The OTT solution for Saudi Broadcasting Corporation
The fully customised end-to-end OTT solution for nine HD channels and six radio channels at Saudi Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), is not just a technical feat; it represents a radical shift in audience engagement. BroadcastPro ME speaks to Hisham Arafat, Managing Director of CMT Technologies, the systems integrator for the project.
Last year, Saudi Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) went online with a number of high-profile live video streams covering US President Trump’s visit to the Kingdom, the annual Hajj and Saudi National Day, among other events. The live streaming element was another feather in SBC’s cap as it marked six months since the launch of its Esmaa Wa Shahid app, an extension of its OTT platform. SBC stepped into the OTT space last year with Dubai IPTV and OTT solutions provider CMT Technologies.
The result is a fully customised end-to-end OTT solution for SBC’s nine HD channels and six radio channels. The solution includes a headend/encoding platform from Ateme, middleware developed by CMT and a fully customised content delivery network (CDN) for SBC.
“Our mandate was to provide a fully customised 360-degree platform that supported various client applications including iOS, web, Android, Blackberry, LG and Samsung Smart TVs, with the ability to scale in the future and add new features,” explains Hisham Arafat, Managing Director of CMT Technologies.
The Dubai company has often kept a low profile but has provided solutions within the IPTV, OTT, VOD, IP gamut for a number of high-profile customers including telcos like Mobily and Etisalat, and broadcasters like Al Majd and more recently SBC.
“This multiscreen TV platform is one of the biggest showcases at SBC,” explains Hisham Arafat, an industry veteran who is Managing Director of CMT Technologies. “It comes with most of the key features one can think of, including its modular and flexible architecture, its use of ABR (adaptive bitrates), the simultaneous support for multiple video streaming technologies, unified authentication and authorisation, multiscreen bookmarking, intuitive content discovery, flexible monetisation tools, specially designed social TV features, pre-integrated to industry leading content security solutions, multiple delivery models, and of course the ability to scale up.
“The platform is also provided with alternative payment options including operator billing, credit card payment or other payment methods such as mobile payments. Everything has been considered when building this platform.”
At the beginning of the workflow is a state-of-the-art headend/ transcoding solution “to provide the best quality video on even the slowest of internet connections”, according to Arafat. CMT says it is not a box shifter and explains that a number of elements within the chain were developed inhouse, including the middleware and the bespoke CDN solution.
“We developed a complete middleware backend system for SBC, with redundant transcoding solutions, a complete disaster recovery element, a fully integrated content management system (CMS) and a fully optimised cloud-based CDN service,” he explains.
One of the big elements of this installation was the CDN solution. CMT took a multi-CDN approach, so the customer could be served from the nearest available CDN site based on location, while providing uninterrupted service in case of failure on one of the CDN servers.
“The built-in transcoding feature transforms live streams to adaptive streams, dynamically adjusting resolution and bitrate to match each viewer’s bandwidth— thus providing the best possible streaming experience for everyone” Hisham Arafat, MD, CMT Technologies
“A content delivery network is an absolute necessity when it comes to delivering bandwidth-hungry content over networks that are more and more solicited. Without optimising its resources, an operator cannot support the huge amount of traffic at stake over managed networks as well as over open internet networks. In SBC’s case, it has viewers distributed across the globe, so it was imperative that we take a multi-CDN approach and develop a solution to minimise the delay and ensure full service availability,” explains Arafat, adding that this is where the local company’s CDN knowhow enabled it to create a unified CDN manager capable of addressing IPTV, cable and OTT content delivery within a single product.
“We provide a turnkey multiCDN solution that enables businesses to get more out of their CDN set-up. We combine the strongest points of multiple CDNs into one big network. The full network can easily be controlled through a user-friendly graphical interface or super-simple API.
“The CDN we have developed is designed to unite the delivery of managed and unmanaged content over fixed and mobile networks by leveraging CMT’s advanced capabilities with converged cache, combined with new management and service exposure layers for intelligent control and business model enablement.
“We went with the multi-CDN approach with SBC. It is the latest technology in content delivery. At SBC, the CDN is designed to identify the public IP and route the traffic to the serving CDN-POP near the client which originated the request. This will help in faster content delivery and less latency. In case of failure on the primary PoP, the service will be restored from the back-up CDN,” explains Arafat.
“A content delivery network is an absolute necessity when it comes to delivering bandwidthhungry content over networks that are more and more solicited” Hisham Arafat, MD, CMT Technologies
One other big element at the SBC installation is its live streaming capability. A streaming engine streams video and audio files on demand to any screen.
“This streamer was used to make live events in KSA available to SBC’s viewers on any device and any network in a straightforward and cost-effective way,” explains Arafat.
“The built-in transcoding feature transforms live streams to adaptive streams, dynamically adjusting resolution and bitrate to match each viewer’s bandwidth, thus providing the best possible streaming experience for everyone. The streamer integrates with other systems and third-party solutions.”
The streamer’s built-in DVR feature lets SBC deliver a time-shifted viewing experience that enables viewers to pause, rewind or resume live streams on whichever device they choose. Its playlist functionality helps the broadcaster create web TV, mobile TV or IPTV/OTT linear streaming channels from its on-demand content. It even allows on-demand content to be interspersed with live streams or advertising to be added to monetise it.
Other major components of the platform include a playout system for the frontend and backend communication, subscriber administration, an accounting and rating engine, a mediation device, media control servers, and Ateme systems for both live feeds and offline content.
“The integrated solution we have put in place includes traditional interactive OTT services such as digital marketing and social media integration, where the SBC streams are published on Twitter for important events,” explains Arafat.
The entire system has been designed to expand to multi-server installations with virtually unlimited capacity, Arafat claims. “The system efficiently fetches on-demand content from the centralised storage to edge servers, using our built-in media cache package for immediate streaming and playback from the local cache.”
One of the big challenges with this installation was addressing the client’s security needs, explains Arafat.
“The SBC network has a lot of security policies in place, so integration with their network required a deep understanding and detailed study of their existing technology.”
Basic operations and maintenance training was provided to monitor and troubleshoot the issue at first level. The solution is fully scalable and further integration is possible with other elements such as subscription, billing and service delivery platform in the future.
Owing to the success of the project, the solutions provider has also secured a five-year contract to manage operations, maintenance and content management for SBC’s OTT platform while also undertaking regular upgrades and enhancing it with new features. This includes securing the platform against cyber attacks.