Engineering live OTT: In conversation with Divyesh Mahajan, CEO, SWOO

Divyesh Mahajan, CEO of Swoo speaks to BroadcastPro ME about engineering a live online platform and gaining critical traction with audiences across MENA and India.
Divyesh Mahajan, CEO of Swoo.

Live OTT with undetectable latency disrupts traditional consumption of content and opens new possibilities for advertisers and content owners. Divyesh Mahajan, CEO of Swoo speaks to BroadcastPro ME about engineering such a live online platform and gaining critical traction with audiences across MENA and India.

In the MENA region’s fragmented SVOD and OTT landscape, content alone is not king. Exclusive content, preferably in Arabic, would rule, but at under $10 per subscription, OTT revenue models are at best precarious. Divyesh Mahajan, CEO of Swoo, decided to go one step further than just provide Swoo, a platform for content creators. With the Swoo Trivia Show, he has stepped into the technically challenging arena of live online streaming … with live audience interaction.

Also read: The engineering behind the Swoo platform explained

An anchor takes the viewers who tune in to the Swoo Trivia Show MENA on the Swoo app through a rapid-fire quiz on topics ranging from the FIFA World Cup to general knowledge-related questions. Participants are given 10 seconds to lock in their responses. Those who successfully tackle the 10 rounds of questions are eligible to share the prize money. Six months since the launch of Swoo, a platform for content creators, and the Swoo Trivia Show, we ask Mahajan about the technical challenges, audience engagement and plans to monetise the self-described “disruptive” online format.

You launched Swoo in November 2017. What was the vision behind the platform?

Swoo is looking to disrupt the way social media and broadcasts are put together currently. We would like to focus on social entertainment using live streaming formats. Our aim is to engage with influencers and establish a connection with audiences in India and the MENA region – be it students, young working professionals or mothers across different parts of MENA and India – and encourage them to participate in the Swoo Trivia Show to earn money. It was only in November last year that we launched the platform. During this time, we have seen around six million downloads.

Egyptian anchor of the live online quiz show, Swoo Trivia MENA, Mohamad Badr.

You have maintained what you describe as a “narrow laser focus on the live format”. What is the Swoo Trivia Show?

The Swoo Trivia show is a live video streaming game hosted at a specified, pre-defined time with 10 multiple choice questions. Online participants have to answer each question in 10 seconds. Prize money worth thousands is awarded to the winning participants, redeemable through money wallet apps like Paytm and Paypal.

With a growing viewership for each episode of the MENA edition of the trivia show, there is clearly an audience for the live online format. Why did you choose to focus on the live format?

We have always aspired to operate in that intersection between traditional TV and the element of live interaction that the online space offers. I have always related to how TV works. There was a time in the 2000s that we would watch TV series at a particular time, and if you missed the show, that was that. There is, of course, a unique set of challenges with a live online audience, but we have been able to gain traction both in India and Egypt.

There is an operational aspect to producing the show, apart from the technological challenges. For instance, the host needs to know what the next question is; someone needs to fire that question. There is an element of coordination between multiple parties and that question lasts on the user’s stream for 10 seconds. In that span of time, responses are gathered, the host gets the summary in real time and communicates the same to the participants in terms of how many got the question wrong, etc. All these elements have to come together with minimal latency.

Traditional OTT platforms typically adapt to each user’s connection by creating variable delay, ranging from seconds to minutes. While that should not pose an issue for watching one’s favourite serial on VOD, live content streaming cannot endure delays. What were the technical challenges in setting up the live streaming platform?

Sending a live feed from one mobile to another is a complicated engineering feat, and on top of that a business model has to be created. The synchronised live OTT format that the Swoo Trivia show is, complete with interaction from the audience, demands considerable technical work. Given that we do not have too much control over infrastructure in India and Egypt, we had to figure out ways to send out data packets in a timely manner and maintain user experience despite losses in the data packets.

Working with proprietary engineering solutions, we needed to get the OTT video platform delivering frame-accurate video and audio synchronisation across any device. There is no fixed recipe that works. Egypt has a different infrastructure than India. Also, from Egypt we are telecasting to the GCC including Algeria and Morocco.

A 100% solution does not exist, but there can be a 100% management of challenges. We have done a lot of work in the open source space, which forms the basis of what we want to build, refine and present as a go-to-market strategy. We have relied on software to navigate through the challenges.

With an OTT market looking for differentiation, it is easy to see the commercial appeal of a live platform such as Swoo Trivia. Will you be monetising the platform soon?

Commercial engagement is in our roadmap. Given that our trivia formats attract a certain income demographic, we believe brands would find it appealing and monetisation will follow naturally. However, at present, our focus is on building all-important traction to attract regular participants. Eventually, we will look to have different monetising strategies like social gifting, e-commerce, advertisements and product placement, among other options.

Apart from the live format, the Swoo platfom hosts more 100 broadcasters across the MENA region. What are your plans going forward?

Typically, our content creators in MENA come from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Algeria, among other countries. Going forward, we will be creating formats to allow our content creators, such as doctors and other experts, to interact privately with their clients with an element of monetisation and moderation built into it. 


The engineering behind the Swoo platform explained

Mahajan explains: “Swoo is a live streaming app with unique features such as broadcasting a conference (with multiple broadcasters). The user can watch, interact and comment on both live and recorded videos.

“The Swoo app is available on both Android and iOS platforms. We use highly scalable, low latency CDN servers to provide the best live experience.

“We follow MVVM architecture on both Android and iOS. We also follow the latest Google and Apple guidelines for writing any new modules (such as using Kotlin and Swift).

“Swoo also hosts multiple live games that require highly scalable and efficient systems to manage thousands of simultaneous players. Our backend tech stack is mainly in JAVA and we follow micro-service architecture.”