It is vital to know the cost of delivering content on multiple platforms in order to develop a monetisation strategy. Tony Taylor discusses the challenges facing broadcasters today and recommends solutions to counter them There is no doubt that one of the most important challenges facing broadcasters and content owners these days is the need […]
It is vital to know the cost of delivering content on multiple platforms in order to develop a monetisation strategy. Tony Taylor discusses the challenges facing broadcasters today and recommends solutions to counter them
There is no doubt that one of the most important challenges facing broadcasters and content owners these days is the need to make programming available across multiple platforms. Increasingly, audiences expect to be able to watch the content they want online and on mobile devices as well as via catch-up and video on demand through traditional distribution.
This is being seen as a potential new revenue opportunity. If at present broadcasters and content owners are being pushed into providing these services simply because consumers expect them, they should certainly have the eye on realising revenues from them in the future.
So much of the debate focuses on monetising strategies. Will transactional, subscription or advertising models or a combination of the three provide the revenues? Are micropayments something the broadcaster can readily collect, or is there a need to work in partnership with an organisation used to collecting large numbers of small payments?
Can advertisers be persuaded to pay incremental fees to be seen on mobile and online versions of the programmes they are already funding through broadcast advertising? Will they bear the cost of reversioning commercials for different platforms? Can they use the detailed demographics available from online and mobile users to target commercials, and will consumers accept this?
Do broadcasters maintain the direct relationship with the consumer? Can content owners build a direct distribution business? Will new entrants to the market cause a significant shift? Netflix spent a reported USD100 million on two series of House of Cards, available only through its online service.
These questions and many more are extremely vital and dominate the debate today. But, according to me, the other side of the business equation is being overlooked. You can only define revenue targets however those revenues are to be raised by knowing the cost of delivering the service.
Clearly, delivering to multiple platforms involves additional costs for the broadcaster or content owner. There is more hardware involved, in creating new versions of content, transcoding and transwrapping it for each device, and storing multiple copies.
In turn, these processes involve more workflows, more paths through the content chain. So there is likely to be the need to extend the infrastructure, to provide more bandwidth to move content around and have more concurrent workflows.
More information needs to be stored, so the metadata schemes will also need to be extended. If the current asset management system is inflexible this can be a major issue, calling for a large capital redevelopment just to make it practical.
Adding a new service calls for the design of a new workflow. Adding a delivery route or device needs another set of instructions, along the lines of:
identify the content
determine the resolution and frame rate, and if necessary for the target device modify it
encode it using the appropriate codec and bitrate (or, in the case of mobile devices, bitrates for adaptive delivery)
perform quality control checks on the content
select or set the required metadata and reformat for the target delivery platform
perform quality control checks on the metadata
deliver the content to the buffer store or to the content delivery network.
Each step requires the content to be routed to a specialist device, which might be a piece of dedicated hardware or it might be software running on a standard server or processor farm. It might even be a cloud service.
Consideration has to be given to whether each of those devices has capacity for the additional tasks. If there is congestion in any part of the workflow, which services will be given priority?
How long can a task be allowed to take before consumers patience runs out because the content they want is not available online? For catch-up services, consumers are increasingly expecting content to be available virtually immediately after transmission: certainly within a few minutes. Does the system have the capacity to deliver this?
Asset management systems have developed rapidly over the past 20 years or so since the term was first coined. At first they were simply the necessary database to find content stored on servers or in digital archives.
Today, a well-designed asset management system will incorporate a significant degree of intelligence. It will not only be capable of a very flexible metadata schema, which can be extended as necessary, it will be able to make decisions based on that metadata and on responses from external devices and systems.
In short, it is the “workflow engine”. Better still, it is an intelligent workflow engine, with the potential to put branches at each decision point. To take one simple example, in the outline above, the fourth step is to perform quality control checks on the content. So the decision point is, first, does it pass or fail the QC. If it passes, obviously it moves on to the next step.
What happens if it fails? You could develop quite sophisticated decision making at this point. Some delivery platforms will be tolerant of a small number of quality errors: you might accept audio clipping if it does not last more than 5ms, for example. So the workflow engine could ask the automated QC device for details of the failures and, if they are within the stated tolerance for this specific delivery, it could make a further decision on pass or fail.
If it still fails, the workflow engine could make another decision, on whether to simply retry the encoding, or refer the problem to a human operator for rectification. If a re-encode creates good content then it is passed on down the line.
And here is yet another advantage. Simply trying again to see if it works better, might get the content through but it is not a very scientific approach. So the workflow engine might be set to collect extra data here. If the content failed when encoded with device A but passed when encoded with device B, then there might be a problem on device A, which perhaps is only revealed on certain types of content.
The immediate issue is resolved the content is passed down the pipeline but the chief engineer will be alerted. If a number of similar instances occur, then the continuing audit trail will show what the problem is.
Similarly, the workflow engine will be tracking each piece of content through the system. If there are large delays then it will know where those delays are occurring.
In a manufacturing business, you can see where the bottlenecks in production lie, and so you can consider investing in those areas to make the line move more evenly. In developing the capital plan to make that investment, you will calculate the effect of the additional machinery on your ability to make products better and faster, what effect that will have on revenue, and therefore, if there is a positive commercial benefit in spending the money.
What we are now looking at in multi-platform delivery is a content factory and, through asset management, good metadata and intelligent workflows, we can treat it in the same way. We can see where the bottlenecks lie, and we can see where we are over-provisioned. If, to continue the example, we only refer quality issues to operators once or twice a day, then having four on each shift is clearly an unnecessary expense.
Ultimately, that is the goal: not just to be able to optimise the human and technology resources but to know how much of each we are consuming in each process. From the audit trail we can simply calculate how much it costs to deliver a piece of content to a given platform. Only when we know that, can we develop a monetisation strategy.
Tony Taylor is Chairman and CEO of TMD