Every day, billions of people around the world consume video content, whether it be viral videos, television shows, movies, sports, or any number of other events. Russians are some of the most prolific viewers of media in the world, as TV and movies are extremely popular across the country.
Until recently, streaming content in Russia was largely a challenging process, and content often wasn’t easily accessible. As the country’s largest internet company and a leader in intelligent products and services, we realized we could use our expertise to deliver a better streaming experience. We set out to develop an intuitive, smart platform that offers an engaging one-stop-shop for streaming in Russia.
Today we’re excited to be revolutionizing the streaming experience in Russia for tens of millions of viewers every month with our Yandex.Live service, which makes it easier than ever to watch content online. Yandex.Live (in Russian) brings together all of our video services, powered by our intelligent machine learning tech to create a personalized viewing platform with a vibrant community. The free, accessible service makes it easy for people to watch their favorite serials, films, games, and events wherever they may be.
The Journey to Yandex.Live
As a first step to launching our streaming platform, in 2013, we acquired KinoPoisk, a popular database for movie information in Russia with a strong reputation among Russian movie buffs. In 2015, we added streaming capabilities to the website, turning KinoPoisk into a central hub for online media.
We developed a smart recommendation system for KinoPoisk, using our machine learning technologies to make personalized content suggestions based on user behavior. We also introduced our Deep Dive technology, which uses facial recognition to detect actors and provide viewers with their names and filmographies.
Over the years, we’ve expanded our media offerings with the expertise we gained from turning KinoPoisk into a hub for intelligent streaming to ultimately debut Yandex.Live in 2018. Yandex.Live launched as a free web portal for Russians to stream their favorite TV channels. An intuitive interface allows viewers to quickly switch between channels, just as if they’re watching a traditional TV. Aside from TV shows, Yandex.Live also streams live sports events, concerts, and theatre shows.
We integrated our existing video services into Yandex.Live, so the streaming platform is now our central video platform. Users can continue to watch live TV through Yandex.Live, but the service now integrates films from KinoPoisk, exclusive content from influencers, and live concerts and sports. Yandex.Live is an intuitive, smart portal for Russian internet users to view entertainment, and with this year’s launch of an HDMI dongle, they can now stream Yandex.Live from their TVs.
A Smart Streaming Platform
One of the most exciting developments in our online video efforts has been the integration of our machine learning expertise. Yandex.Live users benefit from a customized array of media recommendations, powered by our intelligent algorithms. As users gain access to more and more streaming content, our technology helps push the most relevant videos to our users.
Our machine learning algorithms cultivate an intelligent viewing experience by using activity like watching history and ratings. In May, we expanded our recommendation engine to include an entirely new channel powered by AI, “My Live.” The new channel presents a personalized list of videos from around the web - whether it be Russian television networks, vloggers, or movies. Users can like and dislike videos to fine-tune our algorithms, which also consider watching history and other viewing behaviors to create the feed.
While we use AI to help users find the most relevant streaming content, we also use the tech to make sure content is of the highest quality. Since 2018, we’ve been using our super-resolution technology, DeepHD, to improve the quality of streams in real-time on Yandex.Live.
Part of what drives us to continue enhancing the intelligent tech behind Yandex.Live is the service’s engaged community of users. Every day, millions of viewers tune in to Yandex.Live, and we’ve added features to create a communal viewing experience. Each channel in Yandex.Live has a chatbox to the right of the stream, enabling users to discuss what they’re watching with other viewers and react to the program.
Across our sports programming, we’ve added the ability to respond with emojis during live streams. As sports tends to generate high emotions, the emoji reactions are a popular way for viewers to have an immersive experience. They can react to events in the game and see how others are responding. We rolled this feature out during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when people could watch streams of the games on Yandex.Live and react with emojis and using the chatbox. Football games continue to be popular following the World Cup, with viewers engaging with the community as they stream Russian Football National League games.
Yandex.Live also helps bring events to people who may not have a chance to see them in person. Theatre broadcasts, which we stream live, bring some of Russia’s biggest theatrical shows to viewers across Russia. A performance of Pyotr Fomenko’s “Happy Village,” for example, attracted twice as many viewers when streamed in Yandex.Live as it had across its entire nineteen-year run. Yandex.Live viewers can also use the service to watch international shows right from their homes; for example, a theatrical performance of the German play “Mir nämeds uf öis” by Christoph Marthaler proved to be popular, which we broadcast with Russian subtitles.
We look forward to enhancing Yandex.Live with even smarter capabilities and more content to offer our users the most advanced streaming service in Russia. We will continue to add content from around the globe as we bring international events and media to our millions of viewers.
As the quality and resolution of the screens in our homes and pockets reaches ever higher levels, the comparatively lower quality of photos and videos made decades ago becomes more obvious. Here at Yandex, the Computer Vision team within our Machine Intelligence and Research Division has developed a neural-network based super-resolution technology, DeepHD, to help bring these media classics into the digital age. DeepHD enhances the quality of both photos and videos and with its application to Yandex images and content hosted on our video and TV streaming services, it is the first technology of its kind in production.
Image and video frame processing in DeepHD requires two steps, each using its own neural network. The first stage is the preliminary preparation of the image. The neural network removes compression artifacts from the image, which are otherwise referred to as “noise” and commonly occur in images that have been digitally processed.
After the image is cleared of noise, it is transmitted to the second neural network -- the generator, which increases the resolution of the image. The Yandex Computer Vision team uses GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks, Goodfellow et al. (2014)) architectures to train this network. GANs are neural network architectures in which one network generates high-resolution artificial images from low-resolution ones, while trying to make them indistinguishable from real high-resolution images to another network. The process of increasing the resolution of images and videos is very similar; DeepHD enhances videos by processing each individual frame.
The technology is able to sharpen various aspects of images in videos such as improving the visibility of an object in the shade or even bringing the texture of an actor’s clothing to life by making the smallest details of the fabric more visible. DeepHD does not alter the image by adding things that aren’t already there; the frames of images are semantically identical before and after running DeepHD.
DeepHD is particularly useful when only small or low-quality images are available. One example of this is when a photo has been cropped and a user can’t find the original photo. DeepHD has been applied across our entire database of Yandex images to provide users searching for photos with better, large versions of images.
Our Computer Vision team has also applied DeepHD to a number of low-resolution films and cartoons on our streaming service KinoPoisk. These include famous Soviet-era movies that have, up to now, usually only been available in low quality. Thanks to DeepHD, people can now experience these classic titles in stunning, modern quality online.
An easy way for users to find these videos is searching on Yandex.ru, where they can enter queries on films and cartoons with “DeepHD”. Viewers will know they have found a DeepHD stream when it is accompanied by the “dHD” logo.
Similarly, DeepHD has also improved the user experience for our streaming television service, Yandex.Live. The service provides viewers with live streams of television channels, and with the new integration of DeepHD, users can view higher quality streams that the technology upscales in real time, also marked by the “dHD” logo.
We look forward to expanding our collection of films and videos enhanced with DeepHD super-resolution technology so that our users can experience even more content in stunning high quality.