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TV for all

Awaan, an OTT service from Dubai’s state broadcaster, offers content from several Arabic-language broadcasters on a common platform. Heba Al Samt, Digital Media Director at Dubai Channels Network, speaks in detail about the platform’s offerings and its future plans.
Heba Al Samt.
Heba Al Samt.

Awaan, an OTT service from Dubai’s state broadcaster, offers content from several Arabic-language broadcasters on a common platform. Heba Al Samt, Digital Media Director at Dubai Channels Network, speaks in detail about the platform’s offerings and its future plans

Dubai Channels Network (DCN), Dubai Media Inc.’s TV and radio arm, launched its online platform Awaan in June this year, offering viewers access to Arabic TV content from different broadcasters. The idea was to bring as much varied content as possible and build a platform on which broadcasters could showcase their content libraries. In addition to Dubai TV, Awaan has already signed up Al Aan TV and Future TV for free-to-air channels, as well as Selevision’s Seevi to provide encrypted channels.

What makes Awaan unique is the fact that it offers content from many different broadcasters. It also offers subscription, streaming services and video on demand, which makes it a one-of-a-kind initiative by a public broadcaster to offer a common platform for content from various players. It scores well with content owners for the flexibility it offers as a broadcaster can have its own independent service while also hosting content with Awaan.

The platform has been gaining traction since its soft launch before Ramadan. According to Heba Al Samt, Digital Media Director at DCN, Awaan is a way to engage broadcasters and generate quality content on a common platform.

“We had a strategy for Awaan to make it more than just an OTT platform for DCN. There are several OTT players, both regional and international, operating in the MENA market. How do you differentiate your service to get noticed? We decided to choose the best available content to offer to the viewer in the best possible quality,” claims Al Samt.

Awaan was created as a multi-channel network, hence any publisher, whether broadcaster or content creator, can host content on it. The platform also offers full end-to-end support in terms of technology. It handles the full technology part, including content and metadata migration from any platform to Awaan, so any content creators wanting to get on board just need to worry about the content; the Awaan team handles the technology.

Awaan is able to track viewership details and traffic segregated by publisher, media asset, content creator and so on. Content monetisation can also be customised for different publishers with different revenue-sharing or commercial business models.

Awaan’s focus is on Arabic programming for now, but eventually it will have English programming as well.

“We have created a package called Pay to Watch Selevision that offers encrypted channels. The service already has 10,000-plus subscribers and 2.5m views. Awaan is also a streaming platform for live sporting events such as the Royal Ascot, Dubai World Cup and other premium events.”

Awaan has 70,000 video assets, and growing. The platform offers series, documentaries and other types of programme, going back to the ’60s and the ’70s, from DMI’s archives.

The development of the Awaan platform began in 2011. The state broadcaster’s online platform was previously called DMI on Demand and had limited content from DMI’s library only. Awaan includes more services and features, including video on demand, live streaming, catch-up, Awaan Gold paid package (five paid channels – Seevii, Dubai Sports Premium and Awaan’s latest shows), customised user recognition for subscribed users, and features such as start over and resume watching. It also has a completely new look and feel.

“After Dubai Media Inc. (DMI) was restructured to create DCN, the management decided to remodel DMI on Demand as well, and that’s how Awaan was born. We were given more freedom to create an OTT platform that offered content to cater to a wider audience,” Al Samt says.

Al Samt says DCN is the first broadcaster to create an Apple app and have a presence on Apple Watch as well. In addition to being on iOS and Android, Awaan has also launched on Samsung smart TVs and Humax decoders, while support for Chromcast is being developed now.

“We are currently in talks with a local broadcaster to create a VOD service in addition to its live streaming service. Awaan will have a separate page for this broadcaster once the deal is finalised.”

The creation and development of the platform was outsourced to Mangomolo, a Lebanon-headquartered digital technology company. Mangomolo built the platform for Awaan to offer live streaming and video on demand (VOD), automating the entire video delivery process to offer real-time viewership analytics with in-depth profiling that includes age, gender and social status. Also built into the platform is cloud video chaptering, social content synchronisation and virality tracking and social monitoring, for seamless video delivery.

“Mangomolo has been involved right from the start in building Awaan. The company’s involvement began as a conventional technology provider, which soon became more of a deeper collaboration in terms of R&D, testing new disruptive ideas and eventually taking this rather traditional industry to a whole different level.

“Our relationship with Mangomolo has helped us in creating the platform. We launched the beta edition of Awaan a week before Ramadan, because we didn’t want to lose hits during Ramadan. As expected, the platform received substantial traffic during Ramadan,” she adds.

The top three shows on Awaan are Ayna Omry, Al Okhwa Zananery and Al Khayala, with drama, entertainment and music videos being the most watched genres. During Ramadan, the Awaan website recorded more than 500,000 views.

Awaan automates and enhances the entire web streaming platform, from better audience analysis to automated VOD delivery workflow, moving into content monetisation, social engagement/monitoring and ad serving.

“The product will continue to evolve and we will keep adding new features to make sure our clients are a step ahead in terms of making new technology work for them and for their viewers,” Al Samt says.

The service uses multiple CDNs, depending on the latency in delivering content to the viewer. A smart algorithm tracks the speed of delivery to viewers from different locations and serves content from the data point that minimises the latency. For workflow, Awaan uses an automated mechanism with artificial intelligence algorithms that track and automatically ingest content from its internal playout servers while detecting, tracking and removing commercial breaks. This provides clean content in the VOD library and in-depth analysis of content.

To avoid buffering and pixelation, Awaan uses adaptive streaming, a process that adjusts the quality of a video delivered to a web page based on changing network conditions. Awaan has streaming quality from 340p to 1080p to provide HD-quality streams without any pixilation.

“What you see in Awaan today is just the tip of the iceberg. We have very aggressive plans for the platform, to offer the best experience to users on every device. We also hope to empower and nurture talent by giving them a platform where they can share, monetise and analyse their content,” Al Samt says.

The service has developed on many levels in the past five years.

“Now we have more clarity about what we want to achieve. We want to make Awaan the Netflix of Arabic content. Netflix doesn’t offer live streaming, but we do, in addition to VOD, catchup and HD content. We have grown slowly and learnt from other people’s mistakes. We have been testing different models and getting our viewers’ feedback on the services. Not being in the spotlight gave us the time to do that.

“Having said that, we are not competing with anyone but want to create a value product.

Digital media will go forward when everyone works together. Audience engagement is the key to making a digital service successful. We cannot fool the audience, there is a lot of transparency in digital media. We also don’t see the need to push something no one watches; figures speak for themselves. We may not be the first in a lot of things, but we make sure we are the best,” Al Samt notes.