[Start of Recording]
I: Well, Kenny, thanks for coming!
R: No problem at all!
I: Just for the record, can you give us your full name.
R: Kenneth Allan Patrick Coyle.
I: Right, so the date is, what is the date today?
R: The 6th or 7th?
I: Yes, it's the 7th [May 2017]. And so this is an interview for the Scottish Broadcasting Heritage Group - SBHG. I'm Tim Mitchell and Ashley's here as well helping so thanks very much, Ash. So, let's just launch into it. So, I mean, we've only just met.
I: You're one of the first people, in fact you are the first person who is actually, you're one of the new generation. You are actually after me because I wasn't, haven't been here since the nineties and so, what's your job description?
R: So, job title here is technically Platform Developer but there is a bit of a story to it! I started off, about five years ago, working as a Web Developer in the Visual Team, looking after the various websites along with the team here. So, an example of that would be the STV Player, STV News, things like that. And small micro sites, we'll say Coronation Street, Emmerdale, the X Factor, that sort of thing. Over time we've turned it into individual products rather than just websites so now the STV Player is a product. It is a brand. It is a Content Delivery Platform for getting our content out to our customers. We've also got, say, STV News. That itself is a product. That's now got several mobile apps. It's got different ways that you can consume the content either online, on Facebook or anything else. There's also competitions which is a separate product and a whole bunch of other, smaller, products. But now, rather than just focusing on websites alone we are building full digital platforms.
I: That's really interesting. So, going back to the beginning then, in terms of just what the web content was actually about at that stage because you seem to be painting a picture of something which is really changing, the way television is changing from a, if you like, the old model of showing the programmes when it is convenient for the television channel to On Demand so was that - take me back to the beginning.
R: So I wasn't really involved at the inception of the STV Player. We came in or I was hired just prior to the rebuild when we moved away from the original platform but, for the most part, it is any content that we broadcast on air we can capture and put on to the STV Player, where appropriate and where there's customer demand for it. There's two types of content that we generally deal with other than interactive things like competitions, which is kind of News content, editorial content, say for either News editorial or Entertainment editorial and then we've the STV Player video content, which will be long form, short form or whatever else.
I: I see. OK. That's fascinating. I mean, how do you actually do this as well? I mean, how much is automated and how much do you, I mean are you physically clipping programmes from somewhere and actually publishing them with H.264?
R: Well, that's, currently we use a system called AutoCatch which was built by John Nicol. He is one of the senior Broadcasting Engineers at STV. Originally, we were looking to get content from ITV so we could re-encode it and put it on the Player but there were technical difficulties there so John Nicol built a system that simply records off the clean feed, based on an XML schedule. That system is still in use at the moment but we are imminently looking to replace that with something a bit more modern. Something that, I'm not sure if I can speak about it or if it can be edited out?
I: If it's sensitive?
R: I'm not sure if it's sensitive but it is currently under R&E [Research and Evaluation].
I: Oh, I see.
R: So I would rather talk about it once it's been finalised and we know how the final version is going to look.
I: Well, this will not be shown anywhere.
I: So, I think you can because I mean, basically this will be just put in an archive, It's not going to be broadcast or anything.
I: So, most people watching it will probably be...
R: OK, so most people watching it, I imagine, will be very interested in history rather than...
R: So, we are currently looking to work with a number of other parties to replace AutoCatch with a more automated fashion but, at the moment, it is a more hybrid approach. Fully automated for ninety-nine percent of content. If something goes wrong we have the ability to call back from, we can ask MCR [Master Control Room] to play out the programme then we can rerecord, re-encode and put on the Player, which takes significantly longer to do. So, we can often get a programme on the Player within an hour of it completing. If something goes wrong, that turns into several hours and a lot of pain! And work around to make sure it actually works OK.
I: Taking a step back, I mean, so you said five years you've been in so when did you join the Company?
R: It would have been July 2010, no, 2012 I believe.
R: Aye, 2011/2012. I was quite fortunate in that I finished university and I had my, I started here before my exam results were in, which was extremely fortunate! I just started as a Junior and I've just kind of stayed and progressed as time has went on.
