Ensuring that content is available when and where viewers want to watch is essential for broadcasters looking to deepen relationships with viewers. So how are vendors empowering content providers to deliver to more platforms without an uplift in workload?
While delivery to linear services is still a crucial consideration for many content creators and service providers, the overall share represented by OTT and VOD is increasing all the time.
In order to minimise any increase in workload and optimise efficiency of delivery, there is now a growing focus on convergence of workflows and core tasks such as QC, review and the application of metadata.
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Dushi Thangarajah, VP of home entertainment services for video technology and distribution company Deluxe EMEA, confirms that “whereas about 18 months ago 20% [of our EMEA delivery workload] constituted platform deliverables and the rest was serving linear broadcast, the split is now more like 60/40.” This has heralded greater complexity because “while delivering to local and global broadcast end-points has tended to require a simpler spec”, supplying to OTT typically requires more extensive content packaging and metadata.
With varying language requirements also adding to delivery expectations, it’s not surprising that Deluxe is now engaged in an ongoing process of “refining and making our workflows better”. This has manifested itself in multiple ways, including closer integration to platform delivery systems to smooth the content management, tracking and reporting process. The next aspect Deluxe is “actively working on is the content acquisition piece [and] how that can be made more intelligent.”
Further convergence between linear and OTT delivery systems is also envisaged – and as it turns out, this is a vision that many vendors are now working hard to enable. Hence there is an emphasis on allowing content services to leverage shared infrastructure – including for distribution to social media – whilst also preparing for increased content in UHD/HDR and delivery via 5G networks.
Raymond Thompson, senior director partner and industry marketing at Avid, says that it is becoming “common practice” for broadcasters to pursue a strategy that “enables production for digital first platforms to leverage a common infrastructure – storage, asset management, ingest and playout tools – while enabling the digital first team to create new content that will only be made available on digital platforms.”
Adoption of “a hybrid on-prem and cloud approach” is now commonplace, while it’s clear that continuing to identify “efficiencies in the process by leveraging a common platform and infrastructure can pay dividends to the teams responsible for delivering linear and digital content.”
Avid’s own recent developments in this area include MediaCentral | Publisher, which is a SaaS-based add-on to workflow management platform MediaCentral that allows content distribution to digital and social platforms. Among other features, says Thompson, the add-on “allows users to modify aspect ratios specifically for mobile platforms, add 2D and 3D graphics and closed captions, and insert ads for faster delivery across more digital platforms.”
Like many other vendors, Avid has also been working to enable content packaging in Interoperable Master Format (IMF), which is the SMPTE standard that provides a single, interchangeable master file format and structure for content distribution. Hence the addition of “finishing and delivery capabilities to [video editing and finishing software] Media Composer to enable content to be delivered in IMF packaging to OTT platforms. These capabilities allow providers to easily modify and localise content for delivery to different geographies accessing their service from one master file.”
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For Dalet and its media logistics platform Dalet Flex, one key focus is on “advanced metadata and workflow orchestration”, as well as integration with a “wide selection of best-of-breed broadcast and streaming vendors to deliver the best quality output, tightly linked to D2C platforms for central management. This allows broadcast and digital delivery from a single platform,” explains Lee McMullan, director product strategy – media workflows, Dalet.
By way of example, he points to one client who has a “homegrown CMS on one end, providing rights information on the different viewer platforms. Dalet Flex then handles all the platform-specific metadata and image requirements, and delivers the appropriate content and metadata to the user and CMS. Delivering content to, for example, Vodafone, Roku or Amazon Prime requires different preparation and packaging, and Dalet Flex deals with the complexities in the background.”
Dalet has also been giving thought to the “quite impactful” nature of content in UHD and HDR, including various steps to limit UHD conversion times. Hence, with transcoder and workflow engine Dalet AmberFin, the ability to use distributed encoding techniques – in other words, splitting the conversion across multiple nodes – where available, and optimisation of the underlying media pipeline for scaling and colour conversions.
With solutions such as GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform), Grass Valley takes a holistic and increasingly cloud-driven approach to multi-platform media. Speaking within an operational context that focuses on live content delivery, Grass Valley CMO and general manager, playout, Neil Maycock confirms that a desire for “increased efficiency around the production and management of media for multi-platform delivery” is becoming universal.
“A challenge with multi-platform is that you have to get content to more devices by different routes and locations, so the distribution challenge is increasing,” says Maycock. Hence the more that a content provider can achieve shared workflows, “the less duplication of systems, resources and people you are going to have in your operation.”
The one area that might prove more immune to convergence is advertising, where for instance different countries may have contrasting legal requirements with regard to matters such as how many ads can be shown per hour or in a continuous sequence. So whilst “a lot of commonality” is possible at the front-end, “the closer you get to the consumer and the roll-out of the advertising content, there will be a point where you cannot converge too much ultimately.” Consequently, there will “absolutely have to be a reflection” of that in the continued development of playout and delivery platforms.
Steve Reynolds, president at Imagine Communications, points to the growing desire to use systems, including its Versio solutions, in the cloud as it provides “the fastest and most efficient path to get content to consumers. The other aspect is that it really lets you operate a single workflow that is intended to suit all the platforms you need to distribute to.”
Noting that “demand is through the roof” as streaming continues to benefit from a locked-down global audience, Reynolds implies that the industry is also showing signs of moving into a new phase of OTT service provision. “A lot of the ‘first generation’ services were envisaged as siloes or sidecars on existing, ‘traditional’ operations,” he observes. “What we see at present is a lot of broadcasters wanting to reconcile that by undoing their siloes or sidecars, and then building unified workflows that [encompass tasks such as] origination, review and QC.”
In the wake of UHD and HDR achieving traction, content consumption via 5G networks is now near the top of the priority list for many content services. So with delivery only set to become more complex, both workflow convergence and a well-defined business strategy are going to be essential. There are plenty of opportunities but, as Thompson notes, they “require planning from an implementation perspective and impact decision-making for how to maximise coverage and deliver a great end-user experience on any platform – all while driving efficiencies to allow for broader coverage and greater monetisation.”