Sky News sets Guinness world record for live video streams using Google Cloud Platform

Sky News wanted to provide live streaming of election results from nearly 150 constituency counting stations throughout the U.K. during the spring 2015 UK General l Election. It hoped to deliver the results of the 150 most marginal seats, those most likely to influence the outcome of the election, more quickly than its competitors and let viewers watch the polling stations live over the Internet as well as on broadcast TV. Sky News chose Google Cloud Platform for its ability to quickly scale at low cost and meet high video-streaming demand.

Big plans for a big election

The General Election is one of the biggest event for news channels, and U.K.-based Sky News wanted to make a big splash covering the spring 2015 election. The goal was to deliver more comprehensive election coverage than its main competitors, BBC and ITN.

To do that, Sky News live streamed the results live from 150 of the 650 constituency counts in the U.K. while competitors, who did not have live video from as many counts,had to wait for slower independent data services to report the results. Sky News also delivered all the live streams over the Internet via YouTube, providing a service that none of its competitors offered.

“Delivering the news first is one of the most important things any news organization can do,” says Richard Pattison, Deputy Head of News Technology at Sky News. “We set out to do that and expand our coverage by offering new ways to deliver live news.” Pattison worked with Sky News Technology Executive Chris Smith to deploy the streaming solution.

YouTube and GCP play well together

Sky News faced a unique set of technical challenges in order to stream video from the constituency counting stations to YouTube and for TV broadcast. For streams to be used on air and be made simultaneously live via YouTube, each stream needed to be delivered to both Youtube and the Sky News studios. The streams from the field could not simply be sent to a receive server in the Sky News studios, as would be done for a regular news live.

“We simply didn’t have enough available ports or servers to process that volume of video,” Pattison says. “We would have had to add 130 additional ports to handle all the streams. But we didn’t have the physical space, cooling capabilities, power or budget to do that.”

So the company turned to Google Compute Engine, because it could quickly and affordably create virtual servers to process all incoming data streams. Sky News didn’t have to set up physical servers and connections.

“Google Cloud Platform was the natural choice because it let us quickly build a virtual server farm of 150 servers — one server for each incoming data stream,” Pattison explains. “Plus, data can be sent from Google Cloud Platform to YouTube for free, which reduced project costs. In addition, Sky News is an ISP with huge links to Google, so we knew the video streams wouldn’t suffer degradation as they travelled from Google Compute Engine to our studios in London.”

Setting a world record for live video streams

On election night everything went as planned. Sky News streamed live video of 150 constituency counts, setting a Guinness World Record for the most concurrent live streams for an event. The streams were made available on YouTube. Sky News also displayed many of those streams on its TV broadcast, offering content that no other broadcast service could match. (This video shows all the live streams scrolling across the Sky News studio video wall.)

The 136 cellular bonding IP encoders in the field streamed the live video at an average bitrate of 4.38Mbps, for a total of 1180.19 hours among, representing somewhere in the region of 2.25TB of data across cellular networks into Google Compute Engine.

“It was a great result for us on one of the biggest news nights of the year,” Pattison says. “We had more live sources than the BBC. Considering the size of the BBC as a broadcasting organization, being able to say that is a real coup for Sky News. We gave our viewers more choice by offering the option of watching any of the 150 streams over the Internet. More importantly, we expanded our multi-platform approach to delivering the news, and Google Cloud Platform was key in helping us do that.”

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