The concept of leveraging the public Internet as the main infrastructure for widespread distribution of content, both for B2B and Direct-to-Consumer applications, is new to traditional broadcasters that have treated the digital side as a secondary silo to their linear channels, but that’s changing.
Many media companies have figured out much more agile ways to deliver content, with two-way connections that provide a much deeper understanding of what and when every viewer is watching a piece of content or commercial. There’s immense value in that data.
The wealth of OTT services now available have turned this accumulated data pool into successful business models that re-imagine the approach to delivering content: making it available to everyone simultaneously, in what some are calling a “Mobile-First” strategy. If terrestrial OTA broadcasters leverage such infrastructures to address mobile users and then work backwards to the main television facility, they stand to enjoy the same multi-tiered success.
Time To Change Old Habits
Traditionally, broadcasters have distributed media in a “big stick” approach whereby a single TV antenna is the central distribution point to a wide-ranging audience that can’t be accurately measured. And there’s no backchannel to monitor viewing habits. In today’s highly competitive world, it’s time to start thinking about the new landscape for competition over the advertising dollar. That means smarter audience measurement across both behavior and demographics, and creating a data lake of competitive audience information to help guide business decisions.
This mobile-first concept brings many opportunities for monetizing content for all delivery platforms, including the living room TV set. Yet we all know that consumers want to watch on the go, so it’s paramount to reach them easily and cost-effectively. What if you replace your satellite infrastructure with a terrestrial network that can deliver to all your MVPs and content partners just as quickly and securely over the Internet, but at a significant cost advantage over satellite. It’s now possible by using the public Internet as the backbone.
How It Could Work
The terrestrial transport signal would be linear at the start and linear at the receive end. It’s real time at the start, non-real time in the middle. That’s where the network takes Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) fragments, or chunks of data, from edge servers of the linear transport steam so it can be moved around the network faster. Once it’s in the TCP format, it simply becomes a replication problem. You use the native capacity of the content delivery networks to put copies everywhere because storage is cheap, networks are cheap, and computing is cheap (except when it’s in the cloud). Then at the edge we reassemble it all dynamically.
Allowing the edge to fill your inventory adds another powerful benefit. Instead of limiting your sellable inventory to a single playlist at the source, we start to think about expanding the capacity of that playlist by creating delivery manifests at the edge. That dynamic reassembly process at the edge is driven by the delivery manifests organized by region, partner, or even individual consumer. This avoids a design that relies on a chain of complex systems to assemble the video in real-time and manage local spot insertions.
The move from centralized playlist to edge-based delivery manifest is more valuable because it creates greater channel diversity and improved audience targeting. It also instills the mobile-first approach that ensures a constant backchannel for critical audience data.
Don’t Miss The Boat
As we discussed in the first article in this series, the audience base and how it consumes media is changing rapidly. Consumers need news while viewers demand whatever they want when they want it. If your service does not offer what they want specifically, consumers will go somewhere else.
Likewise, the consumer will move elsewhere if the content they want is buried deep in the vast library of a subscription service. The reality is that the 10’ experience just got a lot more intimate and even sitting on a train watching on a mobile device, consumers just want to be entertained. When content is difficult to find or access, the chance of subscriber churn increases.
A consumer-first approach therefore increases revenue-generating opportunities, further strengthened through valuable user data received. If your first concern is the art of broadcast, you could miss the boat. While ATSC 3.0 and NextGenTV will improve what we can deliver and enhance quality of experience to the broader audience, the Internet is steadily becoming the most efficient way to deliver content. All the various OTT services now popular with viewers are becoming the “new normal” for household viewing because it gives them choice, flexibility, and convenience. For broadcasters looking to stay relevant in the new media delivery landscape, it’s not about updating your service but re-imagining it in a whole new way.
The Conversation Is Changing
Today’s conversations regarding new media delivery and fulfillment strategies (and reducing cost and complexity) are reminiscent of the early days of the emergence of the cloud in 2018. Everybody then said they had a cloud strategy and simply moved a piece of hardware into a virtualized workflow. That’s not cloud first. Today, everyone is using Kubernetes and containers (where various configuration settings and access controls) and microservices in the cloud to utilize cloud services far more efficiently. Once pure cloud, or cloud-native, you can take full advantage of what microservices can do for your business. You can run services only when you need them at the scale you need, and turn them off when you don’t.
