How and why we have launched own TV channel?
How It Started
In the software development in many cases, knowing less often means a better start without prejudices. We were in the similar position with the TV GAMES product. After we have developed and launched 30 games during the period of 10 months and we finally crossed the magic border of 30.000.000 game plays monthly we sat down and start thinking about new goals.
There were many ideas — simplifying the integration with IPTV and cable set-top box services, enhancing automated cross-platform building and deployment, growing our presence in HbbTV portals across the world, explore US ATSC 3.0 standard, release TV GAMES SDK, develop our first 3D game, integrate with more SSPs, on-board DSPs, port web or mobile games to Connected TVs, use NaCl or try Unity game engine and many others. Team members had different opinions and ideas. Some of them are now under development and we will write an article about those later, while some are on the bottom of our backlog and will be probably never realized.
But there was one idea we were obsessed for a longer time — launching own TV channel with games.
We had a vague idea how to do it, but the goal was clear: We knew it is not possible to broadcast live content 24/7 — something we do not have a video content and what is beyond our capabilities, but that did not worry us — we wanted to use the broadcasting signal only for TV GAMES distribution over HbbTV.
For those who are not familiar with HbbTV there is quick explanation: HbbTV is a technology, which allows launching on TVs and set-top boxes multimedia HTML applications. Most of TVs sold now in Europe support HbbTV. All the users need to do is connect the TV to Internet and tune the TV channel with HbbTV app and it will start automatically. Many well-known TV channels in Europe like ORF, TF1, France 24, RTL, ZDF, PRO Sieben or RTVE already launched own HbbTV apps and we wanted to be among them.
Why We Did It
Using DVB-T, which covers with signal single country only was not an option for us — we were looking for satellite broadcasting as our plan was to cover the area with the highest penetration of HbbTV enabled devices — West Europe. For that we have selected the Astra 19.2°E satellite, which has the best converge of the target area.
The motivation was clear. Despite we have already established a large user base over the world with MoM growth between 5–8% we wanted to have stronger position in Europe and we believed that some of 60 million households, which are receiving the Astra 19.2°E signal will use our service.
We did following computation: We expected the HbbTV penetration is around 8% and from that number around 2% of households will use our service — that gave us around 100.000 new users for the start, which we believed justifies the investments as the revenue from TV GAMES is based on the number of daily players and money we generate from rendering video ads inside them.
How We Did It
After some months of negotiations we agreed on the satellite capacity and the development work started.
The plan was:
- Broadcast the video made by static image loop in the HD quality.
- The TV channel will be used only for transferring the HbbTV application information in the AIT (AIT is a data structure in a transport stream, which is repeatedly broadcast and where the HbbTV application link is stored).
- Only users, which have HbbTV enabled televisions an set-top boxes, will be able to launch the HbbTV game portal, others will see the static broadcast screen.
- The HbbTV portal will be available only for devices, which are connected to Internet. We did not plan in the first phase to use DSM-CC carousel to broadcast any application data.
While our TV GAMES product supports the HbbTV from the beginning thanks to our cross-platform approach (see here), the biggest problem for us was the price charged for use of the satellite transport capacity. We needed to create stream with the smallest possible bandwidth to spare the money and every byte matters. So we spent long time by optimizing the video stream and after some days we were finally create with help of ffmpeg the transport stream (MPEG-TS) with H.264 encoded video (High profile, level 3 with yuv420p color encoding) with 1280x720px resolution and 25 FPS, while the bit rate was under 180 kbps.
Another task was testing broadcast in a “close to real” environment . That part was easy since we already build many HbbTV apps and we had a test lab ready. We broadcast locally both DVB-T and DVB-S signals in order to test the transport stream and HbbTV TV GAMES portal compatibility across large set of devices — at the end we narrowed the list of test devices to fifty televisions we consider being the most popular.
Normally TV broadcasters need to deliver MPEG-TS their signal to the TV channel satellite operator. For that it is necessary to have a route with the guaranteed capacity and latency, backup path, etc. Luckily broadcasting a video loop (which is a static file sent again and again) can happen directly from operator (M7 Group) servers without need to delivery from our side.
So once testing was over and we fine-tune all parts, we were ready.
That is the end of story — we had the video signal and the TV GAMES portal ready, so on September 25th we have started the free-to-air TV channel broadcasting on Astra 19.2°E (on 12515.25MHz, SR 22000).