Intelligence for the media & entertainment industry
STREAMING BIG JUNE 2020
A LOOK AT THE CURRENT STREAMING LANDSCAPE
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INNOVATION IS WHAT YOU NEED
s I write this month’s column, IBC2020 has just been cancelled. The decision wasn’t a huge shock, but I’m still sad that I won’t get a chance to catch up with everyone within the industry. IBC made the right decision though, and I applaud them for making it as early as possible. With no NAB or IBC this year, many vendors have taken the opportunity to innovate the way they talk to customers and the industry in general. We’ve seen a huge increase in video conferencing, virtual presentations and different ways of debuting new technology. With the cancellation of IBC I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
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games” as they’ve been dubbed. What does that mean for La Liga and the Premier League? Hopefully, by the end of June we’ll also see other areas of TV production resume. The BBC has already confirmed it hopes to have both EastEnders and Top Gear filming by then. But how will they work? Can you reproduce the camaraderie of the Top Gear trio when they’re social distancing? Or will the producers be able to innovate the production processes to reproduce the success of the last couple of series? What we have seen recently is innovation in remote production for news. Sky News recently produced a half hour of programming with every
Can you reproduce the camaraderie of the Top Gear trio when they’re social distancing? Or will producers be able to innovate the production processes to reproduce the success of the last couple of series? While the coronavirus pandemic has led to innovation in the way the industry communicates with itself, we’re also seeing innovation in how TV is produced. We’re all looking forward to the return of sport to our TV screens (well, I am anyway). But, how will sport be produced once it returns? Will we see a rise in remote production? Or a decrease in the size of the OB teams being sent to cover matches? With the best will in the world, you can’t be socially distant in an OB truck. With Germany’s Bundesliga restarting behind closed doors and giving us all a glimpse of what the immediate future holds, will we see broadcasters opt to replicate the sound of fans at matches? Certainly viewers weren’t quite sure what to make of the first round of “ghost
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member of the show’s on air and off air team working from home. The broadcaster believes it was a world-first for a news channel. While it might not become the ‘new normal’ for live production, it’s certainly innovation that’s been driven by the current pandemic. So, that’s really what I hope the rest of 2020 holds for the media technology industry. We will continue to be at the cutting edge of TV production, driving innovation and helping the production teams maintain the outstanding content they delivered both before and during the pandemic. As always, stay safe. n
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TVBEUROPE JUNE 2020 | 03
MEDIA, ENTERTAINMENT AND TECHNOLOGY: WEâ€™VE GOT IT COVERED
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IN THIS ISSUE
07 Covid-19 won’t stop the pirates
NAGRA’s Tim Pearson looks at streaming piracy during the pandemic
17 The biggest OTT platform you may never have heard of
Crunchyroll’s John Easum on a niche SVoD with a huge audience
18 The Streaming Landscape
TVBEurope talks to industry experts about the “new normal” and what lessons can be learned from the current surge in viewers
24 The importance of subtitles Why subtitles are key for the content industry
30 Learning the Ropes
Philip Stevens takes a look at some training opportunities for the industry
35 Meet the producer of Meet The Adebanjos Jenny Priestley meets Andrew Osayemi, the producer of Netflix’s new British Nigerian sitcom
42 Finding a global audience
How Magnolia Pictures reached a global audience through informed decisions
45 The Final Word
Pixel Power’s James Gilbert has his say on the future of the media tech industry
Cover image © Sam Richwood
TVBEUROPE JUNE 2020 | 5
OPINION AND ANALYSIS
Crowded homes and empty stadiums: The pandemic’s impact on streaming By Steve Miller-Jones, VP edge solutions and solution architecture at Limelight Networks
ith cancelled sports games and award shows, the world has moved entertainment away from public venues and into the home, as viewers consume more content for extended periods of time. With the media now navigating an unchartered territory, the industry is seeing a subtle shift in the priorities for players in the streaming world. Reliability has always been a cornerstone of ensuring that the consumer fairy-tale of high-quality video offerings and an abundance of choice leads to a happy ever after. However, in the current climate, it has become the leading performance measurement, resulting in services reducing default bitrates to help broadband and mobile network providers manage increased loads. For OTT providers to keep up with these changing demands, they need to be able to understand the consumer, the current climate and take a proactive approach with their CDN partners to deliver the consistent experiences that audiences are demanding with the right formats and bitrates, at the right time. It’s no secret that over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix have taken the local entertainment market by storm – almost everyone uses such a service. Yet, it’s not just their content that has kept customers coming back for more. Consumers today are no longer hindered by the limitation of television broadcast showtimes or content availability. Instead, they have become accustomed to accessing deep content libraries and seamless viewing experiences, at the simple touch of a button. Streaming is a much tougher game, with viewers now having a myriad of options to view on-demand content on-the-go through OTT apps. A platform with poor reliability will not keep their audience engaged if users cannot access their offering consistently. With the current surge for on-demand streaming content due to more people staying at home, how can OTT providers relieve pressure on their content networks and wider internet infrastructure whilst capturing consumer attention? Limelight Networks’ research shows over half of UK viewers cite video rebuffering as the most frustrating aspect of watching video online, with 60 per cent abandoning a video if it re-buffers twice. To combat this frustration, Netflix and YouTube have lowered their bitrate, thereby reducing the default quality setting to