The broadcast industry mindset today is to take your playout system and move it into the cloud, then use very expensive monitoring remote to that and run the channel 24/7. Without question, the move to cloud is important. Flexibility in resource utilization alone won’t make you competitive, however; it will just bring you to the same base technology that the digital native companies enjoy.
The challenge of broadcast is unique. The cloud is a platform to create on top of, but the challenge is more than just where you run your equipment. Mobile-first provides a context for rethinking the processes that run in the cloud, and the supply chain you utilize for content distribution.
Mobile-first isn’t about rethinking your core operations. It is instead impactful on how you plan, schedule, sell, and fulfill advertising. The move to mobile-first can mean sweeping organizational impacts as it simplifies much of the content processing towards a more future facing proposition. It answers the question about ‘what comes after cloud’.
A “Network-Native” Approach
Whether looking at an advanced delivery system that utilizes the public internet or NextGenTV, the move to prioritizing your content targeting, whether it’s for a partner, region, or individual customers, forces you to raise the value of the return connection. For every show delivered and every ad fulfilled, you should expect actionable data in return. A network-native approach means shifting your attention from infrastructure to delivery fulfillment, and the opportunity it creates when any delivery point from cable operator to consumer becomes a trackable, targetable endpoint.
When you start thinking about every endpoint as having unique value, you start shifting your strategy to “how do I monetize that opportunity separately and uniquely from any other consumer?” When you accumulate a data set on a particular customer, it helps you make better financial decisions. The result is more revenue per delivered streams and the ability to deliver to a wider variety of endpoints.
Network-native offers two-way connection via the public networks, and provides your company with the ability to maximize advertising from multiple perspectives. An inventory on a regional target can be broken down into discrete opportunities with smaller targeting. Multiply that by millions of users and one can see how it’s entirely possible to grow revenue significantly. This also fundamentally changes the way you think about the handling of content and fulfillment.
Brick Eksten, CEO of Qligent.
To make that happen, you must first think about what it means to your specific organization to have a “network-native” approach. What is your existing business model and how can you stimulate change in the most efficient and cost-effective way? The sales staff needs to start selling spots in ways they never have before, and in different configurations and durations to fit different platforms.
Also look at your sales and traffic systems and figure out how to get the most flexibility out of them. If they are not flexible in the way they work or the way you need them to work, you might have to install new platforms that do more in the online space.
Content At The Edge
With content embedded within the network and closer to the delivery endpoints, you gain numerous benefits such as improved resiliency. This means having an in-built redundancy solution with content always staged conveniently near the destination, eliminating many points of failure that otherwise must be managed in an ongoing basis. Ultimately, this can help to reduce costs as duplicate content no longer needs to traverse the entire network if it is already ‘close’ to the edge and in the right format. That is how the rest of the internet works today, with localized caches staged near users and ready for delivery.
Carousel networks represent one example. A typical distribution deployment for a carousel network will have real-time connections from source to destination, and parallel paths into the satellite constellation to meet East and West Coast time slots. By simply eliminating one path, because you have it on the network and can reach anywhere you may have paid for the entire changeover to a terrestrial networked service. You can also deliver the content much more efficiently and achieve greater revenue by using a mobile-first strategy.
Getting To Know Your Viewers
What this terrestrial network provides is something broadcasters don’t have today: an auditable path to every single deliverable. It can tell you exactly who watched the content down to a very granular level.
If they want to make the transition to networked terrestrial content delivery, broadcasters should focus not on technology but on what their end game is: saving on cost and growing revenue. There’s savings and operational efficiencies to be had if you plan your content delivery strategy carefully, starting with the edge and working backwards. It’s not enough for broadcast to think about moving forward with the same one-to-many approach, as it’s always done. They need to think bigger and truly embrace a mobile-first deliver strategy.
The reason is simple: you need detailed and demographic data about each consumer you are serving, like where they are at any moment intime and what they are specifically asking for. This leads to tighter control over the network, a better user experience, and increased revenue.