“It’s crucial for operators to deliver uninterrupted, top quality content every time,” says Maxicaster’s Andrew Brown
While some travellers like to completely disconnect from technology during their cruise or ferry journey, others prefer to unwind by watching a blockbuster movie or a TV series, or cheering on their team during a live sporting event. But issues such as unstable connectivity networks, low latency, slow bandwidth speeds and inclement weather can make it challenging to consistently deliver high-quality live TV or video on demand (VoD) entertainment at sea. And this can have significant ramifications for the overall passenger experience.
“It doesn’t matter how fantastic the rest of the cruise was, passengers will remember the moment they missed their team score the winning goal because the screen froze or went blank,” says Andrew Brown chief operating officer at Maxicaster. “Entertainment is a fundamental element of the passenger experience, and in an industry where competition is rife, it’s crucial for operators to deliver uninterrupted, top-quality entertainment experiences every time if they want to satisfy and retain customers.”
However, it is difficult for them to achieve this goal. “There are so many connectivity options that it’s hard for operators to identify which best fits their needs,” explains Brown. “Equally, crew members do not have the time to become experts in the daily operation and management of the onboard entertainment system.
“Cost is also a prohibitive factor – for example, there’s a groundswell towards cable modem termination system (delivering internet protocol) connectivity but many ships are still using legacy radio frequency infrastructure and they don’t want to spend a fortune upgrading it.”
Drawing on more than 40 years’ experience as a video-centric software and technology provider, Maxicaster has developed a cost-effective solution to help operators overcome these issues, while also empowering them to easily upgrade their entertainment offering over time. The all-inclusive, modular solution incorporates all aspects required to launch and maintain a premium service including software, hardware ongoing services and content. Importantly, this is offered as a technical managed service, removing the operational barriers for maritime operators.
“Ship operators have historically purchased standard internet protocol TV solutions that had limited upgrade possibilities, so they either had to keep the same entertainment solution for years or invest a lot of money to fully replace it if they wanted to offer something new,” says Brown. “Our modular solution gives operators the flexibility to start with core modules such as live TV, VoD and playout channels, and continually evolve their offering to include additional service modules in line with changing market trends, guest expectations, and operational environments. They tell us what they want, we update the software, and they pay a monthly fee to cover whatever services they’re using.”
Maxicaster has partnered with high-speed connectivity and entertainment solutions provider Anuvu to make it as quick, simple, seamless and cost-effective as possible for ship operators to roll out new entertainment services.
“We’ve combined Anuvu’s expertise with ours to automate the content pipeline for our clients,” says Brown. “This provides our customers with piece of mind that all aspects associated with the technology, connectivity and premium content are handled on their behalf. There are a lot of moving parts associated with running a ship, so it is our job to ensure the entertainment service covers all angles and runs seamlessly. Simplicity and operational efficiency are also key factors. It takes around three days to install the technology and get the entire entertainment experience up and running. We can do this while the ship is in dry dock or in service.”
Norwegian ferry brand Fjord Line is just one of many cruise and ferry operators that has already capitalised on the flexibility and scalability of Maxicaster’s modular solution.
“Initially, Fjord Line wanted to broadcast high-quality live and VoD content to cabin TVs and shared screens in public spaces,” says Brown. “However, some of its vessels operate short-haul routes where passengers typically stay in the public spaces rather than private cabins. With that in mind, we extended the service so passengers on any Fjord Line vessel can now watch live TV and movies, as well as on-demand content, on their own mobile devices. Passengers simply connect to wi-fi and they’re automatically redirected to the entertainment portal where they can choose what to watch.”
Quark Expeditions, meanwhile, uses Maxicaster’s playout channel services to create and schedule its own channels populated with a mix of live and VoD content. As a premium expedition operator, Quark regularly asks guest lecturers and subject matter experts to offer in-person lectures to passengers. With the Maxicaster solution, these live streams can be viewed anywhere onboard the vessel as the session is automatically recorded to be shared as VoD content later.
“Quark can easily create and schedule a curated channel consisting of live, VoD and pre-recorded content that guests can watch via cabin TVs or public screens to deliver a unique and educational entertainment experience,” says Brown. “For example, it might stream a live lecture about whales, followed by a video of a whale-watching trip from the previous year and a pre-recorded presentation from a different expert. This means it can always offer high-quality entertainment, even when sailing in areas with less reliable network connectivity.
“In addition, passengers can watch content whenever is most convenient for them. We’re taking this a step further for some clients by enabling their passengers to record upcoming content on their own devices, so they don’t have to worry about missing their favourite football team’s match while having dinner.”
Another benefit of Maxicaster’s solution is that it is network-agnostic, which enables clients like Fjord Line and Quark to leverage the most optimal network at any given time to ensure they can deliver reliable entertainment services wherever they are sailing.
“Being able to switch between different networks is beneficial for our clients, but they also need to control costs, so our solution allows them to set customised rules to throttle bandwidth in certain situations,” says Brown. “For example, they could set a rule to ensure that VoD content is only ever uploaded at a specific maximum bandwidth speed using VSAT, 4G or StarLink connectivity. So, if a ship were to connect to 5G, the solution will automatically pause the upload to prevent bandwidth usage and costs increasingly exponentially.”
Maxicaster will showcase its solution at Shippax Ferry Conference in April 2023. “We’re looking forward to outline how our solution can empower ship operators to always deliver high-quality entertainment, wherever in the world they’re sailing,” says Brown.