Lebanon-headquartered OTT solutions provider ITWorksME speaks to BroadcastPro ME on designing, customising and deploying an online platform for Saudi Broadcasting Corporation in time for Ramadan.
Saudi Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) has made some ambitious moves in recent months, which include the launch of two online platforms, shashatcom.sa and sbcchannel.sa, to provide its audience with a videoon-demand and live streaming service. Lebanon-headquartered OTT solutions provider ITWorksME, which has operations in the US and Europe, was contracted to design, customise and deploy this online platform for SBC.
ITWorksME is no small player. Founded by CTO Salloum El Dahdaah and partner Dominic Halajian, the company has bagged a number of OTT projects in the region and has created an online platform for Sharjah Media Corporation, Rotana Media Group, Kuwait TV and most of the Lebanese TV stations in recent years. With SBC, the company was mandated to deliver an initial service in less than three weeks.
“We were looking to create a video-on-demand (VoD) portal and offer live streaming for our TV and radio channels, and we needed to launch this within a very short timeframe,” says Esra Assery, Chief Information Officer at SBC.
“Time was a big challenge for such a portal; we had to accomplish training, integration, and testing all at the same time. Failure was not an option, we had to make sure everything was running smoothly” Salloum El Dahdaah, CTO, ITWorksME
As part of that initial service, shashatcom.sa and sbcchannel.sa were available in time for Ramadan, and provided a VoD service as well as live streaming for SBC Channel and KSA1.
“The system we have developed is mature enough to handle such projects and we have the ability to meet short timelines, although it comes with challenges,” says Salloum El Dahdaah, CTO at ITWorksME.
“We have all the solutions in the workflow, all the way from ingest to delivery. The main reason they chose our solution was because it is well integrated with most content management systems and has a host of integrated artificial intelligence elements that facilitate automatic video publishing and delivery. This made the client’s choice easy, as we were able to provide a full solution from hosting, security and video delivery. We were able to deliver everything for them to go online.
“Time was a big challenge for such a portal; we had to accomplish training, integration, and testing all at the same time. Failure was not an option, we had to make sure everything was running smoothly,” he adds.
The Lebanese company takes credit for creating a comprehensive online solution that includes a hosting solution for the websites, a secure platform, a CDN built in-house, a live streaming solution for the TV channels and a VoD service for the shows.
SBC’s online platform uses several of ITWorksME’s proprietary solutions, but especially worthy of mention are the company’s own KWIK transcoders transcoding algorithm, which ensures high video quality with the highest compression rate possible; its in-house CDN solution, ITWorksCDN, which can be expanded into a multi-CDN optimised for video delivery; a custom-built, feature-rich player called KWIKplayer; and a DVR-live solution (KWIKdvr) that allows the publisher to go back in time and clip any video on the spot without the hassle of uploading it.
“We automated the content ingest process so there is zero human interaction. This means whenever they upload a video and put it in its show folder, the platform automatically creates a page for it” Salloum El Dahdaah, CTO, ITWorksME
“In this project, we have more than one solution involved,” explains El Dahdaah.
“The client has chosen the Exagon CMS, a solution developed and maintained by Triangle, a digital creative agency, which is well integrated with our KWIKmotion solution for video delivery. KWIKmotion is integrated with other CMS solutions such as Skwid, The Wall CMS, KMS and WordPress among others.
“We automated the content ingest process so there is zero human interaction. This means whenever they upload a video and put it in its show folder, the platform automatically creates a page for it, making it available online without the need to go to the CMS and create the show manually. The system picks up the title, the description and the publication date and creates the page automatically.
“The DVR-live feature allows the customer to go back in time with his linear stream, clip the video and publish it without the need for any upload or download. Our KWIKwatermark solution is used to sign the videos with the appropriate channel logo. Our CDN was used to ensure smooth video delivery. The feature-rich KWIKplayer provides features similar to Chromecast, including airplay, an elegant thumbnails display, advertising support and adaptive playback.”
El Dahdaah is especially proud of the tech highlights of the project, which include AI, video encryption, transcoding on the go and the company’s proprietary CDN solution. In fact, these features have helped the company secure other projects as well.
