Production In The Age Of Media Choice

The way consumers engage with content is constantly shifting and at a faster pace than ever before, leaving the television industry playing catch up. Broadcasters, production companies and content producers around the globe are seeing the complexities in production and distribution soaring, increasing costs with lower revenue per asset. At the same time, the TV production world has struggled to keep pace with the twin drivers of technological advancement and evolving consumer viewing behavior.

The industry now needs bolder innovations to keep up with the growing number of platforms, devices, markets, audiences, and versions of content. We live in the age of media choice and it is making the complexity of producing programs of all types — especially live TV — more challenging than ever.

While audiences are typically not as big as they once were for a given channel, there are more of them spread across a diverse range of platforms – with overall video content consumption across both TV and digital combined rising by 6.6% between 2014 and 2019, according to eMarketer research. While there has been a significant change in consumption patterns, production costs have remained high – or in some cases have continued to rise. Reaching new levels of efficiency – and flexibility – is rapidly becoming the name of the game today.

Meeting The Need For Scale And Flexibility

Merely increasing the volume of content being produced is no longer enough to stay ahead of the curve. To remain future-ready, production must now 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. Additionally, the need for flexibility and scalability – something that has been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic – has also accelerated the trend towards cloud-based infrastructures that support the creation of dynamic content across multiple platforms. For many of our customers, the primary aim is to address the fundamental Yield Per Asset issue by creating more content, more cost-effectively, and to deliver it with greater flexibility to a growing number of distribution platforms.

Content production at its most basic equates to: we capture it, we create it, 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

Moving to a software-centric future doesn’t automatically deliver greater efficiency; what’s also needed is a simultaneous change in approach. As our customers – whether they are 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, but the shape that solution takes varies from customer to customer – and even from application to application.

Those outside the world of TV may assume 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, governed by several factors, including

  1. When was the last refresh done and how much useful life remains in the current equipment;
  2. Are we strategically promoting more work from home or remote access working environments;
  3. Is the organization large enough to include creative teams that are spread geographically requiring greater collaboration and sharing of assets;
  4. Is the organization financially structured to shift between 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 is no one size fits all approach. Any “solution” that aims to improve production efficiency must have the flexibility to adapt to each organization’s own tempo.

Hardware Isn’t Disappearing

While the move to IP, cloud and software-centric models do offer many of the answers, there is no quick fix for rising production costs, and revenues are certainly not increasing to counteract the additional expense.

Cloud is something that offers many answers, and there are some who argue that throwing everything into the cloud is the solution. Remote production via the cloud has many advantages, including more flexibility and the ability to scale up (and down) quickly within an OPEX model. However, it is still technically unfeasible for specific use cases.

From the very 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 it is central to the future evolution of the industry, an immediate move to the cloud 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, certain processes are still more efficient, faster and cheaper via local, highly specialized hardware. Think of your vision mixer panel as being 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. Today, 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.

Evolution Will Remain Vital

One thing remains clear – consumers are hungry for content, and ultimately greater choice, and this 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 complexities of production.

Our customers 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, freeing them up to concentrate on developing more creative and engaging programming.

As audience expectation continues to rise to new heights, and as terms such as “remote production” and “cloud-based production” simply become “production”, only organizations that are ready to embrace innovation will continue to thrive.

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