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ensure customers can still access content. Evidently, streaming services need to offer an all-round quality experience from story to delivery. From preserving outstanding video quality to service reliability and low latency, it all comes down to robust delivery strategies. One area in which these challenges are particularly defined is in the world of live sports streaming. The internet has revolutionised the way we interact with the world of sport. From championships in professional sports, to regular season games, audiences love to be a part of the action – wherever they are. However, the cancellation of live events, such as UEFA’s Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2020, has put pressure on the sports industry, and the advertising revenue in what was a quadrennial year. This has necessitated a shift towards solutions that enhance fan engagement as a result. While live streaming of sports has come to a sudden standstill, the challenge is now going to be providing for audiences once sports can resume. With a multitude of OTT streaming avenues, sports fans will be presented with multiple options to engage with the teams and personalities they support, while rights holders are keen to ensure that audiences engage with their investment and production of the events. The interest in reliable sports streaming has always been prevalent, research from Limelight’s State of Online Video report shows 54 per cent of viewers in the UK would watch live sports online if the stream was not delayed from the broadcast feed. Quality, reliability and latency are going to be in the spotlight like never before when live sports resume. OTT platforms will need to carefully consider the options available to them to manage these multiple dimensions of quality and experience and choose delivery partners capable of providing the required flexibility. Rather than the streaming wars becoming a long drawn-out battle for eyeballs, consumers will be looking for the media industry to keep them both entertained and occupied and not frustrated with the platforms they are trying to use. Striking the right balance between reliable services and the range of available content, is key. The streaming survivors of tomorrow will be the services which offer superior user experience and reliability today, so that viewers continue to engage as the new normal emerges. n
OPINION AND ANALYSIS
Covid-19 won’t stop the pirates By Tim Pearson, senior director, Product Marketing at NAGRA
he implications of the global Covid-19 crisis for the pay-TV industry are undeniable. With live sport events postponed or cancelled and content production stalling as social distancing rules are enforced, TV production isn’t immune either. Despite the crisis, operators and service providers offering OTT streaming and D2C services are witnessing some benefits. As people are forced to stay at home, a significant number are looking for new sources of entertainment. Netflix for example added 15.7 million subscribers globally in the first quarter of 2020, up 23 per cent on last year. It’s not surprising that industry analyst firm Omdia expects online streaming brands to see a 12 per cent revenue rise this year. However, OTT providers and premium content owners cannot be complacent. Just because consumers are watching more content doesn’t mean they’re always doing so legally. While many want to keep themselves and their families entertained, the cost of ‘stacking’ streaming services may become untenable for some. Audiences still want access to premium content and, if another ‘provider’ can offer that content either free or at a vastly reduced price, consumers are likely to choose that option – especially if it appears legitimate. By definition, operators simply cannot compete on price with pirates stealing and restreaming their content. And, with so much content being streamed, providers who don’t take service protection seriously will lose even more. It is therefore imperative that all operators continue to rapidly develop and deploy service protection strategies to keep their service and its content safe. Through a mixture of technology solutions and anti-piracy services, service providers can protect their revenue stream by making it harder to steal content and continuously identifying and stopping content leaks, disrupting the pirate experience. Of course, no service, nor pirate is exactly alike. Service providers shouldn’t assume that simply purchasing a one-off anti-piracy solution will fix the problem during and after the crisis. Operators need to consider what approach is likely to work best for them as part of their overall OTT streaming strategy. Multi-national providers running large scale solutions with significant numbers of subscribers will require an extensive and diverse set of solutions, tailored to each territory they operate in, while regional providers may initially only need to make a smaller investment.
