While detail is an ever-present necessity in any technical field, it’s also important to analyse the broader strategies that create or define a successful organisation. Andrew Williams draws out some sound advice on customer-first, AI and sustainability strategies for the future.
This subject was discussed as part of an expert panel, Leading The Way: Implementing successful technology strategies for media and entertainment at IBC2023, featuring key figures working within Google Cloud, Australia’s Nine Entertainment and Synamedia.
What takeaways are there for companies looking into 2024 with an eye on staying competitive? The evergreen advice is to adopt an audience-first approach and that a focus on green issues can also be a way to increase efficiency. The panel also dug into how those working in broadcast should approach AI at this critical juncture.
The viewer is key
“The biggest trend is a trend that’s always existed. So it’s probably not a trend,” said Rebecca Haagsma, Chief Product Officer at Nine, “It’s customer-first.”
“Where are our users? What do we need to do to make sure we are absolutely single-mindedly providing the content our users love across all of our brands on the platforms that they’re using, and [we’re] not relenting and moving back-to-back to more traditional or known ways of distributing our content.”
Nine is a broadcaster based in Australia that works in TV and radio, and so has extensive first-hand experience of the migration of viewers from traditional television to streamed content.
“When I get that feedback from someone in the business that said we need to do it this way. And I say no, because 99% of our users are here… or 70% of our users are here. Or we’re seeing a trend of our users moving to a new platform. We have to be there,” said Haagsma.
Nine launched 9Now in 2016 as the new face of its streamed content services. And since then it has diversified dramatically to service Nine’s huge audience across Australia.
“Our streaming businesses is called 9Now in Australia,” she explained. “Our users are increasingly moving to different connected TV platforms, and we don’t have one app anymore. We have about 30 different versions of our app to make sure that we’re meeting our audiences everywhere, and driving our feature sets across those.”
She described the approach as having a “hyper focus” on the customer, one designed to “make sure our audiences can find our content.”
An eye on AI
This same approach feeds into how Haagsma views AI, a topic that, as for so many of us, has “been a bit of a grapple” to date.
One key use she identified is in continuing the audience-led strategy, to use AI to help viewers find the content they are after.
“I think the Olympics is a great testbed for us…maybe I follow an English archer…how do I find that in amongst all [the other Olympics content]? That find-ability and discoverability of content I think will be something that our users will really craving and that we haven’t been able to do quickly enough and efficiently enough that I’m really looking forward to us serving to our customers next year,” she said.
The Nine network has the Australian rights to broadcast Olympics content, and the next Summer Olympics games begins on July 26, 2024.
“We have the Olympics rights at nine for the next 10 years,” said Haagsma. “The ability to really quickly push out content out to all of our audiences across Australia will be amazing over the next 10 years. But the boldest thing I think is maybe getting over the fear and utilising [AI] in the best possible way to drive really, really great quality content and experiences, while some of the tasks that are so manual in our industry can move away, and we can let people really focus on creating great storytelling.”
Haagsma also sees opportunity around AI in the customisation of content, creating bespoke versions for different audiences, which ties in with Nine’s use of multiple apps to cater for different sections of its user base.
“Some of the use cases that we’re super excited to implement and use are things like the real ability to hyper personalise our content offerings to our audience,” she said. “The ability to really quickly reach every language group in Australia, so big different communities and different groups. And getting our content to every single group in a way that they want to they want to digest it, read it, watch it, listen to it, it is a real opportunity for us.”
While English is the most commonly-spoken language in Australia, Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese and Cantonese are also common, alongside more than 100 indigenous languages.
The challenge is in making these AI concepts a reality. Nine recently held a “hackathon” to foster the creation of prototypes, and to assess “how quickly we can start to bring them into the every day,” said Haagsma.
Sabine Bravo, Vice President of Business Development at Synamedia, also suggested that much of the current thinking on AI is a little too focused on the concept, and not enough on what the actual execution of that concept will entail.
“If you’re looking at AI, there’s a whole lot of infrastructure areas that people are not really yet thinking about,” Bravo said. “They’re thinking okay, what can we do in media with AI not, if we do something immediately, what languages are we going to use? Or how are we going to address that? How are we going sort the infrastructure, the data, the storage, all the nitty gritty behind what the media is going to do?”
“We’re not there yet,” Bravo said of AI in the media space.
A greener future
She suggested there should also be a focus on making operations greener than they are at present.
“We’re focusing a lot on being a little bit greener. So we’re looking at things like just-in-time encoding or just-in-time streaming, that saves a lot of energy. It saves a lot of things so that we can improve our sustainability for the future,” said Bravo.
A situation she cited is one where, again, AI could potentially have a role. It’s in predicting customer demand for streams in a dynamic way, and tooling up appropriately, in order to avoid wastage of cloud resource.
“We do a lot of live video, so we do live 24/7. If you’re doing that in the cloud you’re doing a lot of computing. You do a lot of computing all the time and so it’s costly. So when you want to become more efficient, more green, you have to be more efficient, less cost less power,” said Bravo.
“We’re also looking at predictions in the usage of subscribers or people in the in the in the network and then trying to see okay, how do we address those when they’re needed?”
As we head into 2024, a focus on audience, a clear-headed approach to AI and increased consciousness of environmental concerns are sensible tent poles for anyone working within broadcast.
These topics, alongside the women’s experience of working their way up in a male-dominated field, were discussed during a panel at IBC2023. Juliet Bramwell, Director of Telco and Media & Entertainment at Google Cloud UK and Ireland chaired the discussion, talking with Rebecca Haagsma from Nine and Sabine Bravo from Synamedia.