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25 April 2019

Astro, Airtel ramp up streaming efforts with Synamedia upgrade

Synamedia swiftly backed up its NAB fanfare with a double dose of customer announcements this week, securing a deployment at Malaysian pay TV outfit Astro as well as renewing a long-term deal at Indian telco behemoth Bharti Airtel. Given Synamedia’s widespread NDS seed, neither Astro nor Airtel are entirely new customers as such, although the significance sees Synamedia eating up a larger share of the video pie.

The two Asia Pacific TV trailblazers have been busy of late; Astro ramping up its OTT video efforts with the SVoD service Tribe and more recently the introduction of free streaming service NJOI Now, while Bharti Airtel has shown a keen eye for hot trends when it became the first Indian operator to launch a service based on Android TV operator tier two years ago.

These modernized services have drawn an influx of new subscribers and so Astro has deployed Synamedia’s cloud-based Infinite video platform and Airtel has signed a multi-year contract for the continued use of the old faithful VideoGuard technology – 12 years after the operator first tapped NDS.

Astro is specifically sourcing Infinite for the Astro Go TV Everywhere service, claiming major UX improvements across video streaming services and existing DVR. Customers with Astro Go access, currently only available in Malaysia, can now upgrade to new hybrid DTH-IP set tops supporting 4K UHD with upgraded UX and cloud DVR – providing on-the-go access to recordings on the home DVR. The manufacturer for the new 4K UHD hardware hasn’t been publicized, although our records list Arris and Pioneer as Astro’s two set top suppliers.

As part of the Infinite upgrade, Astro Go now offers a next gen UI with enhanced search, enriched metadata, and instantaneous playback delivered via Synamedia’s ABR technology. ThinkAnalytics powers content recommendations for Astro Go, as well as the company’s other video properties, so there is likely some metadata sharing going on between ThinkAnalytics and Synamedia. Sweden’s Accedo built the all-important iOS and Android smartphone apps for Astro Go.

One bone of contention we have to pick here is that there appears to be some overlap with Harmonic and we have reached out to Synamedia for clarification. In the meantime, we know Thomson Video Networks (now part of Harmonic) was selected by Astro to provide its ViBE VS7000 multiscreen and HEVC video system for Astro Go in early 2015. Following this deal, Thomson was then tapped by Astro to also supply its NetProcessor multiplexer video processor, ViBE EM4000 HD/SD broadcaster encoders, Amethyst III high-density redundancy switch, and XMS network management system. Combined, these products drive Astro’s Multiscreen Unified Compression System (MUCS) – a platform enabling it to deliver additional services at a reduced bandwidth.

That said, at NAB 2019, Synamedia was showcasing automated and efficient quality control with its Virtual Digital Content Manager (vDCM), which it says uses machine learning to help operators reduce bandwidth and storage costs without compromising on the experience. We noted at the time how this seems to involve real time adaptation to the content, in the spirit of content aware encoding but instead adjusting ABR as picture complexity varies. So, the bitrate would be raised when showing a fast-moving sports scene and then reduced for a talking head. Normally, ABR implementations use output profiles set to constant bit rates, which means either that quality deteriorates unacceptably, or the bit rate has to be overprovisioned to cater for more complex content.

As for security, looking back, we can see NDS MediaHighway middleware being deployed for Astro’s hybrid IP-DTH pay TV service Astro B.yond, launched back in 2011, to support the delivery of VoD content, also using NDS VideoGuard encryption, although Astro B.yond was rebranded as Astro IPTV somewhere down the line. The waters are muddied further when we consider Irdeto’s Broadband multiscreen TV with ActiveCloak for Media protection handles security for Astro Go, so we know NDS never made the jump from DTH-IP to TV Everywhere. Of course, an important component of the Infinite video platform is delivering the same high-quality viewing experience on one-way and two-way connected devices.

The Bharti Airtel deal is a little less convoluted. Synamedia has secured an extended contract for NDS VideoGuard to continue securing Bharti Airtel’s live sports, news and entertainment assets delivered to its 16 million DTH subscribers.

But interestingly, the agreement also includes the Synamedia Foundation platform, which it says allows Airtel to deploy new premium services without compromising on security. Foundation is essentially a start pack for operators which are tentative towards embracing OTT, providing the basic hybrid IP infrastructure to bundle live TV and VoD with heavily in-demand apps like Netflix and YouTube in the home. Operator customers can manage their own middleware, video processing, service and security on-prem, while ensuring content protection over satellite, cable and telco networks. A product like this could be crucial in getting a foothold in emerging markets, especially where Synamedia already has its NDS toe in the door.