Companies therefore need to identify and invest in the solutions that will resolve their specific problem. These could include forensic watermarking, anti-piracy services or an advanced security platform – all linked to a multi-DRM baseline. What matters is that all elements can seamlessly integrate with each other to create a comprehensive service protection strategy and such elements can deliver operational data into a centralised business decisioning system to allow operators a 360-degree view of their security operation. This approach then enables additional products to be added as the operator’s business grows and realises new threats. Covid-19 has significantly changed content distribution as content owners, including major Hollywood studios, adopt release strategies that prioritise direct to streaming and digital distribution. As Trolls World Tour’s success demonstrates, there’s significant revenue potential in doing so. This is also altering how people consume content and is widely expected to continue after the health emergency is over, creating more opportunities for operators to grow their services. But the new environment is also more enticing for content pirates, meaning the entire industry must act now to instigate anti-piracy solutions or risk a spike that will continue to grow and be harder to tackle later. After the health emergency, an economic crisis is widely expected. Consequently, when the commercial relaxations that we’ve seen implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to stem churn (e.g. payment holidays, removal of data caps, free access to SVoD services etc.) are inevitably reversed, consumers may not be able to afford their current pay-TV bundle nor an additional outlay on stacked services; which could see increased churn and subscribers seeking access to content through illicit means. This means that alongside actively targeting pirates, operators also need, through sophisticated data intelligence-led analysis, to implement strategic marketing campaigns and clever skinny bundle options that keep existing subscribers and entice back those who churned to the pirates. Pay-TV operators have a role in ensuring audiences are being entertained and informed during and after this crisis, but that must not be at the cost of neglecting to protect the content or their service offering. By taking a holistic approach to fighting piracy and supporting subscribers’ financial and entertainment needs that can adapt and grow with their services, operators can unlock opportunities to assure their future. n
TVBEUROPE JUNE 2020 | 07
OPINION AND ANALYSIS
Streaming content deemed essential By Brian Gaffney, VP of Business Development, X2X Media Group
ith a world in flux and businesses and people’s lives being disrupted by “Stay at Home” declarations due to the Covid-19 virus, the future means continuing to work from home remotely. This has created a new type of ‘water cooler’ to sit around and ingest the news of the day. The television has again become the centrepiece of our content information input. Thankfully due to the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus, television is not only providing us all with the news and information we need but it is also providing new viewers the chance to explore content from documentaries such as Tiger King, to the latest cinema releases being offered on streaming platforms. Over the last two years, the rise in these streaming services has led to many of the most creative projects now being made for the small screen rather than the cinema. If we have learned anything over the last few months with streaming content it is that it might as well be deemed ‘essential’. We have learned too that viewers want to continue watching characters and plots they enjoy, which has freed creators from the bounds of a traditional two-hour film and how that movie is presented. Streaming shows are now combining multiple genres (comic book styling, animated story transitions, characters singing) with the film broken into multiple episodes of varying length. Shows have turned into an eight to 10-hour film that can be watched almost continuously as one show. With entire seasons being released on the same day, binge-watching has already become the norm. Now streaming is a way to relieve stress and escape the reality of the daily news. And all this change has happened in the space of a few weeks. Subscriptions are up and the global internet could feel the impact. Netflix was already responsible for using 15 per cent of total internet traffic on a daily basis. Combined with the new services from Disney Plus, to
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Amazon Prime and others, this grows to over 25 per cent of the total traffic. What does this mean for production? Once the world comes back to normal, the demand for fresh content will only increase. First of all, there will be more of it, shooting in locations dispersed all over the world. Secondly, companies like Netflix have upped the technical requirements by mandating 4K acquisition, which means four times the data required for HD production. Camera manufacturers like ARRI have met this challenge with the introduction of the ALEXA Large Format camera series and the new ALEXA Mini LF. And all this image data is accompanied by more and more metadata. Managing all this data is a challenge but also an opportunity. CODEX introduced High Density Encoding (HDE) in response, allowing productions to capture all of the camera data but store it at 50-60 per cent of the original size with no loss in image