Content intelligence

There are around seven and a quarter billion people in the world today. You can go to worldometers.info and watch the total rise. What does this mean for us humble folk who used to work in broadcast?

Already there are more mobile phones than there are people. And today it is hard to buy a mobile which is not a smartphone – an expression that is likely to have a very short life in the dictionary. Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6 phones in the first weekend, despite the rumours that they bend.

There are also tablets of course. And no-one would even try to estimate the number of computers in the world. Cisco estimates that next year there will be 25 billion devices connected to the internet; 50 billion by 2020. Newer technologies like LTE and 802.11ac not only make it easier for all those devices to get online, they provide faster, more stable, more predictable connectivity.

What does this mean for us humble folk who used to work in broadcast? It means:

  • more consumers
  • more devices
  • more formats
  • more delivery platforms
  • more content

…all of which will be digital, and will be managed through digital workflows.

Formats

Television used to be simple. We made a master version of a programme, and if we sold it overseas we told them to subtitle or dub it. Then we made HD masters, and told SD broadcasters to downconvert it.

Now we have multiple devices, and each one demands a different combination of screen resolution, frame rate, codec, wrapper and delivery format. To maximise the experience on mobile devices we invented sophisticated variable bitrate delivery, and even then we got not one but three different systems. And if anything the rate of arrival of new platforms is still increasing.

So more consumers are demanding more content on more devices, using more platforms. This is not something that can be tackled by hand. Some of the biggest broadcasters in the world have survived up to now by managing workflows on Excel spreadsheets: those days have gone.

SDN

The software-defined network is the new big buzzword in the industry. Along with file-based content and IP connectivity, it is the only way we are going to survive. In simple terms, the SDN means we define all the things we might ever want to do with content as processes, and we push the content from process to process, in software on a server farm, until we reach the required deliverable.

SDN is our friend. It gives us a technology platform that can quickly adapt to changing business requirements for broadcasters, content owners and producers, and the creative community. Where once it took nine months to put a new channel on air, today we should be measuring that in days. We are no longer hard-wiring workflows, we are drawing them on screen and allowing the SDN to interpret.

Most important, the SDN is not the clever part. The thing that is absolutely central, absolutely critical to success is metadata. If you manage all the information you know about your content in one place, you have the ability to maximise your business activities.

Rights information, technical parameters and content descriptions have individual applications, and departments within the operation care about each of them. But taken together, they allow automated decision-making, and it is this which releases the power of the modern workflow.

Content intelligence

When the word metadata first appeared in broadcast circles, one convenient definition was that it is 'bits about bits'. It is a digital description of a digital content file. In a well-ordered system the metadata and the essence are permanently linked, perhaps with the metadata even embedded in the content itself.

That means you can mine the metadata to make decisions in business process management. We call this content intelligence. And it is critical to making all these new deliverables happen.

Take a simple case. A new piece of content arrives at the broadcaster. First, you have to determine what needs to be done to the content: does it come from a trusted source or does it need QA? Is it for immediate transmission – so needs a priority path through the system – or is it for later use?

What rights do you have for it? Which platforms can it be used on? How many rescales, transcodes and transwraps do you need to perform? What descriptive metadata is needed for the EPG, for the catch-up website and for other platforms?

Automation is the key to improving efficiency and, as complexity grows, to even making it possible. Take the content intelligence, use it to make business decisions, then update the metadata so the next process down the line can make its decisions accurately and automatically.

The result is an environment in which workflows are defined in business process terms. Essentially, you state in what forms your audiences expect to see the content, and therefore how you will achieve your revenue goals. The SDN, driven by content intelligence, makes it happen: securely, accurately and efficiently.

Tony Taylor is CEO and chairman of TMD

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