Director Strategic Insight, IABM
The evidence of industry change is all around us and the Broadcast and Media (BaM) Content Chain® has been developed to reflect those changes and to be inclusive of emerging new products and services. IABM is perfectly positioned to observe these changes with its various activities such as market research and biannual BaM Awards® at IBC and NAB. But more than that, IABM can act as a catalyst and support for change, helping existing organisations to adapt and new ones to flourish.
The IABM BaM Content Chain® consists of nine categories; the definitions of each can be found in detail on the IABM website. This article seeks to highlight the drivers of change and the key developments in each of those nine categories. As we found when judging the IBC edition of the BaM Awards®, there is no shortage of new developments in each category, with a record number of entries – in total approaching two hundred. Looking across all those entries in my role as chair of the judges has reinforced IABM’s other research on where the innovations are in each content chain segment.
So first let’s take a look at Create, the first segment in the BaM® Content Chain, associated with the original acquisition and creation of raw content. Without raw content there would be no industry, but it goes beyond that to the need to capture in the highest quality, enabling more content with greater efficiency and at lower cost.
At the highest level we see the drive to achieve practical and economical UHD and HDR acquisition – exactly the same kind of transition we experienced with HD. Beyond that, work continues developing virtual reality, avatars powered by human movements and 360-degree experiences. Cameras come in all shapes, sizes and budgets encouraging more low-cost productions for online consumption or to serve niche audiences economically.
Sports is a big driver of innovation and with more cameras and more formats used in production, AI driven automation and scene selection is helping to keep the operational headcount down to manageable levels.
Finally, in the Create category, mention should be made of remote production. By keeping more of the production equipment and team in a single, centralized position, significant efficiencies can be achieved. The Cloud is also helping in some instances by providing the central hub for access to the acquired material.
Moving on then to the next step Produce, this is where the Cloud once again plays a major part, especially in collaborative projects or productions where the teams are geographically split. Many of the limitations that previously ruled out this form of working are fixed or at least much improved. In order to simplify access and maintain simplicity for users, web-based interfaces are becoming common, especially for simple editing.
At the presentation level, creatives are always looking for ways to keep audiences engaged and with this in mind, new on-screen graphics are set to grab professionals and consumers. Once again Artificial Intelligence has a part to play, in addition to interactivity with consumers selecting the kind of information they want to see and much of it automatically generated.
Finally, in this section should be mentioned all-in-one production solutions. Traditionally we consider production tools as a series of standalone boxes from the camera to delivery. In order to cut costs, simplify operations and broaden the market for these tools, the all-in-one software driven production tool is doing just that. From camera to live streaming needs just one box and one interface. In fact, very soon that will also be in the Cloud, so no more than a simple hardware interface and a web browser is all that will be required.
For the IABM BaM Awards® at IBC, one of the biggest categories was Manage. This category is defined as:
“Managing and preparing completed content (audio, video, metadata) for publication and subsequent archive, including normalization, localization and technical/editorial compliance, while orchestrating the workflow and resources required”. As can be seen from this description Manage has a broad mandate, which is not surprising with systems becoming more complex and resources assignable on demand.
Orchestration is a key word in this category with the management of content and associated data growing in complexity, with an ever-increasing number of channels and personalization. Automation is also a key word here with tasks that would consume considerable human effort being run in the background automatically. Finding the right associated data and linking it to the content and preparing multiple versions is certainly part of this category. Added to that is the need to find the quickest and most efficient use of resources.
Not surprisingly Artificial Intelligence and the Cloud are again major players in this category. Managing metadata about content and creating metadata that didn’t previously exist for content libraries, represents an important management component. Searching for assets either in local storage or in the Cloud should become a lot easier especially where multiple incompatible storage locations exist; many of these solutions pride themselves in spanning disparate resources and providing a unified representation. The key here is to present users with a user-friendly interface that hides the underlying complexity, describing the tasks that need to be done and then executing those tasks automatically. This applies to finding content and making it available in the right format, the right associated personalization, data and graphics.
Publish represents the last stage in the professional chain before Consume. It includes both traditional broadcasting and ever-growing on-line distribution.
Much of the current action is in the on-line domain with several topics coming to the top as important. Security is one and new developments, increasing the level of security while maintaining consumer convenience, compatible with new lifestyles in the home, office or out and about.
Latency is a major concern with many innovations highlighting lower latency. This is an important consideration for sports and on-line interactive services. New developments highlight the improvements in this area, further reducing the performance differences with traditional broadcast.
More efficient use of networks and bandwidth is work in progress, with distributed local caches and peer-to-peer consumer networking offered as some of the many improvements. Finally, as the focus turns to Internet delivery, we see one more totally new initiative with developments in 5G broadcasting starting to emerge. It’s early days but certainly one to watch.