quality. Despite the increase in data generated at the shoot, the production team and the studio still want to see dailies as soon as possible. Companies like PIX, part of the X2X Media Group, provide secure video systems for collaborative workflows, so that an executive in Los Angeles can be at their desk and see what was shot that day wherever in the world the production is located. PIX viewers can stream this secure content on their iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or desktop set-up. Content collaboration systems such as PIX streamline production and post production workflows and make it possible for Netflix, Amazon Studios, Disney Plus, and all of the other streaming services to rapidly ramp up their production slates when production resumes. In the meantime, sit back around the television and be inspired by the amazing content available on these platforms. Hopefully more incredible stories will be inspired and written and the cycle of production and content delivery will get back on track. n
OPINION AND ANALYSIS
Post-pandemic storytelling and the new fault tolerance By Dr Andrew Cross, president of R&D for the Vizrt Group
any people are discussing the topic of the ‘new normal’ – a discussion focused on how to stay relevant and on the air during the pandemic. However, what must happen in the time after the proper authorities are finally able to sound the ‘all clear’ signal? What happens when everybody is allowed to get back to something we might now call the ‘old normal’. What will life be like for broadcasters when that time comes? What lessons are these times teaching us? It appears there are a few very clear takeaways emerging that will sear themselves into the minds of this generation of storytellers for the rest of our lives. That said, some argue things will never be normal again. But, when you get back into the office, the first thing you do is likely to be very ordinary – get a cup of coffee, perhaps? We will follow routine. For TV producers and broadcasters on their first day back in the office, they will breathe a sigh of relief, probably over a cup of coffee – and then go back to the way they were. Anybody who denies that is being as unrealistic as thinking they won’t get their morning coffee. Simply put, we’ll want it to be that way – it is human nature. There are however, genuine things that will not go back to normal. Staying on the air during the crisis required dramatic and quick adaptations throughout the global TV industry. The way shows are being produced today has changed dramatically. It has certainly been more difficult than following the normal routine every day. But we’re learning some things in the process. At some point, when we return to routine production, someone clever is going to say: ‘Last month we had a contributor who called in from his living room or basement or from his garden or whatever. Why can’t we do that now?’ People are going to remember that the internet connected everybody by video. That is not going to go away. Even if we return to doing a lot of things the way they were done before, there has still been a foundational illustration to people that the internet connected the entire world together via video – and it allowed us to change the way we run our productions. This issue of connectivity is one of the touchpoints the industry has debated for a long time. Even if you were used to – and prefer – traditional equipment, you’re still going to want to use what this moment in time
gave you in terms of how it allowed you to produce shows. Even if a lot of how the show was made goes back to how it was pre-pandemic. THE NEW FAULT TOLERANCE However, one major change will be in how we protect our future workflows. The Covid-19 pandemic fundamentally blew up generations of what people thought fault tolerance and risk tolerance were. It has forever altered the way we will build studios. The old way of thinking about fault tolerance was to have two sets of things so an item in a workflow could be quickly replaced. We thought of it as having dedicated reliable hardware on site. Yet that all failed us. Fault tolerance quickly became about being able to move things freely to another location so it could be used there – not about it being very reliable at one single location. This shift isn’t unique to broadcast – the concept of fault tolerance has existed in engineering for decades. That failure has brought about a fundamental change to the discussion on the benefits of software versus hardware. Suddenly, if you could move your devices up into the cloud – or into the home office or to the garage – it became the new definition of reliability. The solution during a pandemic was people discovering the flexibility of software. That is a significant change. THIS CHANGE WILL STICK This need to effectively, efficiently move video around is one of the things that will stick, even as we go back to traditional workflows. It’s given us flexibility and new ways to make shows, new ways to be creative, new ways to make shows easier, quicker, cheaper, even if we go back to doing a lot of things the way they are. So yes, many things will go back to the way they were before, but what is being relied upon during the pandemic now in terms of connectivity and software will stick. People will realise that the movability and flexibility of software overrules everything else. And, when the first real world disaster in our lifetime happened, all of these multimillions of dollars’ worth of equipment that were built to survive – to be able to operate and never go off the air – actually went off the air. Ultimately, what we’ve learned is what we should have known all along, it’s the story that matters. n
