Astro embraces Broadpeak multicast ABR, putting Tribe loss behind it

Malaysian pay TV operator Astro appears to have fallen off the wagon when it comes to OTT video after it came to light that the company quietly closed down its SVoD service Tribe at the tail end of 2018. As Faultline Online Reporter said at the time, Tribe’s shuttering serves to emphasize the difficulty in matching up against the might of ad-supported streaming offerings across Asia Pacific – but rather than knocking OTT on the head altogether, Astro has recruited the expertise of CDN technology vendor Broadpeak to boost its next OTT frontier while maintaining a distinct satellite flavor.

What we mean by satellite flavor is that the partnership involves Astro delivering content via its preferred satellite distribution method to premises, from where content is then sent over WiFi and streamed on mobile devices via an Astro app. Essentially, the idea is about bringing DTH-quality content to public places with notoriously poor broadband connectivity via multicast ABR, and the press release implies a focus on public spaces, presumably hoping to strike partnerships with businesses with regard to sponsoring WiFi hotspots.

The French multicast ABR pioneer is supplying Astro with its revered nanoCDN technology to deliver live and catch-up TV to consumers, businesses and public venues, in conjunction with vendors Viaccess-Orca, Neotion and Datacom, all third-party stakeholders in the project for which Broadpeak also served as systems integrator.

Broadpeak’s multicast ABR for satellite technology will distribute 20 MPEG-DASH live channels for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as Android TV. Astro’s deployment includes Broadpeak’s BkE200 transcaster server, BkA100 analytics, BkS350 origin and packager servers, complementing the nanoCDN technology which enables Astro to deliver in ABR formats like HLS and DASH.

Interestingly, a recent report from our research arm Rethink TV identified how there are signs of multicast ABR technology being embraced in Asia Pacific, where the enormous scale means that by 2023 it will be the largest region for multicast ABR in the world. The multicast ABR market can thank Broadpeak for initially driving the market, not just for being first out with a product but also for continuing to have the best version on offer.

While the cost savings are clear, Broadpeak and other M-ABR advocates have had to work harder to establish the latency benefits, because at first sight it might seem the process of converting from unicast to multicast and back again might add to total delay. However, this overhead is greatly outweighed by savings achieved in both major contributors to OTT latency, packaging and buffering.

What nanoCDN brought to the table was converting home gateways, cable modems or set tops into end points of a CDN then fanning out to multiple IP devices in the home. This can then be combined with multicast ABR to cut bandwidth costs through the whole delivery path including the CDN. Unicast delivery can still exploit nanoCDN at the access level by requiring only one unicast stream per household even when several people are watching it.

Astro’s foray into multicast ABR for DTH delivery differs from the primary Astro Go TV Everywhere service, which recently underwent a major upgrade with Synamedia back in April, using the Infinite video platform and claiming major UX improvements across video streaming services and existing DVR. This enabled pay TV customers with Astro Go to upgrade to the latest hybrid DTH-IP set tops supporting 4K UHD with a revamped UX and cloud DVR – providing on-the-go access to recordings on the home DVR. 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. Meanwhile, Harmonic is the incumbent encoder supplier at Astro, for both OTT and broadcast.

Astro’s latest results report said ceasing operations of the regional SVoD offering Tribe, along with its live streaming service Tamago, was in favor of reinvesting in its core businesses, although clearly next generation video technologies like multicast ABR will continue to play a significant role in the evolution of pay TV operators, despite their struggles to go it alone in SVoD. This is promising progress considering that when ABR video delivery first burst on the scene over a decade ago, it looked like it would be confined to some niche or user generated content and never challenge multicast IPTV enabled by Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP) at a fixed bit rate.