The new content demands that emerged during the pandemic have underlined the validity of the US-based entertainment company’s powerful new media supply chain, which was designed by AMC Networks in partnership with leading consultancy Three Media and implemented with a number of best of breed vendors.
As the number of viewing options has increased, there has inevitably been a great deal of discussion about consumer habits and the need to ensure that everyone can watch their chosen content in the highest-possible quality. But to date, there hasn’t been nearly as much evaluation of the implications these changes are having for entertainment companies and their technology service providers.
All of which made the insight gleaned from a recent IABM TV interview with entertainment company AMC Networks (AMCX:NASDAQ) especially valuable. Available in full on the IABM website (https://theiabm.org/in-conversation-with-amc-networks/), the interview sees IABM Head of Membership Engagement Lisa Collins speaking to two key AMCN personnel – EVP Chief Technology Officer David Hunter and Senior Vice President, Media Operations Josh Berger – about the design and delivery of the company’s ambitious new “enterprise-wide media supply chain”.
Observing that the creation of “great content” is at the core of its business, Hunter says that in AMCN’s “global technology operations our goal is to make sure that we deliver that content to our passionate consumers wherever they are.” With new platforms and delivery mechanisms emerging all the time, the old ‘1 to many’ distribution model is no longer appropriate, hence “it has been up to us to shift our operations from ‘1 to many’ to a ‘many to many’ model.”
“We were facing rapid growth in non-standard platforms,” adds Berger, “and we realised we needed a different approach to the way we service our distribution points and viewers across our ecosystem. It used to be a TV-first business model,” but now the company is managing an ever-expanding number of platforms hosted on nearly every possible device that can play back video. “We had no choice but to create a media supply chain factory that encompasses every processing step.” This includes rights management, master media acquisition, scheduling, show preparation, and distribution onto platforms so that their subscribers and viewers are enjoying their content on the platform of their choosing.
With the awareness that increased automation would be integral to its new infrastructure, the AMCN team set about an intense period of process and systems review and design in close conjunction with Three Media. Serving as lead consultant for the new AMCN supply chain, Three Media is a long-established advocate of carefully planned and managed digital transformation, working on a wide variety of projects in the broadcast and production sectors.
The result of AMCN’s deliberations is a new enterprise-wide media supply chain, informally referred to as Platform ADAM (Advanced Digital Asset Management), developed to make every facet of the content process more efficient, the new infrastructure “fully digitalises our operations and connects across rights and standalone systems, [yielding] a seamless ‘comes in once, goes out many’ process, from which we have been able to gain tons of efficiencies,” says Hunter.
Acknowledging that the effective use of data is integral to media’s digital transformation, the new AMC Networks supply chain foregrounds a data-driven approach. Hunter recalls, “We worked with IBM on a service bus solution to connect all our systems with the data exchange, [meaning we no longer need] humans manually doing that in the digital silos.” The new infrastructure also includes best-of-breed solutions from Evertz (distribution playout), Avid (post-production), Xytech Systems (work order maintenance), WideOrbit Program, and Symbox, with the last-named providing “the logic and the conditions we need to orchestrate the sequencing of data workflows across our connected systems, so we do not stumble over ourselves.”
The transformation process has also seen AMC Networks collaborate with new and existing service providers to gain intelligence about their post production processes and “really help reduce some of those manual workflows around edit preparation, break points, graphics, and profanity [which are precursors to] getting into edit,” says Berger. The AMCN teams embraced this new technology early on, with ADAM becoming a major contributing factor to the company’s ability to drive the business forward during the pandemic, “Remote editing has been another success, with everyone ‘remoting in’ from wherever they are located.”
AMC Networks no longer uses legacy production methods. “It’s a digital workflow only” confirms Berger. As a result of the overhaul, “we have data feeding our systems [fulfilling our top goal] for the year of becoming a more data-driven company.” By connecting media supply chain data with their Business Intelligence tools, AMCN can begin to collaborate with internal departments such as Research, Strategic Planning, Marketing and Finance in order to support strategic decisions based on a broader set of information and connecting internal supply chain data with external data coming back to AMCN from their distribution landscape.
In keeping with the fast-moving nature of today’s media, the new supply chain is also enabling fresh elements of AMCN’s offerings as they come to market. For example, the company is currently making waves with its recently introduced streaming service, AMC+, which is designed as an audience-focused package of curated premium content.
“[Platform] ADAM is not finite,” confirms Hunter. “It will continue to grow and expand as the company does. We are always looking for innovative ways to get content into the hands of those who want to see it. It’s not set in stone and that is something we really like about the new architecture, where the data exchange, workflows and business processes enable content delivery as seamlessly as possible.”