JW Player provides a platform for video delivery and intelligence to some of the biggest names in media, from Eurosport and Fox to Univision and Viacom. Reaching more than 1 billion unique users worldwide, the company's video solutions—including live streaming, video on demand (VOD), and OTT apps—enable their customers to offer compelling, engaging user experiences on every device, in any location. As video strategy becomes central to business strategy, JW Player has seen traffic increase. The company included Fastly in their multi-CDN strategy to maintain the speed and scalability needed to manage that growth seamlessly.
Industry: Digital Media
Location: New York, NY
Customer since: 2015
Few give content delivery a second thought while watching content online. The media provider responds to content requests quickly and reliably, and content starts playing almost instantly. High availability and fast time-to-first-frame (TTFF) are mission-critical metrics and a baseline for end-user engagement—and there's not much wiggle room between a brilliant user experience and abandoned content.
Trusting their CDN and feeling confident about its performance and reliability is a major reason why JW Player values their relationship with Fastly. "Scaling is something we've never really thought about," says John Luther, Senior Vice President of Technology. "As we've grown, there haven't been any problems with Fastly. It just happens." Between market growth and pandemic-driven demand, they've scaled from 4,000 requests per second in 2019 to 40,000 requests per second in 2021. Despite that tenfold increase, JW Player reports that delivery has stayed working smoothly.
JW Player also added Fastly's Media Shield to their tech stack, which improves performance and optimizes their multi-CDN deployment. A Fastly point-of-presence (POP) serves the needs of all other CDNs, reducing trips to the origin, which means faster time-to-first-frame (TTFF) and lower origin egress costs. Luther says that they chose to adopt Media Shield in part because their origin costs were getting out of hand. The change, he adds, is "way, way cheaper," and the performance is better. On top of that, moving to Media Shield simplified their stack and let them buy fewer services from their other CDNs.
"It's a testament to Fastly that we don't have to worry about the CDN. We've grown a lot in the last few years, but performance has stayed consistent. That's a huge win for us, because that's one less thing for us to think about." Jonathan Lenart, Senior Software Engineer
On-the-Fly Packager creates efficiencies
In addition to Media Shield, JW Player accelerates time-to-first-frame (TTFF) by using Fastly's On-the-Fly Packager (OTFP). Fastly's OTFP repackages video on a just-in-time basis for the right streaming format, resolution, and frame rate, with playback starting immediately for the viewer. Fastly’s OTFP is also integrated with diverse multi-DRM (Digital Rights Management) providers, which has reduced labor. As the company serves more long-form and OTT content, they won't have to build out additional infrastructure.
Recently, a major streaming media hardware brand set a firm deadline for media providers to provide video with trick play—the frames that digital video systems use to simulate fast forward and rewind. The brand would pull channels without it from the service, which became a huge concern for several JW Player customers. With all the complexities involved, for JW Player to resolve the issue in time, they would have to push aside other priorities to get it done. Luther called Fastly for help and found they already had a solution underway. "It's so much easier and quicker for Fastly to do it than for us to take that time," Luther says.
"One of the things Fastly provides that has allowed us to be successful is their On-the-Fly Packager. Our originals are being packaged for us rather than JW Player having to package everything ourselves. It's worked really well, and Fastly has helped us a ton." George Ponick, Senior Engineering Manager
Cutting deployment time with VCL and Terraform integration
JW Player’s dev team found that they can implement changes much more rapidly because of Fastly's Varnish Configuration Language (VCL). For example, if a customer requests a specific feature, VCL allows JW Player to make changes themselves, using Fastly support only on an as-needed basis. The Fastly Terraform integration has been especially helpful for building out the deployment pipeline. Before working with Fastly, deployments were a manual process—often tedious, slow, and susceptible to error. Automating through Terraform changed the process to a button click.
Deployments and rollbacks have been much smoother with Fastly too. When JW Player used another delivery network, a change could take several minutes to deploy. With Fastly, tested code changes can be deployed in seconds and—most critically—rolled back to the previous version if necessary. That saves both the dev team and customer support a lot of headaches: there's no "will this break everything?" fear when deploying, and no interruptions for end users.
"Everyone loves to say they do infrastructure as code, but I think Fastly actually lives that, which is great. It simplifies our life quite a bit. And amongst all the CDNs we've used, Fastly was the easiest to get Terraform off the ground." Jonathan Lenart, Senior Software Engineer
Datadog integration provides real-time observability and saves weeks of labor
JW Player saves time with Fastly's real-time log streaming as well, by taking advantage of Fastly's integration with Datadog. With other CDNs, metrics weren't always reported properly. As a result, JW Player's team would have to build their own real-time monitoring, which could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a month of development. Having real-time data lets the dev team spot problems and solve them before they have a significant impact on customers, end users, and their brand.
"Having built our own real-time monitoring connection for other services, we know how difficult it can be. The third-party integration for Fastly's real-time log streaming has saved a lot of time. And Fastly is the only CDN we've used that didn't require that custom development." George Ponick, Senior Engineering Manager
Responsive support helps drive their customers' satisfaction
JW Player gives Fastly's support team considerable credit for helping them keep things moving for their customers. "We've had emergency support cases open with other CDNs for days, which is just not practical in a situation where seconds count," says Tom Boshoven, Staff Software Engineer. By contrast, Fastly's support availability at the Enterprise Support level is 24/7/365, with 15-minute response time in emergencies. Even when a challenging issue takes some time to work through, the collaboration between Fastly and JW Player teams gets problems solved for their customers. "That's the way I wish every CDN worked," Boshoven says. Luther pointed to one incident where Fastly worked with JW Player to test solutions in a dev environment and implemented a new feature that fixed their issue—a process that likely saved them days of work.
Collaborations aren't always about current customer issues, either. As JW Player developed their knowledge and facility with VCL, they say Fastly served as a helpful resource. If planned VCL modifications raise questions, the two teams have created a process so that someone on the Fastly side can review and clear up any issues. That way, no one spends too much time heading in the wrong direction.
Fastly and JW Player have grown together through close collaboration over the last six years. As media trends evolve and new delivery solutions are needed, that partnership benefits everyone.
"Fastly is by far the most responsive of the CDNs we've worked with. That's really important for us to be able to get answers and fix things quickly, because that's what our customers want. I don't have anything but good things to say." Jonathan Lenart, Senior Software Engineer
"Having dealt with other CDNs and vendors in general on feature requests, a lot of times when you ask for something you'll hear 'sorry, we can't do that, we have too much else going on,' Fastly always does what they can to help and gives us the support we need." John Luther
Senior Vice President of Technology
"Our first and most important success metric is availability: when can users start viewing the videos. Customers always want things to be faster, but they really get annoyed when they have rebuffering or a long delay in startup time. Fastly has helped us meet both customer and end user expectations." John Luther
Senior Vice President of Technology
"Fastly's programmatic interfaces are quite a bit better than most of the other CDNs we've dealt with, and that's been a huge boon for us." Jonathan Lenart
Senior Software Engineer
"Fastly treats our issues like their issues. If we have a problem, we'll get the support we need, no matter if the problem is big or small." George Ponick
Senior Engineering Manager
"Having the tools in hand to do what we need—and to understand what the possibilities are from the documentation—plus having top-notch support when we need it is a huge benefit of working with Fastly." Tom Boshoven
Staff Software Engineer
"If a customer is requesting a particular feature, I don't think we could implement things in other CDNs as quickly as we can with Fastly. That's because of the availability of VCL as well as the availability of the support team." Tom Boshoven
Staff Software Engineer