For These 3 Peacock Colleagues, Scaling Up is a Team Sport

NBCUniversal team members Kate Wilder, Peter Teitelbaum and Rama Assaf-Smith share how their contributions are paving the future for streaming service Peacock.

Written by Stephen Ostrowski
Published on Mar. 31, 2023
For These 3 Peacock Colleagues, Scaling Up is a Team Sport
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In 2022, when the Los Angeles Rams prevailed over the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL’s championship game, they weren’t the only team with cause to celebrate. 

With the conclusion of Peacock’s first foray into livestreaming the game, NBCUniversal team members like Senior Director of Program Management Kate Wilder had reason to smile. 

“There were no breakdowns anywhere in the pipeline. Anything that went even slightly awry was resolved almost immediately,” said Wilder, who works on Peacock’s technology delivery team. She called it an “absolutely stellar moment.”

For Director of Site Reliability Engineering Peter Teitelbaum, it was an engineering win worth cheering for. 

“Because of the investments that we made in auto-scaling, there was very little that we had to do in terms of scaling out the platform to support. We were basically ready to go and on top of it,” he said.

The occasion was a big highlight in the continued trajectory of Peacock, which the iconic media company launched in April 2020. At a few years old, the streaming platform — which offers a variety of television programs, movies, sports and news offerings — continues to gain momentum: Parent company Comcast announced in January 2023 that paid subscriptions to Peacock were north of 20 million.

“We’re like the new kid on the block, even though we’ve been around for a little while,” said Wilder. 

Flush with original content, plus offerings from NBCU brands like Bravo and Telemundo, Peacock isn’t just armed with a deep library of content, but with talented professionals making it all happen behind the scenes.

Despite the fast-paced environment, the organization doesn’t press pause on creating a space where technologists can deepen themselves professionally.

“We give everyone the space to share, to shine and to be brilliant,” said Senior Director of Technology Experience Operations Rama Assaf-Smith. “We learn together. We really prioritize learning.”
 

“We give everyone the space to share, to shine and to be brilliant.”

 

As Peacock looks to continue its upward trajectory, that growth puts a greater emphasis on skill development — along with a focus on speed and scale, said Teitelbaum.

“As the platform gets bigger and bigger with more and more users, there will be demand for more and more features,” he said. “How can we get them out faster? How can we make sure the platform scales?”

Here’s how they’re up to the challenge — and more.

 

two nbcu colleagues pose for a photo in front of a wall
NBCUniversal

 

Scaling Up

Peter Teitelbaum
Director of Site Reliability Engineering

Contrary to the norm, Teitelbaum doesn’t want the outputs of his team to be noticed. 

“Something that’s probably a little funny about my group is, because we’re very focused on resiliency and performance, the better we do our job, the less people know we exist,” Teitelbaum said. “When somebody’s using the service and things are performing as they should, that’s when we’ve done our jobs.”

Teitelbaum relocated from the West to East Coast to join Peacock shortly before its launch in 2020.

“What really attracted me was engineering at scale: Building something big, mostly from the ground up,” he said. 

And when it comes to building Peacock’s supporting infrastructure and databases —with a geographically distributed team, no less — the name of the game is staying nimble to keep up with the quick pace of the streaming universe. 

“A solution that’s the perfect solution a year ago might become totally outdated today,” Teitelbaum said. “We’ve got to very closely watch the industry, technology advancements, stay on top of trends and make sure we’re heading in the right direction to support the business.”

 

“A solution that was perfect a year ago might be totally outdated today. We’ve got to very closely watch the industry.”

 

Looking back, Teitelbaum is pleased with how his team has evolved. 

“When I started, we didn’t have an SRE team,” Teitelbaum said. “We didn't even have any SRE practices or any engineers to execute on one. Now we have a great team.”

On that team, Teitelbaum and fellow site reliability engineers turn to a tech stack that includes tools like Kubernetes, Terraform, Helm and Go. They’re focused on being efficient and being able to scale their work without having to solve a problem from scratch if it comes up again — meaning a heavy emphasis on automation comes into play. 

A transition to a “24-hour-engineering-coverage model,” which Teitelbaum hopes will help increase the speed features are delivered, is just one thing that has him enthusiastic for the future. His team is also working on a project focused on observability. 

“We’re looking to make some very significant improvements to: the way that we measure our services, how resilient they are, how performant they are. Ultimately, we will be able to measure their availability,” Teitelbaum said. “Then there are little projects coming out of that: How can we take this data and use it to not just measure for humans? How can we feed this data into other systems that will automate resiliency improvements across multiple systems?”

To answer such questions, the engineering culture must be one where people feel confident speaking up — something Teitelbaum said he’s found at Peacock.