I: Excellent! So that was what I was going to say, you weren't working anywhere before here?
R: Well, I spent a year doing a placement in Dundee and I had the option to go back to Dundee to go and work for the same company and it just happened to be that I got the offer here as well. I've got a bit of a broadcasting nerd in me. I've done Community Broadcasting for years so there was no reason to not take the offer.
I: Tell me what the Community Broadcasting was.
R: So, totally unrelated to STV, must have been when I was around fifteen, sixteen years old I got involved in a Community Radio Station in North Ayrshire - 3TFM and I kind of stayed involved with them until just a couple of years back. Again, looking after very similar things like the website, online streaming and things like that, even down to, over the weekend, rebuilding the studio every couple of years and whenever things just needed fixed. Sometimes it was easier to just pull it all apart and rebuild it all! But no, we, I'm not sure if it's still around - there was a Scottish Community Broadcast Network that was put together by Ofcom to help all the Community Radio Stations to communicate with each other, work together and learn. So we were involved in the creation of that at the time. I'm not really sure how, where they sit any more.
I: Neither am I. I know a lot of people who went through that route, yeah, a lot of my friends did. Even Shereen Nanjiani, I think, started out that way. I think she did. But that's good. And going back to, you know, what you are doing at the moment, how are these things, how are the programmes encoded now? I mean presumably they are on some form of H.264 and so on? Is that going to change? Are you going to go to other codecs?
R: Well, we are on a large number of codecs. Every platform had its own dependencies so in some cases we can support HLS [HTTP Live Streaming Protocol] and in some cases we can support, well it's just a H.264 file. Some platforms, from other types of TV platforms require an MPEG TX so we just encode for whatever platform we require and our CDN [Content Delivery Network] just delivers based on what's requested. We work with a third party at the moment - BreakOff - they take the raw masters and they will encode whatever we need it to be and they will distribute that as and when it needs to be.
I: Right, and is that distributed centrally from London or somewhere?
R: It's a Global CDN [Content Delivery Network] so it's a, I believe, an EU-based data, it will be an EU-based data centre that has the master assets but then the assets go where they need to be to be closest to the edge devices that are actually accessing the content, which is quite fun whenever you have to replace the content because then you have to purge it from all the edge locations! But that's an interesting part of the job!
I: Well, you obviously enjoy being here?!
I: Do you think, how do you think of STV as a place to work in terms of the social side of it and so on?
R: It's great because I've been quite fortunate in that, well, as a team we are able to either be sociable or not be sociable depending on what kind of person you are. We try to have more social nights out. We try to get people more involved but the team's always growing so, I believe, we are trying to do something this month but, even at that, we are also involved in kind of, evening technical nights and things like that so we sponsor things like PB Glasgow, PB Technology that we use and we sponsor a few other things and then we encourage all the developers to go to that to meet people in other companies doing similar things. Sometimes we just organise a pay-day Friday out just where possible.
I: It's funny for me because I can remember going in to the Campans so you would never have been?
R: Unfortunately not. I've heard plenty of stories, mind you! I would have loved to have been there!
I: Tell me some stories that you've heard! Just out of interest.
R: Er, I'm not really sure if I can, to be honest!
I: Oh, go on! Go on!
R: Ah, no!
I: OK. Well, what I was going to say was...
R: It was just a really fun place to work.
I: It was actually, it was! It was difficult at times but it was actually quite good. It takes, I would say, it takes a spell of time with the BBC to really appreciate this place, you know, but I mean certainly, with STV, I remember going in there and very much aware that it was this building full of machinery, that it was heavy engineering and hydraulics and so on and, of course, it's not like that anymore, it's all computers etc.
I: Obviously things have changed so much, this is one of the reasons for doing this project. I mean, how do you see television moving generally into the future?
