PixelPower

The State of the Broadcast Industry mid 2017

I deliberately called this blog the state of the broadcast industry. Despite what a lot of people are saying, there is a continuing need for businesses to curate content and deliver it to consumers. In most cases they are doing it in exchange for delivering those same consumer eyeballs to advertisers.

Yes, there are other ways of connecting content with eyeballs today. But so far none have delivered the business returns of commercial broadcasting.

Given there are competitive challenges, though, broadcasters have to do what they have always done, only even better and at a lower cost. This is where smart choices in technology come in – it may not be the headline-grabbing new technologies, and it may take a lot of collaborative effort to make it work. But it can transform a business.

Take ITV, the leading independent broadcaster in the UK. They wanted to increase brand loyalty through more promotions, and raise brand awareness through absolute consistency in their promos and trailers. It decided to take a step back, and challenge every part of the workflow to determine what they really needed to achieve when they ran a marketing campaign.

Armed with a real understanding of how they wanted to work, they brought together a group of technology partners, from a user interface specialist to, well, the best graphics company in the business. Together they created Project Phoenix, which takes a holistic view of channel branding and marketing, and generates 1000 promos and trailers a month completely automatically. No wonder it is a finalist for this year’s prestigious IBC Innovation Awards.

ITV Phoenix is a software-defined system. Marketing people define the requirements in a web browser, and production is automated all the way down to the final delivery of the files to the playout centre. It is a great example of thinking beyond technology to how technology is the enabler.

It’s the same with the move from SDI to IP. IP is simply the enabler. What is really exciting is the ability to virtualise functionality. A lot of hot air is talked about virtualisation, which all makes it sound very confusing. Let me start from the business end: with virtualised services you only pay for a function when you use that function. You just pay for what you need.

In a traditional broadcast environment you had to buy a box (infrastructure) which offered a range of functionality. Equally, you only needed ‘some’ of that functionality. If you were a big broadcaster, you could afford to buy that box, even though you were only going to use 60% of its functionality, and you were only going to need it 25% of the time.

If you were a small broadcaster you could not justify the capital expenditure on that basis. So you ended up with a less professional, less polished output, which meant your channels were less attractive to viewers than those from the big names.

With virtualised systems, especially running in the cloud, you can just pay for the functionality you need, when you need it. In a smart world, both hardware – processor clock cycles – and functionality – micro-services in software – are available on a pay as you go basis. If you need a 3D DVE for an hour a day, pay for an hour a day.

Niche players and new entrants can now look as smart as the biggest broadcasters. That is a real, tangible benefit of moving to a virtualised broadcast industry – and it’s real, today.

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