Broadcasters are no longer the only show in town. If a consumer wants to watch television, there are the disrupters, the digital first companies who started by offering subscription streaming services, and who are now moving into linear channels (and picking up rights to major sports) and adding advertising funding to the mix.
But there are other content sources, too. Sports clubs and federations are offering their own channels via streaming. Houses of worship are using video to engage with their congregations in new ways. At PlayBox we have even provided channel management technology to local government, allowing them to share council meetings and committees, along with features on their work, with the electorate.
For the consumer, these are all television channels. It does not matter if it is a national broadcaster, your church or the local college sports team: they expect it to behave like the television channels we have been watching for eight decades. That means that programmes appear to a published schedule, with no glitches or gaps, and commercials never crash the programmes.
The audience expectation is also that, as well as the scheduled linear feed, they will have access to the content at any time, through a simple to access video on demand service.
But underlying this demand and response, there are rules which remain in force. The intellectual property rights to content may be controlled, so while some can be sprayed out on the internet to anyone who clicks in the right place, others may have geographic and time limitations which have to be observed.
Through a mixture of regulation and common practice, broadcasters have also developed a set of standards. These obviously include decency and the need to restrict adult content to adult audiences. It also means more subtle things like managing advertising to avoid direct clashes – two car brands in one break – and repetition – the same spot in break after break – which just irritates the viewer.
Streaming services will at the very least want to know who is watching, so there must be some level of consumer tracking. If you are charging a subscription then you need a mechanism to collect the money, and turn feeds on and off.
All of this is well understood. The challenge is how to provide all this functionality, affordably and sustainably. Given the multiplicity of production formats, live feeds and delivery platforms, just getting the content to the audience is not trivial. Add all the other layers of CSM, asset management and VoD clients and it all gets very demanding.
For a broadcaster with established technical teams, or for a streaming service disruptor set up with software skills, this is achievable if demanding of resources. For the others – who have good content and a good reason for reaching an audience – it can be so daunting it threatens to derail the project.
Vendors have to find a way of making this happen. That means changing the way we have done things, and moving away from one device per function. Having a piece of electronics running continuously but only actually used for some of the time is just a power drain, an unnecessary addition to your carbon footprint.
It is not enough to say that automation can make all the functionality you need happen. The automation needs to be able to do all these things with the minimum of resources.
To give an example, in the past a broadcaster would localise a service – add some programming and specific commercials – by having a subset of playout facilities in the region. At PlayBox we have been very effective with a device called EdgeBox, which we continue to offer, which sits in the local headend and performs the necessary regionalisation.
But as we move to the cloud, so this regionalisation can be streamlined. We do not need processes running 24/7 if all it is doing is inserting some commercials, and switching to a local feed for, say, the regional news bulletin. Much better to minimise processor demand by only spooling up those facilities when you actually need them.
The converse is that you can now centralise the operation of a global broadcast network, delivering similar content and presentation to multiple countries from one set of controls. The geographic diversity of large-scale cloud providers like AWS means that you still have the advantages of edge servers, but operating in a unified environment.
The true situation is that we are all still in the transitional stage here. There is a great deal of talk about the cloud in our industry, but what AWS and the others are offering is an effectively infinitely scalable set of processors and data stores. It is up to vendors in the media industry to make it work.
That means integrating the functionality from customer management to asset management; from PayPal to transcoding; from app design to channel scheduling. That means packaging all that functionality into user interfaces that are clear, intuitive, and relevant to the people and the work at hand.
Finally, and this is the hard one, it means taking away the complexities of managing cloud services so that users really benefit from the claimed advantages of only paying for what you use. Maximising effectiveness while minimising the use of resources – and thereby minimising both cost and carbon footprint – is the ultimate goal.