R: More second screen, I believe. More on Demand. I don't think that broadcast television, linear broadcast television is going to go away. It's extremely powerful. In terms of add revenue, it's one of the most powerful things you can ever do and in terms of just customer engagement but there is more appetite for on Demand and we'll need to settle that data. One thing that STV's great for and I'm pretty sure that a lot of people will agree, we're on so many platforms! We're on paar with ITV. Sometimes we get out on a new platform faster than ITV, which is something that as a team we are really proud of. We have a relatively small Development Team - we've got ten front end, ten back end, four mobile developers, six testers - around those numbers. It grows where possible. But we've seen broadcasting teams three and four times as big achieving the same level of platform outreach. It is one thing that we are getting better at and we just need to do it in such a way that you can set up on a platform and not worry too much about it and the maintenance will be fairly low. But linear broadcast television, I think there's still lots of, that's not going away for at least twenty, thirty, forty years!
I: Do you reckon?
R: I reckon. It might shrink slowly but I don't think it's going to go away as fast as people might think.
I: Why not, do you think? I mean, what sort of things do you think will be still on the linear television?
R: Well, it's more, from a technical point of view, how much bandwith you have on a single linear stream even if it's not linear in terms of just plain linear video, it might be linear data. It's such a powerful platform I don't think it's going to go away any time soon!
I: Interesting. You used a term I hadn't heard before - that's second screen?
I: Is that the same as video on matte?
R: No. Similar but it relies a lot on Video on Demand attributes so it could be, there's a cue on the TV to say "Grab your I-Pad just now and you can interact with us in the Studio!" Things like that. But it is effectively just additional content to go on the side. It's kind of like Red Button but a bit, kind of the exact same as Red Button but I feel the technology is just a bit too slow at the moment. Eventually that technology is going to become really quite sleek and fast. Especially as broadband becomes more widely available to customers.
I: Interesting. I'll just check my time. What have we got on here?
I2: Fourteen minutes.
I: Fourteen minutes. That's fine.
I: So, where do you see yourself going, you know, you within this Company?
R: Within the Company - like I said, I've been extremely fortunate! I started here as a Web Developer five or so years ago, not so long after that, well, I started as a Junior Web Developer, a year later I was no longer a Junior and I was given the opportunity to work on a bit more higher profile projects. And then last year, in particular, was a whirlwind! There were a couple of changes within the team and now they've effectively made, they've changed my job title to Platform Developer which was much closer to what I wanted to be doing. A bit less software development, a bit more looking after servers, looking after Amazon web services cloud platforms and things like that. Kind of like building. Doing the plumbing! Or more, making sure that everything's in place for the plumbing to work. And now, just going forward. More and more of that. I kind of want to build a team within STV who can do that. I'm not sure if that's going to work out but I would like there to be a team who's responsible for making sure that this plumbing works.
I: Well, certainly, you'd be in a position that that's where they'll be wanting to invest money surely? I mean, it's very much the future! Yes.
R: We work on a bunch of, on a number of digital products internally, to use the skills that we have internally to help the internal broadcast side of things. So, at the moment, we are working on a media asset management platform which will hold all our content together. It should allow anyone in the business who needs access to a certain programme to get it and to get whatever content they need from it without any, without having to phone someone up or getting something off a tape or anything like that.
I: Oh, is this to repurpose some of the things which have already been broadcast? A News programme or something?
R: I think it's, at the moment it's more so that we can store it and access it easily. And I think we'll, every broadcaster needs one of these and, I think, once it's live we'll see just cases we haven't imagined! We're already showing demos to people in the business and they are like, "We wish we had this five years ago!"
I: Increasingly, are there off-the-shelf solutions to this as this becomes more mainstream because it seems strange that even as we speak, I mean, you talk about starting five years ago that so much must have changed in that time!
R: Oh yes, certainly! A prime example is a web-hosting platform. We built a web-hosting platform on the Cloud or we rebuilt it on the Cloud about three or four years ago and, at the time, there was lots of bespoke work that went in to it to make it possible to scale up and scale down. In particular we needed it for the Scottish Referendum. We needed to be able to scale our website in such a way that it could survive all of Scotland asking "What's happened?!" "What's the answer?!" And we managed to achieve that, which we are extremely proud of. But all the bespoke work that went in to that, you can now use off the shelf. So we are slowly replacing it with more common components. We're not saying what we built was bad, we are just saying that there's now better things out there and we are just trying to improve it.
