Channel 2 News' Mobile App Moves to the Cloud; Ready for any Breaking News
Channel 2 News in Israel produces news and current affairs content for the Israeli commercial television Channel 2. Among other things, Channel 2 News produces one of the most widely watched television shows in Israel – the prime time evening news program. The company also provides news content for Channel 2 broadcasters Reshet and Keshet's websites, respectively, as well as cellular content.
Channel 2 News offers a mobile app for smartphones and tablets which enables users to get updates anywhere and anytime, with real-time notifications on news events. The app is rich in video content, images, and continuous updates on current affairs, economy, consumer issues, culture, commentary, weather, and more. The app also streams the evening news and all of the Company's content – live and on demand (VOD). Channel 2 News also produces exclusive video content for the company's online platform from a designated studio. This includes, among other things, live broadcasts, video reports, and recorded reports.
The news video app gained vast popularity very quickly, and today hundreds of thousands of unique users create millions of engagements with the app every month. The app's popularity is especially manifested when there are breaking news events leading to a sharp increase in access. In November 2012, events in Israel created heavy traffic on the server's infrastructure, leading to availability problems. At that time, executives at Channel 2 News realized that a technological infrastructure solution was needed to support those sharp and sudden influxes in demand.
"In November 2012, various events in Israel had us reporting around the clock, streaming live broadcasts 24/7 on the app for a week. As a result, there was a record-breaking amount of engagements with the app," said Itay Filiba, Digital Products Manager with Channel 2.
"Naturally, and without any special advertising, people turned on their app to get live updates from a source that was authorized and reliable. We experienced unprecedented demand and as a result, there was heavy traffic on the app's servers. The option of sending users push notifications on news events, which also generates usage, led to more congestion. Users were unable to get our content because of the traffic. As a quick response, we added more servers during the operation, but we were still unable to respond to the massive influx in demand. That really frustrated us, because it was our 'money time' – times we need to rise to the moment and provide reliable service," explains Filiba.
After those news events broadcasts Channel 2 News searched for a solution that would provide consistent performance for the app and allow users to get news updates even at sharp and unexpected increases in app usage.
"When you broadcast news, you can't foresee the number of users and the peaks in demand. With e-commerce companies, for instance, you can analyze user behavior over time, and discover that the weekends bring more entries. You can purchase the level of service required based on that information. But when you deal with news, you don't know in advance when the demand will peak. It depends on unexpected news events," says Filiba.
Channel 2 News considered a number of options, and discovered Google App Engine – an elastic cloud infrastructure that is part of the Google Cloud Platform. App Engine provided Channel 2 News with a dynamic cloud server that adapts itself to any level of demand, with the cost based on actual use.
The solution was implemented by Yael Software, representative and integrator for Google solutions in the Israeli enterprise market. Yael Software developed an applicative layer to bring content from the Channel 2 Online news management array and send it to mobile apps in a cloud environment. This enabled unlimited expansion during real time, at peak events, according to the required bandwidth at any point in time, and designed to prevent system collapse.
"Google offered us a server that was completely elastic. You don't pay in advance per server or per user; you pay only for exactly what you use. The server has the unique ability to scale automatically without any need for activation on our part. If your routine leads you to use a certain amount, that's what you pay for. If your numbers suddenly multiply by 5 or 10, you don't have to do anything. The service itself adds resources based on app usage, and you pay according accordingly." notes Filba.
"Google offered us a server that was completely elastic. You don't pay in advance per server or per user; you pay only for exactly what you use."
Digital Products Manager,
Channel 2 News
Idan Noy, head of Business Optimization at Yael Software, explains: "Prices are similar among all competitors. We chose Google because we didn't want to create a situation where there was a very brief peak in demand, leading to all users being unable to access the app. It's the optimal solution that can take on varying levels of traffic while the client only pays for the actual resources used."
The transition to Google's servers had to be performed smoothly, without any hiccups in the app's ongoing operation and the content already online. Yael Software chose a sync mechanism that copied new content uploaded to the app's existing servers to Google's cloud servers. During the second stage, they created an update for the app which referred queries to content on Google's cloud. The new version was sent to a handful of users for QA, and later on the company increased the number of users on the new version. Eventually the update was released to the app stores, and after about a month, most of the users had made the transition.
Today, Channel 2 News is ready for any situation or event – even the most unexpected. "News services deal with the unexpected, and the technology behind them needs to support the unexpected. We are very pleased with the service. For example, news happening in July 2014 caused user demand to increase by over 400% compared with an average month, thus breaking the all-time record. In this case as in others the system proved reliable, and the app was always available," summarizes Filiba.
Channel 2 News plans on expanding its use of the platform in order to improve statistical information received from use of the app, in order to analyze user interest in various types of news content on the app.