DeQoded: How Netflix Delivers a Show Like Daredevil Globally
The Quint went behind the scenes at Netflix’s massive scale of operations, and we bring back our top three findings.
Narcos, House of Cards, Jessica Jones, Making of a Murderer, Orange is the new Black, Daredevil. Netflix in India may be young – they launched officially only in January 2016 – but their original TV programming has paved the way for the global video streaming service, albeit through their popularity on good ol’ torrents.
But what makes the service tick as it delivers the the second season of Daredevil – Punisher, Elektra and all – to 190 countries simultaneously?
The Quint went behind the scenes on launch day to see Netflix’s massive scale of operations, and we bring back our top three findings. If you dig large numbers at the Internet scale, this is your fix.
Ken Florance (Vice President, Content Delivery at Netflix) speaking about how Netflix scales to deliver in this video.
With a show as widely anticipated as Daredevil, you’d think the Internet would see insane amounts of traffic when they launch the show to a global audience. Seems logical, right? Especially for a service that, by some estimates, accounted for 37% share of peak download Internet traffic in North America (compared with 3% for Apple’s iTunes) in 2015!
Except it’s not – thanks to Open Connect, Netflix’s globally distributed content delivery network. Put simply, what Open Connect does is distribute content and the ensuing traffic to a regional Internet Service Provider that’s geographically closest to the Netlfix-er who’s watching, avoiding any significant utilization of internet “backbone” capacity. Each of these ISPs get what is called an Open Connect Appliance (OCA), massive storage boxes that sit in their data center, so that almost all Netflix content is delivered from the local OCAs rather than fetching from Netflix over the Internet. Old OCAs use spinning hard disks, but the newest use a mix of flash and hard disks to store the most popular content from the catalog.
Take the continent of Australia, for example. Instead of fetching each file of Daredevil from the US data center when a viewer requests it, Netflix copies each file once from their US-based storage to the storage locations within Australia during off-peak hours.
Watch the video below where Ken Florance shows the OCA and how it works.
Once each episode of Daredevil is on the continent, it is then further replicated to several Open Connect Appliances within each participating Australian ISP network. There aren’t any OCAs in India yet – the closest OCA is in Singapore – but Florance says it’s only a matter of time before traffic will force that decision.
Ever wondered why you’re shown a particular list of shows – and even the images for these shows on Netflix – but your neighbor sees a completely different set? Sitting on a mountain of user data, Netflix uses the information it garners about its customers’ behavior to drive everything from the look of the service – which header art image you see for a show like Daredevil or Fuller House – to the shows that are recommended for your viewing.
“Where you live, how old you are and whether you’re male or female isn’t that important”, according to Todd Yellin, VP Product Innovation. For example, you’d think the anime genre would be heavily popular in Japan, yet only 10 percent of Netflix anime watchers live in Japan, with the other 90 percent all over the globe.
What this leads to is a global algorithm, one that lets Netflix group its shows and movies into “clusters” based on what you like, and not where you live. Each subscriber is assigned to three to five clusters based on their tastes, and these help decide the 40 to 50 options you see when you sign on to Netflix – options that the Netflix algorithm predicts will most lead to you watching something on Netflix.
Sure, you can search for a title that’s not on your list, and as you watch more titles outside your list, the algorithm keeps learning.
Watch: Demo of Netflix Recommended TVs
Given how a lot of the world consumes Netflix on large screen TVs, it made sense for Netflix to recommend the TVs best suited to the Netflix experience. Ergo, the “Netflix Recommended” TVs; models stamped with the company’s seal of approval as the best smart TVs of 2016. Based largely on speed, the program tested TVs based on how quickly they turned on, how fast they could resume playing videos, and how swiftly they could launch the Netflix app.
Of course, sets were also judged on how easy it was to access Netflix – was there a dedicated remote button for Netflix? Was Netflix featured prominently on the TV interface, and did the TV ship with the latest version of Netflix preinstalled?
Based on seven criteria, a few 4K TV models from LG and Sony are the first to live up to the exacting standards set by Netflix. Interestingly, since most of the criteria focus on how fast a TV can be ready to play Netflix from the word go – Netflix actually set time benchmarks for TVs to complete certain actions – the “Recommended TV” stamp results in a more snappy, responsive TV experience and benefits practically everything you do on the TV, including watching other streaming services.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached on Twitter: @2shar.)
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