SA’s first VOD service


One of the core systems in processing the high volume requests from
subscribers for DStv Box Office, South Africa’s first ever video on demand (VOD)
service, malfunctioned over launch weekend (22 -23 July) causing some delays
in access.

At the time of going to press DStv owner MultiChoice had issued this statement:
“MultiChoice would like to advise its subscribers that it has made good progress
in addressing the technical problem with its BoxOffice service. The customer
experience of the service has improved. Our engineers are monitoring the
system closely. We would like to thank our subscribers for their patience and

Operational hiccup aside, DStv BoxOffice represents another technological step
forward in South Africa’s pay-TV environment, with MultiChoice consistently
delivering “firsts’ such as Africa’s first digital satellite television service. It also
pioneered the DualView decoder, the Personal Video Recorder (PVR), high
definition (HD) channels, a catch-up service and mobile TV.

DStv BoxOffice is currently available only to DStv subscribers who have SD or HD
PVRs but MultiChoice plans to launch an online version of the service at the end
of the year. This will be available to all South Africans.

At the moment 15 movies – the latest Hollywood blockbusters which become
available to MultiChoice (and DVD rental stores) immediately following their
theatrical run – are available at any one time on the BoxOffice. More movies will
be added to the carousel once new PVRs with more storage space become
available on the market. Each movie can be watched on a pay-per-view basis for
a period of 48 hours.

MultiChoice’s chief technology officer, Gerdus van Eeden, explains the
technology behind BoxOffice. “The system is completely different to linear
broadcasting as we send all the movies as a file download via satellite to the
PVR. This happens in the background and doesn’t interrupt viewing. The file sits
in a specially designed sector of the PVR’s hard drive.

“We download these movie files onto the hard drive once they are presented on
the BoxOffice playlist as one of three options. The first option is the regular user
playlist, secondly the catch-up playlist, and lastly the BoxOffice playlist.

Subscribers can select any movie, view a trailer for free and read a description of
the movie. If you want to watch the movie then you press the “Buy’ option on
the screen and it will ask you to SMS a code which goes to the PVR backend and
generates another SMS back to you which provides you with a link to pay on

MultiChoice then sends a signal to the satellite to unlock the movie, which can
be watched as many times as desired within the 48-hour period. The movie can
also be paused during viewing. At least two new movies are added to the
carousel every week.

Van Eeden points out that the movie file is encrypted onto the PVR hard drive.
“We employ two independent encryption methods. The movie itself, as you play
it, has copy protection on the PVR, which will bar a DVD recorder or video
recorder from outputting to an HTM file. There is also another copy protection, as
per Hollywood studio requirements, for MultiChoice to lock down the content.
Subscribers with HD PVRs will see all movies in HD. All DStv PVRs dating back to
2008 are HD capable.

“During the BoxOffice development phase we looked at VOD models in other
territories. Because South Africa is broadband challenged at the moment the
only option is to push content from satellite as one HD movie uses 11/2
gigabytes. The other issue is that South Africa currently has capped broadband.

American systems such as Netflix and LOVEFiLM rely on a practically uncapped

“The advantage of satellite is that it has huge capacity, much bigger than the
BoxOffice catalogue. However, we hope, broadband willing, to launch the online
BoxOffice service at the end of the year and this will allow for a catalogue of
about 40 movies at any one time. But online movies will obviously be at a much
lower resolution than satellite as HD is not viable online.’


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