I: What was it like then? That's an interesting thing. I didn't imagine that that would come into it. What was it like working up to that specific event?
R:That was, I would say, one of the most interesting things that we've ever done here. To support live streams. The amount of bandwith that we were out-putting to the Scottish population, the worldwide population because we tried to make it so that where possible, if it was STV content, it was not network content and we can provide it to the world and, where possible, we did that. And they've never seen that amount of bandwith going out from, let's be honest, STV's small in the global landscape so that was really interesting. It was really high volume.
I: Are there any other examples like that? I mean, specific events that were broadcast here?
R: Generally football games are the big ones. It used to be a football came in so batten down the hatches, make sure that our website can stay up and everything else but now it is business as usual. These events happen periodically and all we do is we say, "OK! Scale up a little bit and off we go! It's fine!" And we've built the internal processes so that if something does go wrong, we minimise customer impact where possible.
I: And, for example, today, this place is full of people from down south, ITV, we've only just discovered that that's because of the SNP Conference coming up.
I: Are you involved in all of that as well?
R: Not in that, I'm afraid. Sometimes if there is something going on with the News team, we may be asked to help out a little bit but for the most part, we'll build the product in such a way that they can utilise it for these things. A prime example, a lot of companies would buy a Content Management System off the shelf. We built one for the News team based on their requirements. The Content Management System that the News team use fits their need for live events and for static content exactly as regard as needed to do. And we did the same for STV Player. You touched on automation earlier. We built them a brand new CMS exactly to handle that automation and, in particular, the automation will mean that everything just happens on its own but the CMS allows you at any point of that pipeline to just jump in and say, "Change this to this." "Move this to this."
I: What's a CMS?
R: Its effectively to manage all online content. So, think of it as an extremely rich database client. So, if it's a database that drives your website, a Content Management System has all the business knowledge, it has all the understanding of how content should be structured and it makes it easy for people within the business who work in a certain way to change things and move things around.
I: I understand, it's Content Management System. Yes.
I: Jolly good! Well, I think we're almost, you've covered so much, we're pretty much at the end of this. Just to push this a little bit more - there are some questions that we ask at the end and I've got one or two of them. Do you have any kind of funny stories about what's happened, memorable things?
R: Memorable things about STV? The five years have actually been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. Most of it is memorable. I can't think of anything off the top of my head just now, sorry.
I: That's OK. We can actually come back to that or not, it doesn't matter. But anything, sorry, the other question would be, what do you think that STV has done for Scotland, you know, where does it fit in the culture of Scotland?
R: In the culture of Scotland? I'll give you an example. In fact, an example from the day that I was offered the job here. I had a job offer waiting for me in Dundee and I actually had quite a harrowing decision as, do I take the job offer of the company who have trained me up and, let's be honest, it would have been a great job! It was working for a company who looks after computer IT security for hundreds of thousands of devices or do I come to STV to start as a Junior and learn from the ground up effectively? At which point my boss to be said, "Mummies and grannies love it when their kids work for STV!" So, first thing I did, fresh graduate - "I got the job, Mum! I got the job!" "Take it! Take it!" And then whenever I am at my parents, whenever I'm at my Gran's, whenever I'm at my in-laws, that's what's on the telly. It's a Scottish institution. To them that is the default choice. I'm not sure if that's going to stay but, for now, that's what's on the telly! Mummies and grannies love it when their son works for STV.
I: That's perfect! That nails it! Completely. Where do you think it will go? I mean, in terms of ownership and so on because, I mean, it's like, I think I am right in saying that STV, having swallowed Grampian, is the only one outside of the ITV networks because Ulster is now part of the ITV, isn't it?
R: I believe it might be. I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that question to be honest! Regardless of ownership, I hope that they still continue to progress their digital technology. I hope they still continue to progress what they are doing for Scotland. I know that any TV company who has the power of the ITV content behind them could continue to do great work and to continue to profit but I just hope that we're given the opportunity to continue to invest and, even if the content isn't profit-bearing, it still acts as a public service. Even if we are not officially a public services broadcaster, I think we should still be providing that content to people in Scotland.
I2: I'm just going to let the camera cool down for a moment.
[End of Recording]