Ahead of the upcoming IABM webinar on cloud collaboration and deployment on 15th January 2020, we sat down with Imagen CTO, Tim Jobling and Partnerships Director, Owen Shackman, to talk everything cloud.
Imagen was a very early cloud adopter with systems deployed since 2014, when most other media companies in our space were only just beginning to look at its advantages. Today, Imagen’s customer list includes Endemol Shine, Reuters News Archive, BP, LADBible and the BBC among many well-known names. This makes the company well placed to lead the discussion with practical, real-world advice based on experience not only in broadcast and media but a number of other verticals too.
Imagen was founded in 1996 as Cambridge Imaging Systems. “The initial problem we set out to solve was of organising media databases for historic film archives, and then we moved into video. Back then databases were quite difficult – and media was only just starting to be something you could do on computers,” says Jobling.
“To this day, we still follow the same philosophy of building useful tools around media management. Up until 2011, we were very much a project-led business; we had technology, but we didn’t really have a product,” Jobling continues. “In 2011 we decided that we would completely refocus the business and our expertise on building an actual product, taking advantage of all the knowledge we had accumulated. That was also the point at which we decided we would focus on a cloud-first solution.”
“When we started offering a product-based SaaS model, we were definitely at the forefront of the new wave in our industry and we had to extensively explain the model to get people on board. That’s not the case today – most commercial decisions these days are taken by people who are themselves well aware of the advantages of cloud SaaS solutions, though there is still sometimes an educational element to getting the whole business on side,” Jobling adds.
Ticking the right boxes
What kind of companies does Imagen work with? “They do tend to be organisations with huge amounts of assets, but the size of those organisations varies quite considerably,” Shackman explains. “Our primary audience is people who are either content rights holders or content creators. And they’re producing enough that they have the management headache. If you tick both of those boxes, then you’re probably a good candidate to be a customer of ours.
“Now that doesn’t constrain us to any one particular industry,” adds Shackman. “We work with media companies of course, but we’ve also been able to tap into the massive growth of video in other sectors; our clients now include energy companies, sports clubs, government and religious institutions – essentially, any organisation that has a large volume of content that they need organising. We’re most useful when companies have a need to not just preserve their content but make it easily surfable for internal and external access.
“A lot of the focus in Media & Entertainment industry forums is still directed at consumption via broadcast and OTT platforms, but consumption of content is much more than that now: independent creators, influencers and YouTube channels are a massive part of the modern eco-system,” Shackman explains.
“One of our clients is LADBible, and we fit a workflow which is outside of traditional broadcast, but it comes back to that usability and search element,” adds Shackman. “Our focus on straightforward cataloguing and advanced search is invaluable for platforms like LADBible who are dealing with huge volumes of user generated videos.”
Usability is key
“I think one of the reasons we have been able to extend the business outside of the traditional media and broadcast space is that the Imagen system has been very much designed with usability in mind,” says Jobling.
“I’ve evaluated plenty of MAMs and workflow orchestration tools; while complexity has reduced in the last few years, they still typically require dedicated expertise. The nice thing about the Imagen system is that you can log in as a media manager, marketer or salesperson and leverage a very powerful toolset without having to read a huge instruction manual to be able to do it.”
Look and Feel
“Our philosophy has always been that we want to build effective tools which provide the user experience of consumer grade products,” Jobling adds. “It’s a single solution, but with extensive options to customise its look and feel. For all our customers their brand is an important asset, and we present their content through their brand by configuring the theme. We can build them a custom theme which matches all of their brand requirements, but the technology and the functionality is a single product.”
Collaboration is king
“The most obvious point of collaboration is the fact that we are the technology that enables people to do their jobs more efficiently,” says Jobling.
“Therefore, the first level of collaboration has to be with the people who actually make the content, understanding the systems and processes they rely upon.
“Most of the utility our customers get out of Imagen is that they are storing and managing their finished assets and then doing onward distribution for first or secondary usage. We need to work closely with production teams to facilitate processes which add efficiency. Rapid turnaround in the case of live sport can mean getting clips and highlights packages available often whilst players are still on the field.
“We’re also the middle point for other data coming in. For example, in sports that’s player data and metadata, or it could be rights management; there are basically people inputting data into our system from 3rd party sources which helps get the content packaged or usable for the next stage in its journey, and we need to accommodate these feeds,” Jobling says.
Shackman adds, “Many of our customers naturally utilise external production companies, but then their customers in turn are international broadcast licensees. Our system sits in the middle of this so it’s essential our functionality works effectively with both sides.
“Other organisations might want to have a more sophisticated integration with their internal systems. They’re less interested in a pool model where users just go and have a look at a website and decide what they want, instead requiring the entirety of a subset of content to be pushed to them. For these, we utilise APIs to create custom feeds which match their requirements. It’s then possible for content takers to consume those feeds by utilising technology which integrates with their own internal stack, automating the process of taking content out of the Imagen platform that matches their interest criteria.
“In the upcoming webinar, we’re going to go through some such scenarios –the challenges we’ve overcome in these cloud installs – based on our real-life learnings from the field in over five years of doing this,” Shackman explains.
“We view cloud platforms as commodities, and don’t build our technology stack to depend on any one particular vendor in that commodity; our technology stack has been designed to effectively run on cloud infrastructure, but not rely on auxiliary services so we’re not tied to any one vendor,” says Jobling. “It depends what the customer’s needs are – it’s often driven by territory, sometimes it’s driven by price. And occasionally, it’s driven by technology advances. So if it turns out that this week’s Google AI is much better than everybody else’s, then you can be sure that’s the one we’re going to be leveraging when people need some AI action.”
“While cloud is the enabler, our real job is to help organisations progress to better media management, overcoming issues around infrastructure or just habits, to take them to the cloud very much in the way that we evolved –realising that the cloud is the only sensible, sustainable way forward,” Jobling contends. “We didn’t do that overnight. It was a considered process, an evolution. It plays into the maturity of our potential buyers, and is also why we find collaboration with systems integrators so valuable; they are the traditional consultants – it’s their job to pull together the Best in Show to deliver the result. That’s part of the business collaboration as well as we provide a level of consultancy around the transformation required; we’ve picked up some niche expertise along the way over the years!”
“It all comes back to that profile of people who have a remit to manage a large amount of content in the right way. If you’re feeling the pain points around it, then it doesn’t matter if you’re a content creator, enterprise, or systems builder, you’ve got those challenges, and we’ve got the solutions to help you –based on unmatched experience in the cloud,” Jobling concludes.