TVBEUROPE JUNE 2020 | 09
THE POWER BEHIND BRITBOX Jenny Priestley talks to Adam Nightingale, SVP commercial at Deltatre, about the company’s work on SVoD platform BritBox, and the importance of identifying viewers by their tribe
PICTURED ABOVE: Adam Nightingale
n October of last year it was announced Deltatre would be powering the new UK version of SVoD service BritBox via its targeted UX management platform AXIS. Three weeks later BritBox was live and available to consumers. While Deltatre’s work on the SVoD wasn’t completed quite that quickly, the company did pull out all the stops ahead of launch. “When ITV wanted to get BritBox up and running in the UK it had a couple of fairly key requirements,” explains Adam Nightingale, SVP commercial at Deltatre. “One was time to market, which looks like a very smart move in terms of what’s happening at the moment. The other one was an ability to integrate with ITV’s already pretty robust back-end that it’s been building out and enhancing for some time.” According to Nightingale, ITV provided “really good back-end platforms” which Deltatre was able to integrate with its AXIS platform as well as the video content management and metadata management tools the broadcaster had selected. And all of this was taken to market in seven months from contract signature to going live. As well as BritBox in the UK, and the North American version, Deltatre counts a number of major streaming
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services as clients. From World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to Denmark’s public broadcaster DR, AXIS is powering platforms as they bring content to eager but demanding viewers. The platform’s speed to market has been a major force behind its adoption around the world. “To be able to integrate our tools with pre-existing components and use our comprehensive set of dynamic reference maps that come with AXIS means that we’re able to provide a quick start mechanism for anyone who wants to launch a powerful OTT platform,” explains Nightingale. “But when a company has launched an OTT platform what always happens is they want to do things differently, they want to have different layouts, different colours, they want to then go live on Fire TV and then they remember that Roku is quite important. What AXIS and the reference apps let them do is to have the team at Deltatre take care of a lot of the constant engineering and reengineering work. So if you want to have your apps looking different from time to time, things like colours, layout, seasonal features, promotions and so on, then AXIS lets you do that without having a battalion of engineers sitting in a backroom constantly rewiring things.” Nightingale explains that AXIS tends to attract three
FEATURE different kinds of clients, “One will say, we really like your reference apps, they’re fantastic, we’ll take them as they are. Then there’s another one who says, yeah they’re kind of good but we’d like them upside down and inside out, and there’s the other who’ll say, yeah they’re great but we want to do something completely off the wall, and we’ll build them all fresh. Oh, and there’s a fourth kind who says we love your products but we’ve got this huge team of engineers and we’d like them to do all the development in-house. So we will also sell just products to them,” he laughs. “ITV is hugely pragmatic, they’re a wonderful company to work with, and they’re very collaborative. Because they knew that time to market was the thing that mattered, they were very happy to largely take the reference apps as they are, obviously paint them BritBox colours and the designs of BritBox,” says Nightingale. “You do get a lot of flexibility within those reference apps in terms of the look, the feel and the layout. With ITV the process largely involved a small amount of consultation in terms of what the requirement was, but a lot of the work actually was more focused on surfacing the design ideas in those reference apps, but then carrying out that back-end engineering task of integrating AXIS with ITV’s own in-house platforms for video and metadata management.” He continues, “If you asked me about some other customers I’ve dealt with in the past then they’re far more challenging and indecisive, but with ITV it was a really smooth project. I think the reason for that is itself interesting, and it’s because it was a true collaboration. There are always things that clients want to do that are really important, but that doesn’t make them any more possible. The thing that mattered most to ITV was going live, not just going live with anything but going live with something that everyone can be proud of.” WHAT’S YOUR MTRIBE? Away from its work on BritBox, Deltatre has been developing new SaaS platform, mtribes. First showcased at IBC 2019, mtribes was officially launched to the industry at the beginning of April. Asked to explain the difference between mtribes and AXIS, Nightingale says a common point of both platforms is that they are designed for teams working in editorial, marketing, commercial or product owners who care about what their customers are looking at and how they engage with TV and apps. “Both of them allow you to very quickly alter the layout of an app,” he adds. “AXIS allows you to alter the layout of an app that probably has been built by Deltatre, in most cases, unless the customer has their own engineering team. mtribes can be integrated into apps built by absolutely anyone. And it is, I’m reliably told, a super quick exercise, it just takes 15 minutes. It’s properly easy!” Another key point about mtribes is that it allows companies to understand who their subscribers or users are. “If you look at any service, there are
