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How AWS helped the BBC smash UHD during the summer sporting calendar

The BBC’s media services team established a robust UHD delivery workflow that included AWS Elemental Live encoders to help it deliver both Wimbledon 2021 and Euro 2020 in UHD

Earlier this year, fans in their millions tuned into the BBC to watch its coverage of Wimbledon 2021 and Euro 2020.

A peak BBC TV audience of 25 million tuned into the UEFA Euro 2020 final between Italy and England, and a peak audience of 7.8 million witnessed Novak Djokovic defeat Matteo Berrettini in the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon.

The BBC made both events available in UHD via BBC iPlayer. To satisfy the expected demand, the BBC’s media services team established a robust UHD delivery workflow, building and refining technologies and approaches used for previous programming.

For Euro 2020 coverage, live event feeds were brought into BBC Broadcasting House in London via production facilities at the BBC’s studios in Salford, Manchester, and at Wembley Stadium. Wimbledon feeds were received directly from the All England Club in Wimbledon. The audio and video signals were then routed, frame synchronised, and fed through the BBC’s video router, before being presented to AWS Elemental UHD encoders.  

AWS Elemental Live encoders received quad split SDI inputs and delivered four encoded renditions on an adaptive bitrate ladder, with a top rung of 27 Mbits. A lower, HD representation was used for monitoring. The UHD HEVC content was tuned for high video quality by the BBC’s R&D team, who used Hybrid-Log-Gamma HDR, which was jointly developed by the BBC and the Japanese broadcaster NHK. The encoders then delivered HEVC content to the BBC’s proprietary packager and onward to various CDNs (content delivery networks) for distribution.

In order to ensure a high-quality production for a large audience, the BBC designed the technical architecture for resilience. Each component was deployed to ensure seamless failover could occur without viewer interruption. This meant using two encoders and multiple instances of the packagers as well as multiple CDNs, including Amazon CloudFront.

Jim Simmons, BBC executive product manager, explained that having used AWS Elemental hardware encoders since 2012, the broadcaster was very familiar with them. “They easily integrate into our operations control software, Marvin, and with them, we were able to provide the level of video quality needed to deliver the high speed, high value, sports content that our audiences expect,” he added.

Between both events, UHD content was streamed 4.2 million times on BBC iPlayer. Looking ahead, the BBC is exploring how it can broadcast more UHD sporting events on BBC iPlayer to larger audiences, and has a growing slate of upcoming natural history and drama programming that will be available to watch in UHD.