Channel 4 – All4

Channel 4 is one of the UK’s largest broadcasters, and has been a pioneering force in British television since its launch in 1982. Piksel has been working with Channel 4 since 2006, helping to deliver, develop and manage its VOD service across multiple devices and platforms.

The Challenge

Channel 4 launched the world’s first commercially focussed Video-on-Demand platform in 2007, 4 On Demand (4OD). In the years that followed, 4OD became one of the UK’s most popular VOD sites, with over 10 million registered users in 2013.

It was recognised, however, that as the platform had grown and evolved across different devices and backend services it had started to fragment in terms of how viewers consumed content, and how that consumption was tracked by Channel 4.

At the same time, an increase in digital content viewing on apps, by 24% in 2013 (Channel 4 Annual Report 2013), was recognised, and Channel 4 felt that their content needed to be to be accessible seamlessly across multiple platforms and devices, liberated from device technology and version compatibility.

After a period of analysis and reflection on how their users consume their content, and growing their understanding of the journey their viewers go through, Channel 4 took the initiative to launch their new digital TV service – All 4 – which was focussed on three states of content consumption – On Now, On Demand and Coming Soon.

 

The Solution

The programme faced some key challenges because of the number of changes to try and realise what was quite a complex vision for the service. Technologies needed to be changed and adapted and some core services that fed Channel 4’s VOD applications also needed to be re-engineered.

All 4 leverages the cloud to deliver Channel 4’s channels, content, and services through a single portal— creating a unique digital hub for its 12 million registered users with a consistent experience and the ability to personalize, test, and rapidly enable new features. All 4 has become one of the most advanced platforms for showcasing different types of broadcast content available.

Based on Channel 4’s consumer analysis, All 4’s engaging and intuitive user interface was designed to guide viewers through three structured temporal states:

  • On Demand (catchup)
  • On Now (simulcast)
  • On Soon (future)

Through these states All 4 responds to changing user expectations, making content easier to navigate and access, creating an experience more aligned with the preferences of the individual.

Intertwined with these three viewing states are personalisation features, using big data systems, where viewers will receive recommendations from their viewing habits and curated suggestions based on broad content categories. This requirement was developed as a direct response to the need for hyper-personalized services that deliver entertainment at the right time, on the right platform. This alternative approach to viewing strongly resonates with how viewers interact with content and ultimately leads them to enjoy more programmes.

Piksel’s experience in enterprise level video service solutions, mobile application and game console app design, as well as implementation and management aligns well with Channel 4’s strategy to address the rise in digital viewing.

In addition to visually rebranding the service, Channel 4’s pre-existing technical solution was turned upside-down and converted into a centralised set of delivery components using the micro services model. These micro services are small sets of independent, business-focused applications, aggregating data from multiple sources to create a single response to a basic request from a platform.

Results

The project brings together leading innovation in terms of user experience and in how the technology has been built. In the same way that Channel 4 pioneered TV catchup services with 4oD, for All 4 the company reimagined the viewer experience for online viewing. With Piksel’s help, it has created a unique viewer proposition with a new content delivery framework that enables a consistent experience across multiple platforms as well as the ability to personalise, test and rapidly enable new features.

All 4 is available on over 15 viewing platforms including browser, iOS, Android and Windows, Set Top Box and gaming consoles. All 4 enables Channel 4 to collect consumer analytics, test and rapidly enable new viewer features to deliver premium quality entertainment no matter the device technology or version compatibility.

Within months of launch All 4 has been able to seamlessly integrate major new programming services including Channel 4’s three year deal to broadcast F1 and Paralympics coverage to UK audiences for free. Walter Presents was successfully launched at the beginning of 2016, exclusively on All 4, to promote internationally acclaimed content. At a technical level, All 4 on iOS is able to support more accessibility features, making it more available to its diverse audience. The inclusion of dynamic ad-insertion also helped drive increased advertising revenues.
Piksel continues to play a pivotal part in ensuring All 4 remains one of the UK’s most popular VOD services, providing 24/7/365 production support of the underlying cloud and on-premise architecture, continual innovation and the regular implementation of new features to the micro-services layer and device platforms.

All 4 was named Best TV Technology Platform or Service by the CSI Awards at IBC 2015.

Case Studies

“We continued our partnership with Piksel for All 4 because of their technical expertise in developing iOS applications and back-end services. Piksel helped us build the All 4 iOS app and a number of key services around a managed cloud framework so we can launch new features more rapidly. All 4 will deliver a more personalised range of content to our registered users.”

Charlotte Light - Head of Service Delivery

Solution Hightlights

  • Designed around a resilient and scalable cloud based architecture
  • Ensures all platforms receive identical data –viewers see the same data no matter where they access content
  • Code is centralised at a micro service level, Improving resilience and performance of device platforms
  • Changes to a micro service can surface across multiple platforms instantly, overcoming delays associated with submitting updated apps to app stores
  • Provides an environment for rapid testing of new data services - the management layer can direct a small set of users to updated features to see how they respond
  • Enables the gradual release of features so performance models can be validated with live usage, protecting core systems

If you want to talk further about these topics, or understand the distinct solutions that Piksel is providing to help carry the broadcast and media industry into the digital future, book a meeting with us at NAB.

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