different kinds of people using it, you don’t get that sort of homogenous common user,” explains Nightingale. “mtribes allows you to define your own tribes, or it will define them for you. You might want to understand users who tend to view content only in the evenings on a big TV and tend to like boxsets. You might have people who are huge supporters of Juventus but only ever watch on a Wednesday afternoon. When you understand that, you can start to adapt the way that you offer the service to them. With AXIS you can adapt the layout easily, mtribes lets you have that adaptive UX, adaptive UI, and almost update it in real time. If a subscriber logs in and lands into a particular tribe, you can provide them with a different version of the service compared to the person who’s sitting next to them. So you could have 10 people sitting in a train carriage at the same time looking at the same service on the same device and they’re all getting a slightly different layout, based on what we know works for those people.” As we all know, we’re living in extraordinary times where more than ever viewers are turning to TV, both linear and OTT. Nightingale describes the current situation as if “someone’s thrown a can of petrol over the bonfire of the OTT industry, it’s gone berserk.” “On the entertainment side, we’re seeing huge demand for accelerating work that we’re doing already, because now is the time to have something live or to have been live already for a few months,” he adds. “I don’t think the demand will diminish to the level it was at pre-coronavirus, because we’re creatures of habit and we’ve realised that there’s a lot more content out there than we used to watch and we’ve probably signed up to Netflix or Disney Plus or BritBox. I think we’ll get into enough content that the subscriptions will sustain after this horrible situation has ended and we’re allowed back out on the streets again. He adds that the challenge for Deltatre’s clients is not just understanding viewing behaviours, but also understanding what works for the viewer as that will be the difference between retaining them or not. “This is where something like mtribes is actually really good,” says Nightingale. “One tribe of users that we’ve sort of preconfigured for is those who are likely to churn. A platform works like hell to win customers and to get them to sign up and the last thing you want is for them to leave as soon as they’ve finished Downton Abbey or Better Call Saul, because getting them back again is going to be tough. “Content providers need to understand that there is a bump in demand now and if they’re going to let that tail off back to where it was prepandemic, that’s a huge lost opportunity. We’ve seen subscriber acquisition numbers going up by between a third and double depending on which service we’re looking at. But, that level of growth won’t sustain, it can’t because there’s only a finite number of people on the planet. To keep as many of them as possible is going to be the challenge.” n
TVBEUROPE JUNE 2020 | 11
LET’S ADDRESS THE ‘DEAD ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM’ IN STORAGE Rohde & Schwarz outlines the cutting-edge resources that its engineers select from when using SpycerNode, how they make every effort to integrate it seamlessly into media environments, and what customers experience when using its latest generation storage solution in real-world applications
&S SpycerNode represents a new breed of storage turnkey systems that harness the latest advantages in High Performance Computing (HPC). HPC is a term mainly used for massive server infrastructures in various super-computing and other highly sophisticated applications. In terms of storage it refers to the system’s performance, scalability and redundancy. HPC is a combination of hardware, file system and RAID approach. The main difference between traditional and HPC approaches is the way it handles certain challenges. HPC employs redundancy using software “RAID” technologies called erasure coding to increase overall performance and reduce rebuild times. Scalability is almost infinite, and expansion is possible during operation. In developing SpycerNode, R&S engineers have looked at many of the key issues that impact media storage systems within high-performance video editing environments. Sometimes, these can take the form of annoying maintenance requirements – such as defragging – which cause system performance to drop off. Or it can be much more serious system failures, such as dying disk drives, which can have catastrophic consequences to a project that is being worked on. So where does this inherent system flexibility come from? SpycerNode comes in three different chassis designs: 2u12 and 5u84, which are available with NL-SAS HDD and SAS SSDs in different capacities. An additional 2u24 chassis design is a pure flash system. There are main processor units and JBOD units which intuitively expand system capacity. A main unit is always redundant, equipped with two appliance controllers (AP). Each AP features two 100 Gbit interfaces resulting in four 100 Gbit interfaces per main unit. The combination of different chassis systems makes SpycerNode applicable to a very broad range of applications. The 2u system represents a compact, lightweight unit that is appropriate to applications where space-saving is an important issue. The system is ideal for application within OB truck environments as well as offering a very dense, high speed storage device for on-premise applications. The larger 5u system offers heavyweight storage facilities on-premise within broadcast production centres and post facilities. ETHERNET SET TO REPLACE FIBRE CHANNEL In developing SpycerNode, we have addressed several ‘dead elephants in the room‘ that still possess the ability to disrupt and distort the broadcast media storage market. One of these is the question of which interconnection technology to use – the now long-in-the-tooth Fibre Channel or high-speed Ethernet. Today, if you look at Fibre Channel
