NBCUniversal needed to increase ad impressions. Four Kitchens helped them dramatically increase engagement—and drastically reduce maintenance and hosting costs in the process.
NBC Digital is responsible for the aggregation and distribution of NBCUniversal’s content. This includes popular networks such as NBC, Bravo, and Telemundo and shows like Saturday Night Live, The Good Place, and This Is Us.
Since 2013, NBC Digital has trusted Four Kitchens with their most ambitious and business-critical projects. From the Emmy award-winning Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon digital experience to delivering personalized content from multiple sources in under 150 milliseconds, Four Kitchens has comprised the majority of the backend team for NBC Digital and all of its digital platforms.
NBCUniversal wanted to increase ad revenue and impressions. To do this, they needed to increase the amount of time people spent watching videos on their websites and streaming apps. However, NBCUniversal’s many brands were each responsible for delivering content through their own websites and apps. This led to a siloing of the user experience—people would only see videos from that specific brand or network—and a missed opportunity to increase time spent watching videos. In other words, people who watched Saturday Night Live may also be interested in Bravo’s Project Runway, but NBCUniversal had no way to promote Bravo content to NBC viewers.
NBCUniversal also needed to reduce the cost of delivering streaming content. This included switching to a modern video management platform and standardizing technologies across all brands. Because each NBC brand was managing their own streaming apps and technical infrastructure, there was a clear opportunity to consolidate onto a single platform, reduce costs, and provide a consistent user experience.
NBC Digital and Four Kitchens embarked on a bold vision to aggregate all of NBCUniversal’s content into a single content repository. This would allow NBCUniversal to redistribute content through all channels regardless of which network created the content or which streaming app a viewer was using.
The result was OneApp, a centralized content repository that was adopted by all of NBCUniversal’s entertainment brands.
Centralizing content across multiple brands
OneApp gathers all of NBCUniversal’s content—from networks such as E!, Bravo, and Telemundo—and makes it all available and manageable in a single application. OneApp also allows NBCUniversal’s content and related metadata to be “brand aware” so that content ownership is attributed correctly, which is important to foster brand loyalty and expose viewers to content from other networks. A great example of this cross-network synergy is NBC.com’s Popular Shows listing, which highlights the most-watched content from more than ten networks.
Enabling feature-flagging and server-side A/B testing
NBC Digital chose LaunchDarkly as their feature-flagging and server-side A/B testing platform. This allows NBCUniversal to consolidate all of its testing and feature-flagging into a single, consistent source.
Feature-flagging allows NBCDigital to improve an app without having to re-roll and update the entire application. Apps launch with a full feature set, but some features are strategically disabled to allow for further testing. When the feature is deemed ready for market, the functionality is simply enabled rather than forcing the viewer to update or re-download the application. This ensures that more viewers keep apps rather than choosing to update or delete them if they haven’t been used in a while.
LaunchDarkly also enables NBCUniversal to use machine learning to personalize a viewer’s experience, which increases engagement.
Adding movies to NBCUniversal’s streaming library
Near the end of the project, NBCUniversal decided to add streaming movies to its content offering. Thanks to OneApp’s robust data model and the development processes our teams had in place, we were able to accommodate a major feature addition while still launching on time.
Gradual, test-based launch
Because OneApp marked a massive shift in technologies and workflows, NBC Digital needed to “test” OneApp on a small portion of traffic before making it generally available. This required legacy systems to be supported in tandem with the new database, data sources, and data pipeline. Elliott Foster, Four Kitchens’ technical lead on the project, described this process as “changing the tires on a moving car.” Despite the complexity of this approach, it drastically reduced the risk of an outage and increased NBC Digital’s confidence in the final product.
Unprecedented cross-team collaboration
Launching OneApp was a huge undertaking, involving key stakeholders from every NBCUniversal entertainment brand and their technology teams—with NBC Digital acting as the hub. The process required coordinating 34 launches across multiple platforms, including mobile devices (iOS, Android), streaming devices (AppleTV, Amazon FireTV), smart TVs, and websites. And best of all, everything was delivered on or ahead of schedule.
“The coordination among teams and scope of the releases were the biggest challenges and rewards.”
Elliott Foster, Technical Lead and Architect
OneApp launched in June 2019.
Engagement and ad impressions have significantly increased
Some estimate a 30% increase in engagement across the board compared to the previous year. Despite launching during the “slow season” of summer, traffic after the OneApp launch equaled NBCUniversal’s peak traffic during the winter holiday season.
“The data science team at NBC is extremely excited about the personalization aspects and the deeper insight into how users are interacting with NBC content.”
Elliott Foster, Technical Lead and Architect
Hosting costs were drastically reduced
Migrating to Amazon Neptune resulted in a 30% cost reduction compared to their legacy database. NBC Digital also saw significant cost savings in the reduced amount of time and effort required to maintain the new infrastructure.
“It’s much cheaper to run the Neptune cluster than it was to run our legacy system. This is primarily because Neptune is much more performant than our legacy system was because we need fewer servers.”Elliott Foster, Technical Lead and Architect
Application development and maintenance costs were drastically reduced
NBCUniversal’s networks no longer needed to build or maintain their own apps for iOS, Android, AppleTV, and other platforms. OneApp’s white-label approach allowed networks to immediately adopt a massive app portfolio with minimal expense and effort.
Streamline content management across networks
Thanks to OneApp’s robust content model, each network’s video operations team can easily add content to a single repository without having to manage multiple platforms or time-consuming workflows.
The addition of Telemundo and Universo required translation capability. As a result, the entire OneApp content model and data pipeline supports multiple languages.
“Everything was delivered on or ahead of schedule.”Elliott Foster, Technical Lead and Architect
- Handled unprecedented, sustained growth in traffic during and after launch
- Integrated a new upstream data source for NBCUniversal content into the extract-transform-load (ETL) data pipeline
- Upgraded backend-for-frontend (BFF) layer to accommodate new data sources (networks) and content types (movies)
- Relied heavily on A/B testing and feature flags to progressively roll out new features
- Migrated primary data store from a document database to a graph database
- Algolia Search
- Amazon DynamoDB
- Amazon Neptune
- Amazon Lambda
- Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS)
- Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS)
- Amazon Kinesis
In Previous News
- The Fast and the Curious: How Exploring Amazon Neptune Helped Us Optimize Scalability for NBCUniversal
- NBC.com: Building streamlined solutions and trust
- And the Emmy goes to…