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Inside the SonyLiv app transformation journey

Inside the SonyLiv app transformation journey
Manish Verma  |  Photo Credit: SonyLiv

Between June 2020 and December 2020, OTT content provider SonyLiv witnessed a five-fold increase in the number of subscribers. 

The company, in the last three months of 2020, exclusively aired the India v/s Australia cricket tournament and streamed one of the highest-rated original crime drama series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.

But the interesting behind-the-scenes story is the considerable change the Sony Pictures Networks India-owned platform, which started its services in 2013 in a highly-competitive sector, made to its IT backend in the past year. 

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The company began its app transformation journey in December 2019, in a bid to launch a revamped application for each of the 20 platforms -- small screens in mobile phones and iPads to large data-intensive screens such as TVs and Amazon Fire TV Stick -- it offers its services in. 

In June 2020, the platform that had set up partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SaaS provider Clevertap, launched updated applications for better scalability and seamless streaming, as well as customer retention.

“Since we launched (the update in June), we have seen a 5x increase in subscription traffic and a 70-80% increase in the traffic for content consumption,” Manish Verma, CTO at SonyLiv, said in a recent AWS CXO panel discussion on the sidelines of AWS Reinvent.

“Whether it is on the infrastructure side, content programming, content production, churn analysis, retention or anywhere, I think it is all about data and democratisation of the data,” he said.

The platform also had to prepare for situations such as the sudden spike in viewership for a 20-50 second period during pulse question sessions on game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). “The challenge was to ensure that every user had access to view KBC simultaneously without any lag. Some questions were also time bound, where answers given sooner carried bonus points,” Verma told TechCircle.

For KBC, which had an expected footfall of 4-5 million concurrent users, SonyLiv utilised the AWS in-memory database, on which key performance indicator (KPI) benchmarking was conducted, along with Amazon ElasticCache to retrieve information quickly from databases to swiftly customise content, Verma said. Additionally, Amazon DynamoDB was utilised to create user profiles and databases, he said. 

Delving deeper into the technical details of how AWS solutions help SonyLiv, Lindy Anderson, senior industry marketing manager of M&E at AWS, said in a blog post: “SonyLiv uses AWS Elemental Mediaconvert to transcode programming for distribution and archival, while AWS MediaLive encodes live channels. These two solutions together analyse frames in the video and automatically adjust bitrate to provide users with a consistent video quality. While MediaPackage packages the video, Amazon CloudFront handles the content delivery to complete the chain of streaming.” 

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The transformation journey was induced to keep up with the changes in consumer behaviour and the significant increase in traffic, with a goal to offer customers a holistic experience with uniformity in streaming of content irrespective of the type or location of devices.

“As a digital native organisation, for SonyLiv it was more of an app transformation journey than a digital transformation one,” Verma said.

The platform had to be built to offer all technology components in the stack available, even with low-latency networks, while being able to incorporate changes as technology evolves, Verma said.

In a bid to retain customers, SonyLiv built a platform in-house, in collaboration with an Israeli-American startup Redis Labs, which provides sub-millisecond performance at virtually infinite scale.

“It is sort of a customer data platform, which creates a consumer profile and data profile that helps us to offer in-app experiences to recommend the right content,” Verma said, adding that the data platform, built under eight months, was being utilised in day-to-day operations.

“Whether it is content programming, content, production, business sales, product technology, everyone is using the data in a way, which is required to be done,” Verma said. 

For example, if a user logs in to watch a cricket match, the platform collects data such as the sort of content being watched after the match and which content drives subscription -- this allows the IT team to decipher the type of content that should be suggested or produced, without intruding on the user’s privacy.  

The app currently has over 40,000 hours of programming, excluding live TV, and has recorded nearly 100 million app downloads on both Android and iOS app stores. The company said it has sold out its ad inventory for upcoming cricket tournaments. 

Moving forward, SonyLiv will work with the AWS team to improve the data platform, with another revamp expected in the next six months.

“In the next three to six months, we should be able to sort of scale and revamp our data platform, make it more intelligent, and keep innovating,” Verma said.