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By 11 March 2020 | Categories: feature articles

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The world of entertainment is changing rapidly. Increased access to fibre to the home, as well as a growing number of content creators and video-on-demand services are forcing large entertainment companies to rethink their business strategies and innovate new and exciting ways to delight their customers.

The MultiChoice Group and its companies have long provided subscribers across Africa with quality content, but in this new highly competitive and dynamic environment, it is imperative that it adapts its content and the way it delivers the content if it wants to remain one of Africa’s most successful entertainment businesses.

As part of its digital transformation journey, the MultiChoice Group partnered with Microsoft South Africa across various solutions including Azure, Microsoft 365, D365 and security services.  Key to the relationship is the fact that both organisations share a future view of responsible innovation, as well as technologies and solutions that empower end users.

The partnership is enabling MultiChoice to deal with the challenges of its ever-changing industry by driving efficiencies in the business through collaboration, and to explore innovative ways of delivering content to its subscribers thanks to artificial intelligence and big data analytics.

The net effect is that MultiChoice can streamline its business, becoming more agile and innovative.

As a crucial partner in MultiChoice’s digital transformation journey, Microsoft provides the platform and toolsets that allow it to take its new agile offerings to market quicker, cheaper and better.

Azure as a platform for innovation

MultiChoice’s digital transformation journey with Microsoft started four years ago when the company began exploring the use of Azure as a platform. Initial explorations began with light loads within the business’s IT division, looking at the migration of tape libraries into the cloud. Since then, the relationship has grown exponentially, and MultiChoice is now running test and production workloads across the business. Optimising operations where possible and using Azure as an innovation platform.

In 2018 during the FIFA World Cup in Russia, MultiChoice demonstrated the power of cloud technology when it was able to stream the semi-final and final of the tournament to subscribers in 4k on the Azure platform, demonstrating just how quick and easy it is to spin up these types of services in the cloud and to deliver them to MultiChoice’s customer base.

“MultiChoice has chosen Azure as a key platform on their journey to the cloud,” says Alkis Flemetakis, Account Director – Enterprise Commercial at Microsoft Corporation. “They are continuously assessing the environment and over the last four years, have created prototypes and MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) on the Microsoft cloud platform. Currently, MultiChoice are looking at migrating significant IT workloads to Azure and using AI and machine learning to develop innovative solutions for their customers.”

One such project, which is currently in proof of concept, is the dubbing and subtitling of content for different markets.

“We produce a lot of our own local content and there’s a drive to see if we can use speech recognition to dub and subtitle that content. With the volume of media assets, we have literally thousands and thousands of hours of content, so doing this in a non-automated fashion would just be impossible and inefficient,” explained Brad Eliot, the Group Chief Information Officer at MultiChoice.

Good things coming

A second key development, which will be launched next year, is automated highlights packages for sport.

Using Azure, MultiChoice will be able to produce highlights packages in near real-time for use not only in live broadcasts but also on social media platforms, meaning MultiChoice can still deliver live, easy-to-consume content to customers who are on-the-go but still want access to their favourite sporting content.

Another added value service being explored is that of automated content moderation. Using machine learning, MultiChoice is exploring ways to automate the moderation of profanity, nudity and violence – linking to Microsoft’s approach to responsible AI and providing customers with the peace of mind that their children will not have access to inappropriate content in the future.

MultiChoice is additionally aiming to harness the power of AI and co-create innovation that is locally relevant. Through its partnership with Microsoft, MultiChoice is looking to leverage AI, Mixed Reality and Cognitive Services technologies that are radically changing the audience experience compared to traditional static linear TV.

There is also the potential to use AI to improve accessibility for MultiChoice customers. Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, for instance, narrates the world around a person, describing people, texts and objects, while Microsoft Translator provides real-time captions for the deaf or hard of hearing.

Other players in the Media and Entertainment industry are already enjoying success by leveraging these technologies: SkySports is using Mixed Reality for audiences to interact with well-known golfers, obtain vital stats on their games, as well as accessories, and US Football live event producers are using Mixed Reality to bring the real-life experience of the stadium to the home or sports pub. Families, friends can also engage in the experience using immersive technology. This shows that there are significant opportunities for MultiChoice within AI, Mixed Reality and Cognitive Services.

Leveraging the insights from data

Multichoice noted that the ability to capture data, analyse it and then do more with it is top of mind. The company explained that the cloud allows it to store enormous amounts of data and overlay data analytics in order to develop valuable insights on how to better serve its customers.

This insight then allows MultiChoice to shift from being a blanket content provider to being able to personalise the delivery of its services to its subscribers based on better knowledge of local audiences, ultimately placing it on an even footing with content providers who offer similar services.

MultiChoice can also analyse data on its devices enabling it to predict when a device might run out of space and even monitor the device’s health, ultimately reducing costs when it comes to customer support.

“We are moving towards a data and analytics driven organisation,” says Eliot. “Our data warehouses have content that facilitates understanding of our subscriber preferences. We are modernising our data warehouses and Microsoft is helping us with their existing technologies. At the same time, we are looking to see how we can modernise our data structures by looking at Azure data services. We are currently looking at proof of concepts for technologies such as sim apps and hyperscale.”

Trust as a key factor in opening up new opportunities

Eliot believes that working with Microsoft has opened up opportunities that MultiChoice would never have been able to pursue without the access to cloud computing.

“The volume of data that we have and hundreds of petabytes of media assets – to do subtitling or to do content discovery across those volumes would be impossible and inefficient with on-premises compute. You have to have the scale of the cloud, and that’s where these new kinds of opportunities are being opened up and are becoming quite real for the first time. The machine learning that we can do and the artificial intelligence that we’re working on really wouldn’t be possible without access to big cloud compute.”

Overall, trust has been the key factor that drove MultiChoice to partner with Microsoft on its digital transformation journey. “Microsoft is in the business of collaborating with and helping organisations digitally transform, with their technologies and tools enabling their customers’ success in a seamless way,” he concluded.

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