Shahabuddin Sheikh, CTO, ALTBalaji

The media and entertainment industry has been leveraging cutting-edge technology solutions to enhance user experience and monetise content. With the increasing adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), machine learning (ML) and blockchain, organisations across the industry are exploring new sources of revenue and improving their business efficiency. However, challenges pertaining to cybersecurity still need to be addressed. Shahabuddin Sheikh, CTO, ALTBalaji, shares his views on the key ICT trends shaping the sector and the challenges along the way…

What are the key ICT/telecom technology solutions currently being deployed by your organisation?

We are an SVOD (subscription video on demand) platform, hosting our services on the cloud. Being a streaming service, most of our telecom consumption is data and we have designed solutions taking this into account. The pandemic and its resulting lockdown saw us further optimise our streaming solutions as leading OTT players received requests from the COAI to reduce the pressure on telecom infrastructure. To ensure that other communication channels like government agencies and hospitals have enough spectrum available to run their operations smoothly, we deployed the data saver mode (that is, decreasing the video quality from high definition to standard definition), which resulted in lower bandwidth consumption.

How are new-age technologies like AI, IoT, blockchain and AR/VR transforming the media and entertainment industry?

In the Indian media and entertainment industry, digitalisation is going to play a crucial role as leading players embark on the road to recovery and beyond. The proliferation of cheap internet and affordable smartphones has led to the massification of content, especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3  towns. However, there are slight hindrances as the majority of the population in these towns communicates in vernacular languages. We have bridged this gap by deploying a host of home-grown solutions, that analyse user behaviour and consumption patterns and allow us to recommend content. We are working on the 2.0 version of our optimised recommendation engine.

This system will help improve and elevate user experience to the next level.

What are some of the challenges faced while deploying these solutions? How are you addressing them at present?

Although there has been a rise in content consumption over the past few months, we now face a new set of challenges as the spectrum has not increased concurrently. As a result, the streaming quality of OTTs had to be reduced. We do face slight challenges in areas where the network and telecom range is weak making viewers in these areas consume content at a much lower bandwidth compared to others. With a little fine-tuning to our state-of–the-art “adaptive bitrate streaming”, this issue has been resolved. When we specifically talk about the deployment of services, we are not facing any major challenges as we have been doing all of it digitally, and Amazon Web Services (cloud) make it easier. Earlier, we used to get 90 minutes of weekly user consumption on average, which has gone up by almost 60 per cent.

The most common challenge faced by the OTT industry is buffering and ALTBalaji has solved this puzzle with the help of its dedicated internal team by offering a no-buffering OTT app that provides an uninterrupted viewing experience for our viewers.

What opportunities and challenges has the ongoing Covid-19-induced lockdown brought forth for players in the sector?

In terms of challenges, post-production work like editing, mixing and subtitling of content has slowed down a bit. The primary reason is that these functions require power systems and equipment, or a studio. Rearranging or organising these was quite challenging though we have been successful in it to some extent.

Releasing new versions of the app requires detailed testing and same warrants for different devices of multiple form factors. We are on a journey to migrate these to the cloud and further automate the manual tasks.

Going forward, what are the key technology trends that will dominate the media and entertainment sector?

A recent report from Ericsson clearly reveals the massive changes occurring in TV. For one, the firm’s study found that globally approximately 70 per cent of consumers now watch television and videos on a smartphone, which is double the percentage from just five years ago. Ericsson predicts that by coming year, just 10 per cent of people will watch TV only on a traditional screen, which would mark a 50 per cent decrease in comparison to 2010.

There are many players in the market that have very deep repositories of content. AI, ML and big data help in enhancing their discovery abilities to provide increasingly personalised and curated content. The coming year will bring a multitude of technology use cases to the forefront.

It is expected that voice-controlled technology will acquire a larger role in the near future, following the success of Amazon’s Echo smart home device and Alexa personal assistant. Forthcoming innovations in voice tech hold the potential to radically alter the manner in which consumers search for and listen to music. ML and AI will further penetrate the media industry as innovative analytical solutions are being developed to make data inputs actionable.