By GABEY GOH
PETALING JAYA: Chief innovation officer Brian Lenz at Astro, the Malaysian direct-broadcast satellite pay-TV service, is a first-timer to Asia. He moved to Kuala Lumpur with his family late last year.
Lenz, who joined at the end of last year from British satellite broadcasting, broadband and telephony services company Sky, said one of the major attractions which prompted his coming onboard was the opportunity to take on an expanded job scope in a new market.
"Astro and Sky are in a similar business, which is content focused and is really what attracted me to Astro. The opportunity to work in a new market, have a new life experience but with a similar type company," he said.
At Sky as director of product design and development, Lenz managed a team of about 55 people, responsible for Sky Player, mobile, Sky Go and Anytime Plus, as well as 3D technology.
On what the biggest difference between the two markets are, Lenz noted that in Britain, they have the luxury of servicing a homogenous market. "Over here you have all these different cultures and nuances to take into account, and that has been the most interesting aspect for me," he said.
However, according to Lenz, the fundamentals of delivering great content doesn't change because he always goes back to his one core principle when thinking about product and innovation.
"Television is about television. Watching content is the same for everybody, they just want to watch the content they want," he explained. "If you don't get caught up worrying over it and let the content get to the people, then you're at least starting at right place."
The biggest difference really lies in the level of fixed-line broadband penetration, which remains limited in Malaysia, compared to Britain.
"Britain has better connectivity which is more widely available, however when it comes to smart devices Malaysia has an adoption rate that is on par with developed markets," said Lenz.
Which bodes well for Lenz's first project to launch with his new company - Astro On-The-Go - which offers subscribers access to Astro TV channels, live events, video-on-demand (VoD) and Catch Up TV across multiple online and mobile devices.
When asked how similar the offering is to Sky Go, an online TV service that Lenz played a role in developing and helped launch in January 2006, he said: "Both operate in a similar space" with a focus on seamless content delivery.
"But despite doing something so similar, the process is a lot like the first time, and different. What went wrong the first time, isn't what goes wrong the second," he said.
The development of a prototype and testing phase of the On-The-Go project took about two months with Astro working with a number of companies, including Tigerspike, a technology company specialising in personal media, as well as global software security and media technology company Irdeto, to help develop it.
When asked how this mobile content delivery service will fare on the country's existing broadband infrastructure, Lenz said the service offers a wide range of bit rates for video streaming.
The system will automatically detect the type of connection a user is accessing the service from and adjust the video quality according to the bandwidth. "We're trying to make sure it works well for as many people as possible," he said.
In his role as CIO for Astro, part of his remit involves spotting new technology and making a judgement call as to whether to incorporate it into the company's portfolio of products and services.
"It's not so much about inventing the technology but rather how we invent ways to package it all together to form a compelling product. It's more about development than research," he said.
Asked what upcoming technology developments have caught his eye, Lenz answered that the advancements in natural language processing (NLP) is the most fascinating.
NLP is a field of computer science, artificial intelligence and linguistics concerned with the interactions between computers and humans. It is the process of a computer extracting meaningful information from natural language input and producing natural language output.
"The potential of this is immense. Imagine having the system intuitively understand the linkages in content and generating relevant recommendations-based content history. It would certainly simplify and enrich the customer experience," Lenz said.
On-The-Go, Astro's "anywhere, anytime" offering will see existing subscribers enjoying a free two month trial of the service.
Commercial rollout is planned for September, where pricing will be revealed, although Astro has said that the service will be limited to existing B.yond IPTV subscribers and customers with more than one decoder.
For each account, users will be able to log in via two separate devices, with the service currently accessible via browsers on PCs or laptops and an app for the Apple iPad and iPhone. The company will launch an app for Android-based devices by September and Lenz said that there are no plans to develop apps for Blackberry and Windows Phone platforms at the moment.
At launch, the service offers up to 11 TV channels and Catch Up TV services, with access to content determined by a subscriber's current Direct-To-Home package.
The VoD component offers a library of local and international titles from Astro First movies which needs to be downloaded via broadband connected PVR-enabled decoders before it can be accessed by mobile.
The current highlight of available content for On-The-Go is mobile access to all 31 live matches of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Euro 2012, exclusive UEFA Catch Up videos, and UEFA VoD titles.
The company also plans to launch the offering as a standalone service by year-end, but for now, it is only available to Astro subscribers.
For more information, go to www.astro.com.my/onthego.