickly so our customers can enjoy them as soon as they’re released on whatever device they choose.”

Robinson continues: “Another issue is storing the data. At the moment we’re adding 1.5 terabytes a day of new content. This is the equivalent of over 300 DVDs daily and this is only going to grow as we ramp up to all of our content in full HD which will double our storage needs. Beyond that, new video formats in future may mean we need even more storage and computing power. We felt that Microsoft Azure was the best solution to address these huge challenges and make sure our customers get the best experience possible.”

Blinkbox's on-demand movie and TV service is powered by Microsoft Azure
March 26, 2014

Why Microsoft Azure versus other cloud technology providers? Robinson explains: “We looked at all of the offerings on the market and felt Microsoft best understood where we wanted to go as a company and the demands of our customers. blinkbox already runs a lot of Microsoft-based systems but a key factor was the ability for Microsoft Azure to work with our non-Microsoft technologies such as Linux. This flexibility allows us to use whichever tools are right for the job.”

Cliff Evans, Azure Lead at Microsoft UK concludes: “Cloud computing is the biggest thing to happen in IT within the last few years. Small and large companies alike, are now able to provide great services very quickly without the overhead of running their own data centre. blinkbox is a classic example of an innovative, young company that is using the cloud to turn the way we consume entertainment on its head.”

Every month a million users turn to blinkbox to stream the latest movies and TV
March 26, 2014

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