In the professional media industry, one fact is clear: Everything we do is about getting content to viewers, wherever they may be. The end goal, of course, is to make money off of this transaction. Clearly, if we do not have content or our content is compromised in some way, then this transaction breaks down, with serious financial consequences for the media companies involved.
This fundamental equation drives everything we do: CONTENT + VIEWERS = $$$. That is why you see the film and music industries constantly struggling with new technologies and opportunities that threaten this model. The issue of content piracy is vast, encompassing technology, legal and moral issues. Because of space constraints, we are going to have to take a different tact in this column. We are going to limit our discussion to what a broadcaster can do to ensure that content is always available, thus ensuring the success of the equation above. Specifically, in terms of securing content, what can the average broadcaster do? What steps can a broadcaster take to ensure that content is available when it is needed (not missing) and that content is not copied or stolen?
Where is the real problem?
I would posit that when it comes to content theft, broadcasters are not the problem. Why? Because, with a few exceptions, by the time most broadcasters have access to content, it has already been released by content creators in other domains, be it theater, DVD or through high-quality Internet distribution. Ten years ago, this might not have been the case, but now theft of content from broadcast facilities is the least of content producers’ worries. Before the advent of HD and commodity, high-quality consumer storage and viewing devices, broadcasters had access to content that could be extremely high-quality — and they still do. What is different now is that everyone has access to this same, high-quality content. If we are talking about securing content, and theft from broadcast facilities is not a major industry concern, then exactly what are the problems that broadcasters face in this area?
Chiefly, the biggest area of concern for broadcasters is ensuring that content is secured so that it is always available when needed. As such, the challenge is to secure content in a way to ensure that it is not accidentally erased, moved, lost or otherwise unavailable when on-air time arrives. Most vendors already provide solutions to this problem, which usually come with a price. Let’s look at this more closely.
It is important to keep a big-picture view in mind when thinking about securing content. There are many options open to the broadcaster, and as I said, almost all have associated costs. So, it is good to constantly ask whether the cost involved in a particular solution is justified by the risk of a loss of content. It may not be necessary to have every content system backed up; it may not be necessary to provide high availability on all computer networks in your facility.
As Figure 1 shows, another way to think about the worth of cost to secure content is to look at what your options are at any given time in the broadcast process, and what the cost to replace lost content is at that stage. Consider a commercial.
When a commercial order is placed, copy instructions (instructions thatdescribe when and how commercials should air) are forwarded to the broadcaster. About the same time, commercial content arrives at the station. If the content fails to arrive or is faulty in some way, there are a number of options for replacing it, and the cost of those options can be low. However, as time goes by, the number of options narrows, and the cost of the remaining options increases.
For example, early in the process, content might be replaced simply by sending another copy of the commercial by mail. However, later in the process, you might have to use overnight delivery or a satellite feed. Ultimately, if the commercial cannot be replaced, the cost of the lost content is equal to the selling price of the commercial air time. Once the time has passed, no amount of money can bring it back. Naturally, it makes sense to spend more money to ensure the security of the content as it gets closer to air.