Television on the move

Pay TV platform OSN launched its on-demand, online service aptly known as OSN Play in March this year. Here, Arabian Computer News explores the inner workings of the technology underpinning the new service.

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Television on the move Bas Wijne, director of IS-IT at OSN: The process of choosing vendors for OSN’s on demand, online service, OSN Play, was comprehensive and extremely rigorous. (ITP Images)
By  Jason Saundalkar Published  June 24, 2012

Pay TV platform OSN launched its on-demand, online service aptly known as OSN Play in March this year. Here, Arabian Computer News explores the inner workings of the technology underpinning the new service.

SN Play was launched on March 19 of this year and is touted to be the region’s first online TV platform. It allows OSN’s existing subscribers to watch the latest movies and TV series via the web, on connected devices. The service is free of charge to OSN subscribers and was launched in response to research showing that consumers are increasingly consuming content on connected devices.

The service was first conceptualised in early 2011, explains Mark Billinge, vice president of broadcast operations and technology at OSN. “It became clear from research and other markets that viewers wanted the ability to consume the content they subscribe to at any time and on multiple devices – not just be presented it through the broadcast schedule,” says Billinge.

“With the PVR [personal video recorder] and OSN on Demand service we have today, OSN has addressed those demands to a degree but we wanted to take it to the next level.  With that in mind, the technology roadmap was built over the coming months. After some internal discussion, it became clear we had to find the right technology partner for the OSN Play platform, so an RFP was put out to the market and from that IOKO, who now form part of Kit Digital, were chosen.”

OSN Play works in tandem with a viewer’s subscription and grants the viewer the ability to associate Play with up to two devices per subscription. The service is presently accessible via PC and Mac (Intel-based Macs only) but will eventually be rolled out to other platforms such as smartphones, tablets and even video game consoles.

“The launch of OSN Play was the launch of a whole new platform for us and hence, a major project for us to undertake in terms of implementing technology that is still evolving,” says Billinge. “To ensure we could offer the highest quality product to our customers, it was important for us to take a phased approach for the rollout. Starting with browser support on PCs and Mac platforms was an obvious start point due to the penetration levels. Soon, there will be iOS support followed shortly by other platforms.”

OSN had to work with a number of companies to develop and deliver Play, including KIT Digital for the overall system integration and user interface development; Level 3 and Apex Group, which are content delivery network (CDN) providers; and BIOS Middle East, which was OSN’s integration partner for the data centre parts of the project (firewalls, load balancers, storage, virtual environments etc.). OSN also turned to Microsoft, which provided digital rights management (DRM) technology, and a company called  Screens that specialises in subtitling. OSN relies on Screen’s subtitling software known as MediaMate Pro.

Play is presently accessible only to OSN satellite subscribers, although the company says that it is already in talks with cable and IPTV providers in the region, so that cable customers will also, eventually, be able to access Play.

Despite the complexity of the task facing OSN and its partners on the Play project, the entire process, from conception to implementation, took less than a year. “The initial RFP process started in the first half 2011 and we went through a very thorough process to make sure that we got exactly what we had in mind,” comments Bas Wijne, director of IS-IT at OSN. “Once we ironed all the planning out and went to implementation, we took about three months, which was extremely challenging.”

Pressed about some of the core requirements OSN requested for Play, Wijne says: “I think it’s important to mention that one of our core requirements was that OSN Play would integrate into our existing broadcast, metadata and customer management workflows as tightly as possible. We didn’t want to hire a large number of additional resources to operate the platform. This was quite a challenge, but the integration was done extremely well and the effort is already paying off.”

Behind the glossy and intuitive front end interface, OSN Play is a complex collection of various systems, all of which play a critical role in terms of taking content from OSN’s headquarters to a viewer’s connected device. Wijne explains: “From the technical side, there are more systems involved than I can mention, but in brief the flow is as follows. The process begins with OSN’s scheduling team, which first creates an entry in the Broadcast Master (BCM) system and determines the dates from, and to when, they can have the title on OSN Play.

“From there, an automated process picks the content from the same content storage OSN uses for its broadcast services and this then gets transcoded into the various bit rates that OSN wants to deliver. We presently offer several choices; 300K, 500K, 800K, 1.3M and 1.6M. With the transcoding complete, the bit-rate files get encrypted and pushed into the OSN Play storage system from where they will be uploaded to the content delivery network.”

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