ABP news network increases page views by 70% using cloud

Using AWS has enabled ANN to support its increase in page views from 150 million to 500 million and accommodate sharp spikes in traffic with high performance when significant news events, including elections, occur.

ABP News Network (ANN)—one of the largest TV networks in India—operates five news channels in Indian languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, and Gujarati, and reaches out to more than 150 million TV audiences per week.

Like most media businesses worldwide, ANN has been disrupted by new technologies and rising consumer demand for immediate and ubiquitous access to content. Unlike some industry participants, however, the Noida-headquartered business has seized the opportunities presented by the digital age. Its online news website—www.ABPLive.in—and app—ABP Live—caters to more than 40 million monthly visitors.

We are now doing 500 million page views for the same infrastructure cost as we incurred previously for 150 million page views.”

Retesh Gondal
Head-Digital Technology, ABP News Network

The Challenge

News in India can occur in a more dynamic, volatile, and unpredictable way compared to other international markets. This means spikes in traffic to digital and mobile news services can occur at any time of the day with minimal warning. A major breaking news story can increase traffic by three times, rising to six times for elections that may occur as often as once a year.

It was therefore extremely important for ANN to scale the technology infrastructure quickly to support these traffic spikes. Furthermore, similarly to international consumers, Indian audiences were increasingly consuming news through digital and mobile services, as well as through broadcast and print. Videos uploaded online were increasingly complementing broadcast and text-based news services. In 2013, ANN predicted extending its digital presence from a single website to a range of services could increase its page views from 150 million to over 500 million. The business had to sustain this growth cost-effectively while delivering the responsiveness and reliability that digital consumers demanded. “Considering all the factors in play, we wanted a robust, cost-optimized infrastructure that was reliable and highly scalable,” says Retesh Gondal, head of digital technology at ANN.

Unfortunately, ANN’ existing managed service provider technology infrastructure could not meet these challenges. The business’s agreement with this provider made scaling its website at short notice to support traffic spikes difficult and expensive. Furthermore, ANN could not gain the visibility to control and optimize its use of infrastructure resources.

The business also risked ceding competitive advantage to rival media companies by delivering new websites, mobile services, and other products to market in months rather than weeks. The limitations of the infrastructure meant editors would be forced to take up to seven minutes to upload a news video several times longer than a media business operating in a highly competitive marketplace could tolerate.

Ultimately, ANN risked not being able to deliver news quickly to meet viewer demands for immediacy and secure a strong position in the competitive digital news market in India. Furthermore, the business could not position itself to enter new geographic markets seamlessly and cost-effectively.

Why Amazon Web Services

ANN brought its web infrastructure back into an on-premises data center as an intermediate step toward moving to a public cloud. To prepare for that move, the company started conducting due diligence on leading public cloud services with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

ANN’s business and technology leaders were acutely aware that selecting the right cloud provider was critical to the future of the business. Despite ceding first-mover advantage in digital news to rival media companies, ANN was keen to secure market leadership among key readership demographics by providing compelling news content over a range of digital and mobile channels.

This required working with a cloud provider that could scale quickly to support traffic spikes and longer-term growth in traffic to web, mobile, and video news services. In 2014, the company decided to migrate its infrastructure, applications, and services to AWS.

“We selected AWS because of the flexibility to align our infrastructure costs and consumption with demand, and the ease and simplicity with which we could move to the AWS Cloud,” says Gondal. “AWS also specializes in infrastructure services that enable businesses like ours to distribute video content and mobile applications to users’ smartphones, tablets, and personal computers.”

ANN completed its initial migration to AWS in only four months and has continued to expand the services running in the public cloud architecture to include additional websites, mobile applications, and a video content management system. “We evaluated all the video content management service providers in our market but determined the best option was to develop a system in-house and use workflow, storage, and video file conversion tools provided by AWS,” says Gondal. ANN uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store video files and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to run the system used to manage the video content. Amazon Elastic Transcoder converts ANN’ video files from source to different formats for viewing on a range of devices.

The business also opted to develop a video analytics system in-house. “We tested the market and either the costs of the solutions were too high, or they could not deliver the type of data we wanted to collate,” says Gondal. “We elected to deploy our own solution to analyze video usage and service quality using data streaming, collection, loading, warehousing, and processing tools provided by AWS.” ANN is using Amazon Kinesis to load streaming data into an Amazon S3 bucket and an Amazon Redshift data warehouse, with Amazon EMR used to complete data processing activities.

Key to ANN’ success is its choice of AWS services to run its mobile applications. According to a Morgan Stanley report quoted in the Economic Times, India is expected to overtake the United States as the world’s second-largest smartphone market in 2017. According to the publication, the researchers estimate the Indian market will grow by a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent through 2018, and account for 30 percent of global growth during the period. This trend is creating a huge market for mobile applications to deliver a range of content, including news, features, and analysis. ANN elected to use AWS Lambda to deliver an architecture that seamlessly updates content feeds served from Amazon S3 to mobile users without requiring the management and maintenance of a single server.

The Benefits

Using AWS has enabled ANN to support its increase in page views from 150 million to 500 million and accommodate sharp spikes in traffic with high performance when significant news events, including elections, occur. “Breaking news in India can result in a dramatic surge in traffic. We implemented a first of its kind serverless architecture deployed over Amazon S3 which helps us manage traffic to an unlimited number,” says Gondal.

ANN has also successfully extended its portfolio of products and services from a single website to several websites, video content and a mobile application, since migrating to the AWS Cloud. “The scalability factor of AWS has given us peace of mind and enabled us to think more about what we want to achieve with our applications rather than how to manage them,” says Ramakrishnan Laxman, head of digital business at ANN.

Furthermore, through competitive pricing offered by AWS, including regular reductions and being able to pay only for the infrastructure resources used, ANN has been able to control costs and budget effectively. “We are now doing 500 million page views for the same infrastructure cost as we incurred previously for 150 million page views,” says Gondal.

Aside from controlling costs, the business is now able to deliver new products and services far more quickly and cost-effectively than its previous managed-service environment. Editors can now upload videos in less than one minute to meet demand for immediacy, rather than the six to seven minutes required in traditional infrastructure. This has positioned ANN to compete more effectively with its rivals. Furthermore, AWS’ global footprint has given ANN the option of expanding beyond its home market into new regions.

“The AWS team has always let us know about the new cloud services it is launching, and how we can use AWS to optimize our existing workflows,” says Gondal.

Using AWS has given ANN the confidence to evaluate using advanced tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver on a range of new products. “Our experience using AWS has been extremely good,” says Gondal. “While we were quite late to enter the digital news and video content space, we’ve been able to expand quickly and become one of the leaders in providing these services to consumers in India and beyond by using AWS.”