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relative to high-speed Ethernet, there is no comparison. The future is Ethernet and yet some media storage manufacturers continue to promote Fibre Channel, which presents real risks for their customers. To fully understand what we mean, you only need to look at industry data. On the one hand, the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) reports that the Fibre Channel market saw a return to modest growth in 2018. In comparison, the Open DeviceNet Vendor Association (ODVA) reports strong growth in Ethernet switch connectivity. Most recently, port shipments for 100Gb Ethernet switches rose 154.6 per cent year on year to 3.5 million, while 25Gb ports saw even higher growth rates with port shipments up 251.0 per cent to 2.6 million and 40Gb port shipments rose too, growing 12.6 per cent year on year to 1.3 million. The Fibre Channel standard was completed in 1994 and it has served the media industry well, but in essence there are only around nine manufacturers developing Fibre Channel technology. Compare this to high-speed Ethernet, where there are over 500 companies, such as Juniper, Arista and Cisco introducing new products every year and the future is clear. The question is whether end users of storage systems are aware of this market trend and the consequences for their business. Broadcasters, production companies and post-houses do not want to run two networks within their facilities because of the infrastructure costs and support requirements. Recent developments in high-speed Ethernet technology make it comparable to Fibre Channel in performance but it is much more flexible and enables the creation and operation of network attached storage (NAS) systems more easily and cost-effectively. As we are demonstrating with SpycerNode, Ethernet represents a far more versatile, productive and costefficient platform for media storage. This is the message that we need to communicate to the international media community.
ADVERTORIAL INTEGRATE STORAGE WITHIN PRODUCTION WORKFLOWS IN A MEANINGFUL WAY Another key issue is how users integrate their storage architectures within their main production workflows. Some vendors remain totally focused on the storage technology to a point where it becomes an end in itself. At Rohde & Schwarz, we see media storage as the means to an end: we are engaged in many different elements of the broadcast production challenge and this broader view helps influence the evolution of SpycerNode with a macro-level view of potential applications. What users need is efficient and effective bridges between their storage system and other production tools. Hence, we have very recently announced SpycerPAM, a production asset management system that enables workgroup editing and seamless integration of SpycerNode with various editing and mastering platforms. SpycerPAM is a software extension of the SpycerNode storage platform that simplifies project management and integration of all major creative applications. It makes workflows more efficient, especially for post production companies. Managing access rights, proxy administration and avoiding multiple copies of assets are just a few of the challenges that complex productions may face. SpycerPAM addresses these issues and significantly simplifies project handling. It offers functions such as asset management, rights management, metadata management and proxy generation as well as many features that simplify collaboration such as project sharing, allowing users to focus on being creative. SpycerPAM supports numerous production tools, including Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Avid Pro Tools, Avid Media Composer and R&S CLIPSTER. It seamlessly integrates the tools and creates its own “project mounts” for project management on SpycerNode. Access rights are assigned to users in order to guarantee content security and audit compliant software multi-tenancy. Smart linking mechanisms prevent redundant storage of assets from various projects in SpycerNode memory and sustainably reduce the storage capacity needed. In addition, rough cuts can be created quickly with the integrated webbased Preditor and then linked in the user’s preferred processing tool. In a highly competitive electronic media storage market, we believe that SpycerNode is clearly differentiated from other systems. It‘s purpose designed for media applications with more than three decades of development experience. In SpycerPAM, we offer media specific applications to increase workflow efficiency in post production environments. In playout scenarios our unique virtual storage access (VSA) technology enables total storage redundancy to ensure seamless streaming without a single dropped frame. With a unique system hardware and software architecture, SpycerNode has no single point of potential failure.
