Dominic Baillie of Ten Sports tells us how we can maximise revenue generation while minimising exposure to costs.
All of us know how our industry has moved from one of public service to big business. We are also acutely aware of the global trends of declining advertising revenue, increasing content costs and competition for subscribers. The degree varies between markets but generally, we find budgets are constrained and revenue harder to come by.
This need to increase revenue, to wring every last drop of benefit from expensive content has spurred technical innovation. Revenue generation was the driver behind the move to digital, HD and now, 3D. Each format offers an enhancement to our customers but results in, at best, short-term revenue increases and at worst, customer retention.
Perhaps the most interesting development has been to leverage the internet as a delivery system for video-on-demand and low-resolution streaming. Until now, broadcasters have tried to find ways to enhance the quality of the picture in order to retain customers and secure advertising and/or subscription revenue. It seems, however, that viewers are very keen to access the content they want even if the quality is lower and are even prepared to pay for it! It is the content that is of prime importance.
Unfortunately, the exploitation of new revenue streams has also resulted in an increase in costs.
Our legacy systems cannot be dismissed. We rarely have the opportunity to start from scratch and have to continue to leverage these major investments not least because they are already on-air. The temptation perhaps is to use them as our starting point, work around them, bolt on new technologies and workflows. We rely on the comfort zone of proven and well understood solutions and try and make the new formats and new delivery methods fit into them. Unfortunately, we are often forced down this route by proprietary files or interfaces. The high costs involved with upgrading our entire infrastructure using a video-centric philosophy has led to hybrid systems or standalone islands.
Some broadcasters also utilise different teams and different workflows, even different systems to package content in the right way for the target system or device. We have seen the uptake of workflow management software to relieve the complexity of hybrid systems and MAM to manage the broad spectrum of content and metadata.
While technology has enabled us to generate income from new markets, it is at the cost of complexity and a lot of cash. So what can we do to maximise our ability to generate revenue and minimise our exposure to costs?
How can we ensure the architectures we design today will be able to grow and evolve with changes in technology we haven’t foreseen?
I believe the answer is to build our systems even more intelligently.
We need to shift our focus from video to content and make our solution content-centric. We should invest our budgets in storing, managing and manipulating content, and moving its delivery to the periphery.
We should save expenses by keeping content in the file domain until delivery and limiting our need to manipulate video itself.
Our industry can leverage the huge cost savings found in utilising IT equipment to store content. I am aware of arguments based on reliability and support. While this was significant in the past, the IT industry supporting big business today has reliability criteria even more stringent than ours. We can and should build redundancy and protection into our designs to ensure we maintain 24×7 availability.
When it comes to content delivery, we should embrace cost-effective solutions, adopt the mentality that we will evolve our formats and distribution methods over time and invest proportionately. We need to find efficient methods of repurposing and delivering content in the file domain and utilise the growth of the internet, the bandwidth available in the cable, DTH and mobile networks and the immense power of computers today.
There are some vendors who are helping change our mindset to embrace these ideas. The recent foray of big name automation and/or server manufacturers into the ‘channel- in-a-box’ space shows their interpretation of the market. There are great systems out there and some people have been developing these solutions for years. This technology has evolved to a state where it’s time we gave them serious consideration.
We need to select solutions that embrace formats supported across vendor platforms. We must build our solutions around one or multiple house formats and have the ability to translate between them. We should seek out those vendors who understand how we need to describe our content and manage metadata in an ever-changing landscape.
The steps to a content-centric philosophy are straight forward. Firstly, view our legacy system as a delivery channel. Then, invest in our file-based infrastructure, storage, transcoding and management. Finally, change our ingest and new delivery channels to cost-effective modules that can be easily added to or replaced as necessary.
At NAB this year, there were two dominant themes. One was the buzz around 3D, the other perhaps more interesting in the context of this article. There was a lot of talk about SOA, which stands for Service Orientated Architecture. Simply put, it is a method for systems to advertise their capabilities to others and make them available to be utilised over standard interfaces.
SOA has been used in IT for years and forms the building blocks of applications and the internet. For the first time, I have now heard it being widely discussed for broadcast.
We have always wanted to bring together the best-of-breed Products into our systems but have come across the need to develop interfaces to integrate them. This presents several problems.
SOA, if implemented properly, can overcome this. In effect, it will remove the risk of integrating solutions by developing standard methods for interfacing Products. We are on the verge of being able to integrate, exchange metadata and status information between systems without the need for custom interfaces, co-operation or development between vendors.
SOA removes another obstacle to the content-centric view of broadcast systems. It is a step towards breaking down the barriers to integrating Products from multiple vendors. SOA makes it easier to centrally manage our content and systems, and to remain in the file domain throughout our workflow.
At IBC, I would recommend that you take time away from the normal and well-understood systems. Instead, take a look at some of the IT-based ideas and don’t buy anything that does not have an ‘SOA-enabled’ sticker.
Dominic Baillie is the VP of Engineering and Operations at Ten Sports, Dubai.