Astro delivers multiscreen via Elemental Cloud

As one of the leading integrated consumer media entertainment groups in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, Astro focuses on providing its customers with a variety of pay-TV, radio and digital media content. Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Astro’s substantial customer base of 4.2 million reaches more than 60% of Malaysian viewers. Astro offers more than 180 broadcast TV channels, including 48 HD channels, delivered via Direct-To-Home (DTH) satellite TV, IPTV and OTT platforms. Recently, Astro began moving towards a software-based approach for its video delivery workfl ow with innovative solutions to keep up with industry trends and consumer demands. Television Asia Plus analyses the seamless and yet advanced cloud technology that Astro deployed. K. Dass reports.

Astro delivers multiscreen via Elemental Cloud

Astro is regarded as an innovator and pioneer when it comes to pay-TV services. It was the first to launch an HD broadcast in Malaysia in 2009 and offered the first non-subscription based satellite TV, with 25 television and 20 radio channels.

In 2012, the company introduced its OTT service, Astro on the Go, which currently provides VOD content and live linear programming. In an effort to continuously expand its service to include relevant and popular content, Astro partnered with Elemental to help build a reliable workflow for its multiscreen services.

In order to keep up with industry trends and consumer demands without depleting funds, Astro decided to take a software-based approach and incorporate the cloud into its video delivery workflow.

Astro implemented Elemental video processing solutions in the cloud to power its Astro on the Go workflow, which consists of more than 6,000 hours of VOD content and 34 live linear channels. Elemental cloud securely manages Astro’s high-volume video content with scale and elasticity, allowing customers to watch both live and VOD content instantly.

Both Astro and Elemental embrace innovation as a core value. Astro prides itself on creatively bringing its customers premium content, while Elemental is focused on providing creative solutions for pay-TV operators. This partnership was a natural fit to expand Astro’s multiscreen offerings and deliver customers the best possible viewing experience.

The growth of multiscreen video for live and on-demand content is increasingly challenging media companies to provide a high quality viewing experience. As new consumer devices, technologies, and regulations flood the market, requirements are becoming more complex and the expanding number of file formats is driving a massive amount of video processing. For example, during the 64-game World Cup schedule last summer, more than 4,500 hours of video processing (61.25 hours per game) were required to deliver premium live catch-up coverage to viewers.

In this scenario, video processing resources at the heart of the system could quickly become an enormous bottleneck. Traditionally, media companies would simply buy more processing capacity to support this level of demand. In the case of the World Cup however, this is a multiweek event occurring bi-annually. Is that level of infrastructure required when the matches are not in session? At least the World Cup events occur on a regular schedule determined well in advance. What happens when there is need for a sudden, unexpected surge in video production?

Coping with unpredictable demand

The balancing act media companies face is in buying enough capacity to satisfy demand for multiscreen content without over investing. Demand, however, has become highly unpredictable. Figure 1 (pg 25) shows a hypothetical example of predicted demand for video processing capacity compared to actual demand, where the grey steps represent capacity purchases over time.

An obvious concern is where demand exceeds what fixed infrastructure can support. However, the opposite situation can prove even more costly over time, where demand runs lower than capacity resulting in investments that go unused. Media companies that do not have enough video processing infrastructures to meet variable demand may find it difficult to keep up with customer expectations for top quality service. Alternatively, production houses that buy more infrastructure than they need will incur the unnecessary costs of maintaining resources that sit idle. Either way, they lose money.

The cloud can help organisations handle variable video processing demand with great flexibility and agility, while improving customer service. Cloud computing also presents exciting opportunities for media and entertainment companies that want to mitigate the risk of launching new initiatives.

Likewise, the cloud offers the opportunity to take on onetime projects without long-term investment. For example, many media companies have an extensive catalogue of content, but supporting the infrastructure required to convert a video library into new distribution formats can be costly and inefficient. Using cloud resources, broadcasters can enhance offerings and extract unrealised revenue to make archived video footage available to customers on demand.

Overcoming challenges

While the cloud has been a hot topic for several years, until recently many obstacles have put cloud transcoding out of reach for most media companies, particularly those that process professional quality video in high volumes. The good news is that these hurdles are quickly disappearing.

Cost: Processing video in the cloud has historically been cost prohibitive for large-scale production houses. However, more infrastructure providers like Google, HP, Rack space and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are entering the market and driving down the price of cloud resources. As these providers continue to grow, users will benefit from economies of scale, which will make large-scale video processing even more affordable in the cloud.

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