“We have had a number of factors working in our favour,” explains El Dahdaah. “For one, we offer a very high level of support to our clients. After Sharjah Media Corporation, we won the contract to build a fully redundant solution for the Ministry of Information in Kuwait.
“They had the challenge to deliver their online platform to a large number of users, and our solution was able to cater to their need. We have also provided our services to most of the Lebanese TV stations. In fact, this is where we started seven years ago.”
ITWorksME claims a world first, explaining that its KWIKmotion platform is one of the first in the world to connect its linear signal to Facebook and Twitter Live.
“We are systems builders, and this allows us to be fast in development We put a huge amount of effort into research and development, and this has helped us stay in the lead. With the industry changing every day, and consumer behaviour changing daily, there is no place for wrong steps,” El Dahdaah says.
At the 2018 Web Summit in Lisbon last year, the company was featured under innovative solutions by the organisers. El Dahdaah is a Linux expert and an IT geek, having dabbled with programming since he was young.
“We put a huge amount of effort into research and development, and this has helped us stay in the lead. With the industry changing every day, and consumer behaviour changing daily, there is no place for wrong steps” Salloum El Dahdaah, CTO, ITWorksME
“I was only 13 when I decided to have Linux running on my computer. I had a vision that the future of enterprise will revolve around servers and not end users’ computers. I am passionate about research and in those days, we didn’t have Google. We had to learn everything from books,” he explains. El Dahdaah later graduated with a degree in Computer and Communication Engineering and co-founded ITWorksME with partner Dominic Halajian.
“It was hard at the beginning, as the real world is different from what you do on your own. One of the TV channels was looking for a complex hosting solution in 2010; we took up that challenge and delivered in time. We knew back then that we would need to offer a different experience to be noticed. Later on, the client came back to us for a streaming solution. In a country where the internet speed was 256kbps at the time, this was indeed a challenge, but we did manage to provide a solution.”
One of the things the partners did over time was build a CDN solution, used by several regional clients.
“Thinking from our end user’s point of view pushed us to create our own CDN delivery,” explains El Dahdaah. “Live streaming is challenging; there is no place for browser caching, your delivery requirements are demanding, so you need to have really efficient delivery with low latency and 24/7/365 monitoring.
“There are plenty of CDNs in the world, and some of them are topnotch. However, none of them allow you to customise each aspect, and this is where we are different. All the way from the DNS, you can make a choice whether it is the server, the carrier or the data centre. “Our CDN treats the TCP packet differently from other solutions, allowing us to have a better throughput. It is designed to serve videos rather than static content.
“As a result, a lot of customisation was done at the kernel level for low CPU usage and fast caching method. We also have inside routes to move the content from the origin to the edges quickly. This allows us to eliminate latency; we are even delivering the secret token keys at the level of the edges and this ensures very quick playback. We have constantly been improving our CDN, enhancing it and fine tuning it to deliver the best outcome. You need to have a good security layer, you need to make sure you are up everywhere, you need a lot of connections with different ISPs. All this has been done. It is a lot of work behind the scenes. ITWorksME took the jump to create this, and it has paid off.”
There have been several challenges with the Saudi platform, as with any such project, explains El Dahdaah. The core of SBC’s online platform is built around ITWorksME’s KWIKmotion platform, which is secure and comes with a host of features. Besides the common features in such platforms, KWIKmotion includes automated captioning in multiple languages and, several levels of security, provides a very high level of compression, offers immediate delivery service to maintain smooth video distribution, and has connectivity with social media platforms for rapid publishing.
Multiple training sessions were provided to Saudi TV personnel on-site and for online streaming, with an online manual provided for anyone who wants to do a quick reference.
“KWIKmotion is in a continuous state of upgrade, and at the moment, we are working on adding a lot of new features like dynamic pictures recognition and tags automation to it in the near future. We are working hard to release some new features at the end of Q4 2018. In fact, we are working closely with some consultants to enhance the UX and UI on the platform. We want to deliver a beautiful workflow for our customers while keeping the strong basis we have,” explains El Dahdaah.
In the meantime, the network is quietly working towards developing additional solutions. For now, the broadcast network’s CIO is pleased with the progress the online team is making.
“We are pleased to work with a partner who’s available and supports us 24/7,” adds the broadcast network’s CIO Esra Assery.