“Within my group alone, some of the values that we found to be really critical are transparency as well as knowledge sharing,” Teitelbaum said. “Members of the team are constantly getting together and walking through how projects work. Everybody has a seat at the table to voice: What if we tried it like this? What if we did that? That’s one of our greatest strengths.”

 

BRANCHING OUT

NBCUniversal, in conjunction with Sky, recently announced a partnership with South Africa-based MultiChoice Group that will leverage Peacock technology to support streaming content via MultiChoice Group’s Showmax offering. “It’s more engineering at scale,” Teitelbaum said. “We have to figure out how we take what we’ve already done and not just replicate this into other geographic regions, but evolve it and make it more efficient.” Added Assaf-Smith: “How we expand what we’ve done for Peacock to other markets, other partners, other ventures is what I’m most excited about. It’s more data that we get to process and dive into.”

 

Serving as ‘Trusted Advisors’

Rama Assaf-Smith
Senior Director of Technology Experience Operations

When an opening on the Tech Assurance team at Peacock became available, Assaf-Smith jumped at the opportunity. 

“I saw the post for the role and immediately knew it was my role. It really was what I was looking to do in my career,” said Assaf-Smith, who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary at Peacock after almost a decade at parent company Comcast. 

Assaf-Smith leads a team of data analysts, engineers and project managers wading through vast amounts of data to provide insights about the platform’s performance. Peacock’s expansion means continuing to be what she called “trusted advisors to operations, engineering and leadership” as her team contends with more and more data. 

“Every day, through data, we try to get a better understanding of our customers’ experience and how we can help make that experience better,” Assaf-Smith said. 

Part of improving that experience involves current work on what Assaf-Smith described as an “anomaly-detection model.” It will also help with machine learning model-building efforts by leveraging data in a live environment, she said. 

 

Assaf-Smith’s team is currently working on an ‘anomaly-detection model’ that will help with machine learning model-building efforts, leveraging data in a live environment.

 

“The faster we can detect any changes, the faster apps teams can come in and help,” Assaf-Smith said. “It’s helping with the whole resiliency model. It’s an opportunity to work on something that will help our operations team become even more proactive.” 

Like her colleagues, Assaf-Smith looks back at technical milestones like last year’s Super Bowl broadcast as a highlight of her tenure. But just as fulfilling is the team that’s emerged around her. 

“One achievement has been hiring a diverse team of talented individuals who continue to grow and learn every day. They make my job easier, fun and rewarding,” Assaf-Smith said. 

“It's a very safe and fun environment where we focus on inclusion and growth. We make sure that everyone is heard, because we strongly believe that everyone has something great to bring to the table.”

 

Bridging Success

Kate Wilder
Senior Director of Program Management, Technology Delivery

For Wilder, NBCU is more than an employer, it’s a point of nostalgia. 

“I was a child of ‘Must-See TV,’” said Wilder, referring to the company’s decades-earlier marketing campaign. “NBCU was this iconic brand that was super important to my family. We’d all watch TV together and it would always be NBCU.”

Wilder’s Technology Delivery team manages intensive cross-functional collaboration at the center of a Venn diagram between the business, product and engineering teams to get outputs realized on the platform. Put simply, they “do whatever it takes to make sure that there’s no problem getting something built,” Wilder says.

One particular accomplishment of which Wilder is proud of is being able to bring Peacock’s “Catch up with Key Plays” highlights feature — originally used for Premier League broadcasts — to the service’s World Cup streaming coverage in Spanish. 

According to Wilder, it was a project that illustrated the team’s ability to work across the broader organizational ecosystem — with tech teams at Sky, Comcast, Peacock and NBCU — to get something across the finish line quickly and successfully.

It wasn’t just a win for soccer fans: the Comcast team responsible for the underlying technology netted a Technology and Engineering Emmy for their work.

“That just makes me feel fantastic. It’s the type of feature for Peacock that people feel very proud to be associated with,” Wilder said. 

Features like that underscore how Wilder’s role can be fulfilling: In helping realize features for Peacock, Wilder and her colleagues shape the viewing experience and connect people with content of which they’re ardent fans (Wilder points out bringing WWE to the platform, for example: “The people who love that really, really love it.”)

“Being able to work on things all day long that viewers are really engaged with and that can move them — I don’t know what could compare to that,” Wilder said. “You get to work on projects with all of these different pieces of content and in areas that people have this great fandom around. Even people on our team are big fans.”

 

“You get to work on projects that people have this great fandom around. Even people on our team are big fans.”

 

Wilder sees Peacock’s expansion plans as an opportunity for individuals to keep on exploring and growing at the organization. And she’s bullish on the ability to take Peacock to new heights.

“Peacock is really starting to make a name for itself in the streaming industry,” Wilder said. “There's really no end to what we can do here.”

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via NBCUniversal.

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