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Playbox Neo brings Akili Network to life from dual locations

Playbox Neo brings Akili Network to life from dual locations

Playbox Neo brings Akili Network to life from dual locations


Launching a new television channel is not an easy prospect even during normal times, but during the current lockdown nearly everything is made more complicated. Despite this, founders Jeff Schon and Jesse Soleil decided that now was the right time to launch their New York City and Nairobi-based Akili Network, Kenya’s first and only 24/7, free-to-air educational kids’ network.

Schon and Soleil moved from the US to live full time in Nairobi. The company’s CTO, Vincent Grosso, steers the technology direction for the start-up from upstate New York and Manhattan. Akili Kids was conceived as a global operation from the start, with the team sharing programming and technical tasks. With input from multiple countries with multiple video file formats from multiple time zones, the executive staff at Akili knew their playout system had to be flexible, reliable and easy to use with headroom for creativity. And because of the IP infrastructure in Kenya, the system had to withstand power outages and remain autonomous online if communication to the server broke down.

With those parameters in mind, Akili selected the Cloud2TV virtual channel playout system from PlayBox Neo. Cloud2TV is a cloud-based software-as-a-service system that enables broadcasters to operate their playout channels from any location via a web interface.

One determining factor in the decision was the SaaS model and virtualisation of server functions. With core engineering support for the server in Bulgaria at the PlayBox Neo headquarters, Akili reportedly doesn’t need an engineering staff onsite in Nairobi. The platform at a local data centre in Kenya has full system redundancy and master control capability which can be remotely managed from desktops in any Akili office.

“Cloud2TV was designed, as our operations were, as a virtual remote operation from its inception,” explained Grosso. “The data centre in Nairobi where our Cloud2TV server is located, has power and internet outages, and it can be 58 hops from our New York City office. The command and control functions of the PlayBox Neo platform use little bandwidth and set the server to work autonomously for days or weeks at a time if necessary. If this server and its software can work in Kenya, with the outages and unreliable internet, it’ll surely work in any location in the US.”

The Akili Network team uses Slack, Zoom and Skype to communicate globally and instantly as a virtual team. The network’s tasks are well-defined. Weeks before a scheduled broadcast, Soleil logs onto the New York content server to transcode files from content providers. Days before the content is to go on air, the scheduling manager in Nairobi, Anne Sato, completes playlists for the following week. At 10pm Eastern time, the night before each broadcast day, Grosso logs onto the PlayBox server to check tomorrow’s playlist one last time before air.

“As for Akili Network content, our goal is to have 40% of its programming developed by Kenyan producers within the next 36 months,” says Schon. “And with 18 million Kenyan kids out of school, the time is right to get them the best possible educational programming.”

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