Production for a new media age
As consumer behavior becomes increasingly dynamic, the way audiences now engage with content is shifting and evolving faster than at any point in the history of the TV industry. As a result, the industry must play catch up with the demand for new personalized, interactive services and access via a host of non-linear platforms. Broadcasters, production companies, and content producers worldwide are seeing the complexities in production and distribution soaring, increasing costs with lower revenue per asset.
In parallel, the twin drivers of technological advancement and evolving consumer viewing behavior is something the TV production world has struggled to keep pace with.
The industry now needs bolder innovations as it forges ahead and keeps pace with the growing number of platforms, devices, markets, audiences, and versions of content. This is the age of media choice, and it is making the complexity of producing programs of all types – especially live TV – more challenging than ever.
One big contrast to the days of schedule-driven viewing is that audiences are typically smaller than they once were for a given channel but there are more of them spread across a diverse range of platforms – with eMarketer research reporting overall video content consumption across both TV and digital combined rising by 6.6 % between 2014 and 2019.
As content producers balance the growing demand for content on the one hand with smaller, more fragmented audiences on the other, the yield per asset (YPA) has become an area of intense focus for forward-looking media organizations. Despite a significant shift in the way content is consumed, production costs have remained high – or in some cases, have continued to rise. Today, reaching new levels of efficiency – and flexibility – is very much front and center.
Searching for scale and flexibility
In today’s environment, staying ahead of the curve goes beyond merely increasing the volume of content produced – it is no longer enough to just up the output. Our customers need to engage with global audiences that can no longer be reached through one or two platforms. Future-ready production means being able to scale vertically and horizontally across formats, versions, device types, and platforms to meet an increasingly diverse audience footprint.
The shift towards the widespread adoption of standards-based IP as a more flexible and scalable replacement for SDI, alongside the greater use of software rather than dedicated hardware to reduce cost and enable more automation, is the first step in addressing this challenge. We are also seeing an acceleration towards cloud-based infrastructures that support the creation of dynamic content across multiple platforms, particularly as the need for flexibility and scalability has been strongly underlined by the global pandemic. For many of our customers, the primary aim is to address the fundamental YPA issue by creating more content, more cost-effectively, and better monetizing that program through increased advertising revenue – or extended audience reach across a growing number of distribution platforms.
At its most basic, content production equates to we capture it; we create it; and we deliver it. Finding ways to carry out these tasks with greater efficiency and, potentially, for less CAPEX and/or OPEX requires shifting the technology stack towards a more software-centric position.
One size doesn’t fit all
Simply transitioning to a software-centric future doesn’t automatically bring greater efficiency; what’s also needed is a simultaneous change in approach. As our customers – be they traditional broadcasters or esports companies – strive to meet rising consumer demands for greater immediacy, choice, and quality, there is a drive to do more with less. IP and cloud-based models undeniably form a large part of the solution. Still, the shape of that solution varies from customer to customer, as well as from application to application.
Looking in from outside the world of TV, it may seem like a uniform picture between media companies, but when you look deeper, it becomes abundantly clear that almost every organization is moving along a unique trajectory. When we talk to our customers and partners, they convey that they are at different points in their journey. Additionally, this journey is governed by several factors, including when the last refresh was done and how much useful life remains in the current equipment; whether a customer is leaning towards more work from home or remote access working environments.
The size and geographic spread of the organization and requirements for greater collaboration and sharing of assets is a key consideration and finally, whether the organization is financially structured to shift from CAPEX to OPEX even if the cash going out is lower.
With the growing adoption of IP and software-centric solutions, what’s evident is that there simply isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Any “solution” aiming to improve production efficiency must have the flexibility to adapt to each organization’s own tempo.
A role for hardware
Although the move to IP, cloud, and software-centric models offers many clear benefits, there is no quick fix for rising production costs, and revenues are certainly not increasing to counteract the additional expense.
There’s little doubt that the cloud offers many answers, and there are some who argue that throwing everything into the cloud is the solution. Remote production via the cloud, for instance, has many advantages, including more flexibility and the ability to scale up (and down) quickly within an OPEX model. However, it remains technically unfeasible for specific use cases.
From the beginning, TV technology has been centered around integrating discrete and purpose built hardware elements – and, more recently, software parts – to accommodate a specific workflow. The need to deliver more channels or support increases in quality requirements, such as the transition to HD and UHD, has helped prompt each refresh cycle. Bespoke hardware has been designed – and improved over decades – to offer a guaranteed level of performance and is perfectly suited to the CAPEX heavy buy-cycle that broadcasters are traditionally geared around.
While cloud technologies are central to the future evolution of the industry, rapid migration is also not always financially sensible. The existing investment made in hardware-based broadcast TV technology runs into the hundreds of billions – and many broadcasters can sweat these assets for a significant amount of time. Besides, specific processes are still more efficient, faster, and cheaper via local, highly specialized hardware. Think of your switcher panel as analogous to your iPhone; purpose-built hardware that enables the user to be more effective.
Wherever they are in their journey towards a software-based future, our customers tell us they need solutions that can evolve and grow with their business and operational needs. Organizations that have already moved to an IP-centric workflow are looking ahead and want assurances that they can leverage many of the capabilities offered by their existing systems in the cloud.
Master control (MC) is a great example of this. At the heart of the master control room (MCR) – the technical hub of a broadcast operation – are hardware elements such as our Masterpiece 12G-SDI or IP master control switcher. In today’s production environments, this equipment must work across multiple formats, include flexible audio capabilities, channel branding, and multichannel video program distribution, as well as dynamic visual effects. Organizations that have already moved to an IP-centric workflow can already leverage many of the capabilities offered by a Masterpiece powered MCR cloud-based platform.
Thriving by evolving
The shape of tomorrow’s TV landscape is still taking shape, but one thing remains clear – the vast consumer appetite for content, and ultimately greater choice, shows no signs of abating. To address this spiraling demand in key live content areas, such as news and live sports, concerts, awards, and elections, traditional broadcasters and newer players alike will look for partners and ecosystems to help them navigate the growing complexities of production.
When we speak to our customers, they tell us they want to form strategic technology partnerships with vendors that can draw on deep experience in broadcast technology across both traditional hardware and newer software and cloud platforms to help them stay ahead in today’s dynamically shifting market. Across the board, broadcasters and content producers are exploring new ways to get more value out of their production workflows, looking to greater use of cloud-enabled remote production. While this is undoubtedly about extracting improved yield per asset, the focus is also on freeing up production teams to concentrate on developing the more creative and engaging programming that audiences have come to expect.
As we move – at speed – towards a world where terms such as “remote production” and “cloud-based production” simply become “production”, and where audience demand for content continues to rise to ever higher levels, a willingness to embrace innovation is what will determine an organization’s ability to thrive.