Emphasising Television in streaming television


James Gilbert TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by James Gilbert
Issue 96 - December 2014

There have been all sorts of doom and gloom stories, over a decade or more, about how television is changing. Budgets are being slashed, workflows are becoming automated, and standard IT hardware is taking over from bespoke broadcast kit.

But despite all this, television still looks good. If you watch television with a dispassionate eye, you have to say that technically much of it is terrific, and it is rare to see something disastrously bad. In other words, people still care about quality.

With the huge rise in the number of channels, in fact we have got better at some things. With so many broadcasters in competition, branding is critical. Viewers have to know which channel they are watching, and they need to know - through an on-air marketing campaign of trailers and promos - why they should keep coming back.

To add to the mix, and to add to the content, we now have streaming television, or over-the-top broadcasting. If you are a broadcaster, you are almost certainly having to learn what works in OTT, and how streaming requires a subtly different approach.

I would suggest, though, that you are probably not saying that quality does not matter in OTT. And I am sure you understand that branding is every bit as critical to keep your audience coming back. Indeed, you will want to ensure that consumers associate your broadcast and online brands, so they are watching your output, whatever device they are on.

From the viewers point of view, linear television looks good. Quite reasonably, they expect the same quality - of content as well as technically - on OTT.

Automation, but not as you know it

There is widespread recognition that multi-channel broadcasting is made possible through automation. The technical challenges of OTT - like transcoding and repackaging - are also routinely tackled with automated workflows.

What I want to suggest is that some of the creative challenges, certainly around branding, can also be resolved with automation, too. Pixel Power has been delivering automated branding production for more than 10 years, and there is no reason why it cannot be used for OTT services just as they are for linear channels.

I want to make one other point about the new breed of technology, running as specialist software on standard hardware. We have to stop thinking of it as broadcast kit, with the expected development and integration times, not to mention a very long repayment cycle. IT-based systems should be fast to implement, with the assumption that they will be upgraded or redefined as needed.

That is not to say that you can do everything with commodity software and there is no longer a place for broadcast experts. There certainly is, because good broadcast software and integration is complex. Which is why there are still broadcast vendors in the market: we can make this happen.

That is good, because it means our technology is agile to allow us to move quickly, responding to new business opportunities, and get an edge on the competition. As an example, let me talk about the automated branding system we installed at MBC in the Middle East.


MBC saw a new business opportunity: a channel dedicated to Bollywood movies. Having spotted the gap in the market it wanted to fill it as quickly as possible. This was not a nine-month technical project to get the channel on air: the board wanted the channel live in just a few weeks.


That meant the marketing had to start virtually immediately, with a programme of attractive and dynamic promos and trailers, building momentum and a sense of anticipation in the target audience. The challenge was to make all these promos.

Templates

The traditional way of making promos is, of course, to allocate an editor and an edit suite, which has a not insignificant cost attached. For MBC, even if the budget was there, the Dubai centre did not have spare editing facilities. The solution lay in Pixel Factory, a Pixel Power product.

The way it works is that you allocate your experienced graphics designers to create a set of templates for all the different sorts of promos you are going to need. You can put time and resources into this because you are only going to do it once. You set the look for the channel, and this is maintained consistently in every promo produced.

The templates are loaded into Pixel Factory, ready to be rendered with whatever content you give it. The input can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, and usually a soundtrack for the programme or series you are going to promote. The spreadsheet includes information on which versions of the promo you need, as well as version specific information like transmission date and time.

From then on the automation takes over, cutting all the different versions of the promo to the soundtrack. You get tailored content, and potentially a lot of promos, so you do not risk boring your audience by rotating just a few trailers. The branding is consistent because everything uses the same core templates. Pixel Factory runs on the same high-quality graphics engine used by all Pixel Power devices, so it all looks terrific.

The finished promos, once checked by the producer and channel manager, are delivered to the asset management system, along with the appropriate metadata, ready for playout.

The graphics automation is unattended so can run 24 hours a day. You get a lot of productivity from the device as well as lightening the load on traditional editing. At MBC they found that automating promo production for its new Bollywood channel saved 40 hours a month in edit suite time, and reduced the delivery time for new promos by 50%.

The original project was so successful that MBC rolled it out to three more channels. That saved a full-time editor with room and facilities, releasing them to do more interesting work than creating multiple versions of trailers.

The obvious extension of this concept is that the same high quality branding can now be delivered at a price which is affordable for online services. When you set up the initial templates, you simply define what you want for the different platforms you serve: OTT, mobile and tablets.

Each time you commission a new trailer or promo, you tick the boxes for all the variations that you need. It might take a little more processing time but the chances are you will have spare capacity in a device that works 24 hours a day without the need for supervision. Now you have the option to match your marketing and branding consistently across every platform you serve.
It also ensures your streaming is more consistent with your broadcast output, in content and in quality. That serves your audience well, and will keep them coming back for more.


Tags: iss096 | james gilbert | pixel power | streaming | television | ott | James Gilbert
Contributing Author James Gilbert

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