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Red Bee Media: Strength under pressure

Thu 10, 12 2020

A new global OTT managed service launched on time under remote working restrictions validates the strength of Red Bee Media’s relationship with client TV5MONDE, the resilience of its team and the flexibility of the platform’s architecture.

Red Bee Media, one of the industry’s leading managed services providers, was instrumental in the launch of TV5MONDEplus, the new global video-on-demand platform serving French language series, films, documentaries and children’s content in full HD quality to 193 countries. A project of this scale and profile would be worthy of note under any circumstance but is even more remarkable given it was successfully launched on deadline during this most challenging of years.

Extending the reach of French language programming to audiences across the globe is a central mission of TV5MONDE. The global TV network, which is supported by the governments of France, Canada, Switzerland, Wallonia-Brussels and Quebec, conceived of a new streaming service to deliver high quality and free French speaking content to users worldwide.

Specifically, TV5MONDEplus is intended to promote French-speaking content and the programs of its partner channels, TV5MONDE’s own productions, as well as co-productions and programs acquired all over the world over multiple device platforms.

The project was greenlit in the autumn of 2019, assigned a launch date of 09 September 2020, and put out to public tender.

Strength in depth

Red Bee Media’s relationship with TV5MONDE goes back several years stemming from the integration of the broadcaster’s facility to today, providing staff to operate and engineer its playout, production and post facility. Red Bee Media has also concluded several projects for the broadcaster.

“We have a long term and strong relationship with TV5MONDE but that was no guarantee that they would select us for their streaming service,” says Cong Thanh Nguyen, Key Account Manager for TV5MONDE at Red Bee. “We applied to the RFP as we would any other public tender process and with four competitors were invited to proceed to the next stage.  It was a strict process which included making several demonstrations of our proposed solution.”

TV5MONDE stipulated several criteria in the RFP. A key one was to be fast to market. “They had a strict deadline and they didn’t want to spend 18 months or more to get the service up and running from scratch. They were looking for a managed service provider.”

Secondly, TV5MONDE did not want a phased deployment. They required availability of the service in every region from day one.  “One of their essential requirements was visibility into the management of rights to assets published by region or by country,” says Nguyen.

In addition, the platform needed to be available on multiple devices including the web and set top boxes and with a strong focus on mobile to cater for audiences in territories where mobile is a major or primary means of streaming video.

Red Bee Media won the business at the beginning of 2020, and immediately set to work.

“They were looking for a partner that could provide a managed service end to end including back end and front-end apps and to meet several device types,” says Olivier Braun, Technical Product Manager for OTT at Red Bee. “Red Bee’s managed OTT platform has been developing over five years and contains several cutting-edge technologies. One of its core features is that it is very modular meaning we can tailor solutions for each client from multiple building blocks.”

The building blocks of successful OTT

One of those building blocks is an entitlement engine which is able to manage the rights for each individual TV5MONDEplus asset per region and per country.

Adherence to the highest standards of content security, protection and digital rights management (DRM) was also mandatory. All TV5MONDEplus assets are protected according to content owner rights. Red Bee Media’s solution defines both a MPEG-DASH and HLS source with Google Widevine, Microsoft Playready and Apple Fairplay DRM technologies.

TV5MONDEplus is a free to view advertiser-funded model which required integration of an ad serving solution. At RFP stage it wasn’t decided if this were to be server-side side or client side. In the event, they chose a client-side solution with partner France Télévisions Publicité as provider of inventory using FreeWheel (a Comcast company) for video ads and Google for banner and in-app ads. The back-end integration into Red Bee’s platform was straightforward.

The service was to allow users to pause programming on one platform and continue seamlessly on another device. This required Red Bee to build in authentication and cross device synchronisation of content to the user’s account. Localisation is enabled with subtitles of French language content available in French, Spanish, English, German and Arabic. The user interface is also localised in five languages.

An absolutely vital ingredient for TV5MONDE was video quality which had to remain consistently broadcast standard even as bandwidth and devices varied country to country.  Red Bee used per title encoding to analyse the complexity of individual assets for TV5MONDE in order to optimise the bitrate ladder and produce the best quality to bitrate ratio.

“The quality of video is extremely important to the client,” says Braun. “When we ingest content we use Adaptive Bitrate streaming (ABR) to provide multiple bitrates which the video player can adapt based on the best available bandwidth. All assets are available in full HD.”

On the distribution side, the service taps into the network of TV5MONDE’s existing partner, Akamai. Since Red Bee Media’s platform is CDN agnostic the integration of the service with Akamai’s CDN presented no problems.

The end-user applications for the platform were built by Dotscreen using Red Bee’s standard Software Development Kit (SDK – available in iOS, Android, Smart TVs and Javascript), which allows for seamless connections with Red Bee’s services for content display, playback, entitlement, analytics, security and streaming.

Deadline delivery under Covid conditions

The delivery date was immovable – global pandemic or not. Despite a six-week period from March when virtually the whole of Europe was in lockdown, Red Bee’s team kept the project on track.

“There’s no doubt that Covid-19 made everything a lot more challenging but we were fortunate in already operating a fairly dispersed team,” says Braun. “We have key team members in France, the UK, Sweden and Romania so we are used to collaborating on projects remotely.

“The most severe period of lockdown happened during the specification phase of the project when we were nailing down issues around the front-end UX and the app’s look and feel. Those sorts of conversations are much easier when everyone’s in the same room but on all sides we pulled together and just got on with it.”

Another advantage to maintaining business continuity is that Red Bee’s platform is entirely cloud-based with no need for local deployment in Paris.

TV5MONDEplus continues to evolve both technically and editorially. New features are planned by the end of the year, to improve the user experience on the web as well as on the IOS and Google applications. Distribution will be extended with the TV5MONDEplus application being made available on LG and Samsung connected TVs, then in 2021 on some American cable operators via Adobe Prime.

Hélène Zemmour Digital Director, TV5MONDE says “Press and user feedback since launch has been very positive. Our Francophone and Francophile audiences appreciate this rich and free offer, in French and subtitled in 5 languages. The catalog of more than 5,000 hours of cinema, series, documentaries, magazines and youth programs has enabled Internet and mobile users from all over the world to discover the diversity of French-speaking creation in Quebec, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, French or Africa.”

Zemmour adds, “With Red Bee Media’s OTT-platform, we got access to first-class streaming and broadcasting expertise, as well as crucial features such as advanced ad tech and geo-blocking functionality. This, in combination with Dotscreen’s design expertise, allows us to offer a high-end user-experience comparable to the biggest streaming services available. We are looking forward to continuing this cooperation, developing TVMONDEplus for the benefit of global audiences.”

Stéphane Grandvarlet, Head of Market Area Southern Europe and Managing Director Red Bee France adds: “We are very proud and excited to have been a part of this unique launch for TV5MONDE. By delivering a competitive global streaming service, in a very short period of time and in less than ideal circumstances, we shave showed the strength of our OTT platform and our team.”

TV5MONDEplus is available on www.tv5mondeplus.com as well as on free apps on Apple Appstore and Google Play

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