Category Archives: Astro

Delivering Malaysia’s First Multilingual TV Guide

We finally did it. After a year of active project planning, development and delivery work, the Astro Byond team that I was part of delivered Malaysia’s first multilingual TV Guide and quite possibly the only TV Guide in Southeast Asia available in four major languages (English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil). You can check it out here (sorry it’s in Malay for now as the English version isn’t out yet).

In a culturally-diverse nation like Malaysia, providing vernacular options are a must. Prior to the project, we also decided to refresh and deploy a new User Interface. There were plenty of challenges to overcome. The major ones were:

1. Tight timelines. This is always the case but could be argued to be a matter of opinion! The timelines had to include several interations of software development so that we could not only get used to the new layout, but also verify the language text (or ‘strings’ in tech speak). This was compounded by an expanded Video On Demand catalogue that contained several different business models, primarily SVOD and TVOD. Netflix only uses one SVOD model while Apple uses TVOD. We don’t have that simplicity for various reasons. So for our VOD service for example, we literally had dozens of test cases to run through.

2. Transliteration Spacing. Everywhere that text appears on-screen is a graphical widget that needs to be flexible to accommodate our 4 languages comfortably. Mandarin’s character-based script is more economical than English and Malay’s Roman-based alphabets. Malay words tend to be longer. Tamil uses vowels and fonts but is structured in such a way that the words are even longer than Malay. The result was a careful balancing act whilst trying to maintain aesthetic standards.

3. Delivery and Testing. This is not just about accepting the development work but going through rigorous processes that identify and eliminate bugs across different types of set-top boxes (STBs). In addition, the whole process of Alpha and Beta testing is necessary so that customer feedback is solicited and used for improvements. Doing this on STBs isn’t as easy as simply doing an App software update on your iPhone! Trial user identification, communication/management, survey automation/collation and management reporting are essential steps in the process to ensure that stakeholders are aware of issues.

4. Marketing. The product management team had to ensure that enough materials – product literature and screen-shots – were able to be generated to support the go-to-market efforts by the Marcomms team. Vetting drafts of the artwork was essential and compounded by the fact that four languages needed to be checked in their own context.

We had some amazing colleagues who led and managed the entire programme to its fruition, of which I was pleased to just be a part of. But the result was that our work with our primary partners NDS was deemed a success on many fronts. It’s been an incredible journey planning and rolling out what is a major improvement that will be enjoyed by over 3 million customers. It certainly gave me a perspective on the gravity of the work, and the excitement that we hoped to give our customers with something new and improved. The work isn’t over yet. Having set the benchmark in a multilingual guide makes future product releases just as demanding. But that’s what it means to be part of the Byond team here at Astro. Going beyond what the competitors can offer and make our products as compelling as possible.

Astro delves into Social Cinema

A movie poster provides the info and link to the rental screen

Pushing the boundaries of video on demand has always been my mantra. Last week, I was proud to again be part of a great team that created another history-making chapter. We took our staple Astro First brand, and extended it to Facebook.

How’s that history-making? Firstly, let me tell you what Astro First is. Astro First is actually what we call NVOD (Near VOD). A series of linear channels that screen movies (one for each channel) at scheduled intervals. You subscribe to the movie (and channel) of your choice within a 48 hour window period and you watch again if you have time or continue at the next slot. Users with a PVR box and no internet connection subscribe to the service via SMS.

Despite its low-tech approach, Astro First was phenomenally successful when it launched last year, primarily because it offered the convenience of viewing local movies within 2 weeks of their cinema release. Subscribers loved it as they saved money going to the cinemas and hefty additional ticket fees. We enabled it on our VOD Store this year on Byond PVR boxes with the ease of remote-enabled purchase.

However, our initiative on Facebook has huge implications: Firstly, Now ANYONE can watch Astro First titles by simply purchasing it from our Official Facebook App and watching it immediately from a PC or Mac. In fact, after making some tweaks, you can a watch it on a whole lot of mobile or tablet devices simply because we make the browser the prime viewing platform (it’s a web app, not native ‘store-based’).

Secondly, it’s revolutionary because it allows all the Facebook features like posting comments or sharing of key moments (curated by Astro) from the player page, generating interest from friends as well as ensuring much of the content inside is viralized. This actually helps content providers or studios leverage the full effect of Facebook in spreading ‘love’ for a particular movie.

Warner Bros actually made the first leap into this ‘social cinema’ experience when the Dark Knight was released 15-months ago. I believe Malaysia is the first country in Asia to try this out. It’s early days yet so we don’t expect a tidal wave of users to come in. What we expect is to delight customers with more ways for them to consume their favourite content. Currently the app is Geo-filtered so only Malaysians will be able to enjoy the service. Hopefully, this will change in the near future and enable more Malaysian movies to be viewed by Malaysians abroad.