None of the other eight categories would exist without funds to invest, thus making Monetize a really important category. There are several aspects; first understanding consumer preferences and trends is vitally important, so there is much attention paid to analytics and insights, once again often AI driven. Then we have the input and output of Monetize. The input consists of selling airtime, usually associated with advertising but can also relate to programming too. Once sold, the management of those sales and making the right connections to consumers with personalization is key.
The next level is downloadable ‘Apps’ which many of us would consider a relatively recent development but even these are being challenged by browser-based solutions – Innovation in full flow across the BaM Content Chain® Click To Tweet
In traditional broadcasting all viewers received the same commercials whether they are relevant or not. For a high percentage, they are not relevant and wasted ‘eyeball’ time. With personalization, multiple different ads can be addressed to different audiences, making them more effective and selling more advertising space for the same sized audience.
To make this whole process even more effective, a similar effort is required in scheduling programming to a level of sophistication that far exceeds on-air broadcasts of former years. Matching commercials to specific programming, attracting and retaining audiences, targeting specific demographics through recommendation engines is all part of this.
The Consume category is an interesting one to watch because we are seeing a transition, the direction of which is not clear to predict right now. As more content is consumed on portable devices it would be reasonable to assume that the Set-Top-Box is in decline. Today, it’s still a major part of the consumer world and many providers like the total control this approach offers. The next level is downloadable ‘Apps’ which many of us would consider a relatively recent development but even these are being challenged by browser-based solutions. There is ongoing debate over the browser solution – whether it should it be driven by downloadable plug-ins or native web browser solutions.
The user experience ‘UX’ is key here. Beyond passive viewing there is interactivity to be considered and beyond that programming that majors on video participation from the audience. As the consumer is the final arbiter of what matches their lifestyle, it will be interesting to see how these various options evolve.
All of the categories depend upon the movement of content between facilities and that’s where the Connect category comes in. Typically speed and latency have been major concerns and an area for improvement. This challenge is heightened by the desire to acquire content from anywhere in the world at short notice, often in less well-connected locations.
There are many Cloud solutions, the development of which has been slowed down because of the challenge of getting content in and out at speed. This includes HD and UHD multiple streams in real time. Currently there are workarounds which are promoted as the way forward but there’s scope for more ambitious solutions.
The move to IP-based in-house systems is a stepping-stone to growth in wide area networked solutions. Also, the desire for remote production, as mentioned earlier, is driving demand for high speed connectivity.
File transfer acceleration has featured for many years and is a topic that’s maturing. Beyond the pure connection, end users are demanding greater compatibility and opportunities to move content between competing Cloud storage solutions; being tied in to one solution is not seen as a wise move – especially as each Cloud service has different storage and processing options, with users wanting to access the most appropriate service that suits their needs.
On-premise, off-premise, or the Cloud are all storage options at the heart of the Store category. Most suppliers recognize that end users have different preferences. Although Cloud storage has many compelling arguments, not everyone is ready to take that risk, so in many cases solutions can be provided with all three approaches or a hybrid of them.
There is still a need to manage different storage supports from tape (yes tape is still in use!) to hard drives, to solid state memory.
Storage currently is much more than a hard drive, files and a file system. Metadata associated with each storage object is vitally important for indexing, searching and retrieval. The management of storage and the content is as important as the physical support itself.
In terms of performance, post-production drives the need for speed. Previewing multiple streams of editing in real time at UHD quality levels, is a real challenge for storage and processing systems. At the other end of the spectrum, portable stand-alone storage is also of interest for content acquisition on the move.
The Support category covers a wide range of products and services aimed at keeping complex broadcast and media systems running and operational. One of the key elements is the ability to monitor the health of a system and take action as and where it is needed. This sounds obvious but with complex networked environments spread over worldwide locations, it is indeed a major task.
Many companies talk about their ability to distribute ‘software probes’ which can report back to the control centre the status of the environment they’re monitoring. This would normally be associated with an extensive IP infrastructure. In the production environment, many background systems that make operations possible are in this category. Examples include KVM systems for video and data and talkback systems. Although both mature applications, there is considerable innovation still to come especially as IP-based solutions expand.
The support category also hosts many services. One of the highest is computing power, either in the Cloud or on premise. Finally, as complexity grows, many organizations rely on external consultancy services to design and manage their new installations; growth in this area also comes under the Support category.
The Future is Bright!
As someone who was deeply involved in helping to make the digital era happen as the industry transitioned from analogue and feeling at that time we had found the ultimate solution, I can now confidently predict this new era, which is in its early stages, will take us to possibilities no-one can envisage right now.
Over the next few years we will be watching the maturity of the new IP and Cloud based systems and then start to envisage the next big thing. But for now there is plenty to get excited about as the industry transforms itself with the new tools available.