With the digitization of content and the subsequent advent of file-based production, it is increasingly common for stations to have Web sites and print media (magazines, newspapers) in their distribution folio and to deliver content to cell phones, handheld and mobile reception devices. Additionally, new outlets such as digital signage in stores and custom broadcasts to elevators, gas stations and taxis are increasing the strain on production resources. This content must also be converted to transmission formats that are compatible with diverse distribution channels and multiple consumption devices.
The technical challenge of building an integrated multiplatform production infrastructure and diverse distribution technologies to support such a wide range of functionality and broadcast operations is unprecedented; transitioning to DTV transmission has been relatively straightforward by comparison. An emerging infrastructure design philosophy takes a centralized approach. This infrastructure stores content once, then converts the audio and video presentation format on the fly, adds graphics and finally distributes it over the desired channel.
A centralized approach is potentially more cost effective than storing many copies of the same content in different formats and implementing discrete production workflows to support each delivery channel. The engineering of an infrastructure to support integrated production and diverse distribution is a complex challenge. Here, the integration of workflow and technology is more of a creative art than the direct application of technology.
Requirements for implementation
At present, no single systems integrator, equipment manufacturer or strategic alliance of vendors can deliver a turnkey solution for an integrated production and distribution system.
Some of the systems that must be integrated in such an infrastructure include:
- Content creation and acquisition: audio, video, backhaul, ENG, live events;
- Production: audio and video editing, graphics;
- Content management: storage and archive applications;
- Production control: audio, video and graphics for live events;
- Transcoding: converting audio and video to distribution formats;
- Master control: automation; inserting national and local commercials, promos, logos, ratings information and closed-captioning;
- Channel delivery: converting to the required format (e.g. MPEG-2, AVC, VC-1) and then moving content to the distribution channel — broadcast, Web, handheld and print.
Station engineering departments are now being asked to become experts in the integration of workflows and equipment to support these new business models.
Much of the industry is still struggling with the integration of IT and computer science. Engineering managers are trying to help broadcast engineers become more IT savvy — or they are hiring IT professionals and teaching them broadcast technology.
What’s required is a new breed of media systems engineers, true system engineers, professionals with deep experience and expertise in a wide array of technical disciplines important to the media industry. Acting as a team coach as well as project manager, these unique individuals coordinate the work of experienced engineers, IT personnel, application developers and security specialists by using a combination of traditional linear and contemporary agile project management techniques.
Maybe the viewer empowerment, content availability mantra that espouses “everything, everywhere, at any time” is the wrong approach — the result being erosion in viewership on the primary channel, the principle revenue source. Long tail philosophies may be inherently flawed and have little relevance to large broadcast operations.
Less may truly be more. Limited programming availability, with the advent of DVRs, is really not so limited. Today, time shifting is the norm for many viewers. What if a station offers five show times instead of one? Even if the audience is only cut in half for the first run, advertisers will have reached only half the number of viewers than they would have for a single broadcast time.
This dilution of viewers could be offset by a developing a personalized, targeted, multiple consumption device strategy. Viewers are directed from platform to platform for more interesting content. In a sense, this is a form of viewer relationship management.
Integration of audience measurement services
Being a business, broadcasting is dependent on the advertising revenue stream. The fees are based on viewer numbers, and viewers are now spread across multiple consumption devices. As viewer numbers increase, so does ad revenue.
The shotgun approach to reaching viewers is inefficient. Audience measurement companies have expanded their TV measurement services to include multiple devices: terrestrial, cable and satellite TV, VoD, Web usage and product placement data. Trends of viewers and behavioral targeting plans for particular consumption devices can be derived from this data.
Integrated, cross platform ad sales, once considered cutting-edge, are becoming the preferred marketing approach. Making a customized, demo-targeted multiplatform media buy or sale now requires sophisticated consumer data analysis across all platforms, all channels, 24/7.
The creation of a production and distribution infrastructure to support personalization and targeted ads across multiple devices will take a combined and coordinated effort among marketing, ad sales, programming and engineering to acquire and successfully retain viewer attention and loyalty.
Back office and audience analytic systems that may need to be integrated with the broadcast infrastructure include:
- Statistics gathering;
- Viewer database;
Smarter technology to influence viewers
Integrated production for diverse distribution channels to multiple devices isn’t about working harder; it’s about implementing technology that works smarter.
Production control must now support multichannel delivery and multiple devices. Transcoding and GFX compositing must be done on the fly, so when content leaves master control, it is properly formatted for the delivery channel and can be presented on the associated receiver. This presents an opportunity to use common processes in parallel workflows in configurable, integrated production control rooms and master control rooms.
With so many media outlets to choose from, it is in the best interest of broadcasters to devote attention to new methods that steer viewers to their other media properties. When consumers are “left to their own devices,” they probably will not make an effort to use anything other than a device they are familiar with.
Program and commercial content can be personalized and targeted; that is, presented based on viewer profiles, consumption history, statistical demographic data or with interactive, viewer-selected features. Personalization and targeted ads make management of the viewer database a critical core business process. This viewer information, must be analyzed and mined, then integrated with automated content playout and commercial insertion systems.
Equipment that addresses integrated production, diverse distribution and multiple receiver requirements is just beginning to appear. The next series of Transition to Digital newsletters will examine the system design, equipment, engineering and workflow options necessary to support multiplatform production and distribution.