And it is totally scalable from entry level to data centre set-ups. Utilising our market-leading development capabilities, SpycerNode is built to perform with constant bandwidth, low rebuild times, zero performance degradation over time and advanced self-diagnostic and healing capabilities. SpycerNode takes media production to new levels of performance and security. From a single unit upwards, it protects production data and shields projects from unauthorised access. Designed specifically for media workflow applications, it offers true software multitenancy and native deployment of secure media data environments. THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING: MOTION PICTURE SOLUTIONS Based in West London, Motion Picture Solutions (MPS) is a leading international film services facility that supports major studios and independent distributors alike with the worldwide theatrical release of titles including day-and-date blockbuster franchises. With a services suite that encompasses mastering, content localisation, creative effects work and secure electronic distribution through to live event cinema and downstream VoD deliverables, MPS has been operating in the digital cinema sector since the company was founded in 2005. MPS is a major user of Rohde & Schwarz’s mastering and distribution platform, Clipster. To support this mission critical investment, last September, the company invested in SpycerNode. “The bottom line is that the SpycerNode system provides fast storage for the Clipsters,” states Eric D’Souza, head of technology. MPS has to be able to service clients with the very latest technological needs as well as all the traditional deliveries. They can see advantages in fulfilling versioning within the IMF package, particularly with respect to demand for VoD. To do another VoD version in its pipeline is relatively straightforward, so the fact that the Clipsters are all IMF-capable was one of the reasons for buying so many of them. These advanced workflows require similarly state-of-the-art storage facilities and it was a straightforward decision for MPS to invest in SpycerNode when it became commercially available. “SpycerNode provides a single large fast namespace for all systems working on a project,” explains D’Souza. “Data does not need to be moved during the workflow - this improves efficiency and profitability throughout our operations.” “Clipster is a unique product that is at the heart of mastering DCPs at MPS. It was essential that our new storage architecture would provide outstanding support for Clipster and with SpycerNode this was never in doubt,” D’Souza concludes. “Rohde & Schwarz provided the support to ensure that both systems would be fully integrated from day one within our very specific requirements at MPS. Clipster and SpycerNode improve the efficiency and stability of the operation at MPS.” n
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WEIGHING UP THE PRACTICALITIES
OF BROADCAST STORAGE
ith the ever-growing volume of broadcast related content, storage has become an increasingly critical element in modern media IT infrastructures, with maximum architectural and datathroughput requirements for multi-user environments. The broad storage ecosystem is a highly competitive one with rival vendors making claims and counter claims about which technology represents the best investment for your business – today and in the future. And there is also the question of cost efficiency – what represents good value for money and where do the high-risk compromises lie? R&S SpycerNode is a multi-user shared access media storage system that offers a new and radically different approach to the broadest range of broadcast & media storage requirements but how does this translate into added value in modern day operations? We ask these questions, and more, to Hannes Strobel, vice president Media Technologies at Rohde & Schwarz.
there is no need to plan for potential future set-ups – with SpycerNode, your business is futureproofed. This issue is underscored by the incorporation of 100 Gbit interfaces as standard features, since this will enable the easy integration of additional systems in the future.
HOW CAN YOU EFFECTIVELY SCALE YOUR STORAGE SYSTEM AS YOUR BUSINESS GROWS? From 2u12 to 5u84 chassis designs, SpycerNode supports various configurations such as NL-SAS HDD, SAS SSDs in different capacities and even pure flash memory. There are main units and JBOD extension units. A main unit is always redundant, equipped with two appliance controllers (AP). Each AP features two 100 Gbit interfaces resulting in four 100 Gbit interfaces per main unit. With SpycerNode, scalability is almost infinite, and expansion is possible during operation. Scaling a storage system has never been easier, and with this new system
HOW DO YOU GUARD AGAINST POOR SYSTEM PERFORMANCE DUE TO AGEING AND RANDOMLY FAILING DISKS? Decreases in the performance and integrity of drives is a major issue in arrays of disks. Disk drives normally do not drop out instantly – it can take a significant amount of time until a drive is considered to be faulty and removed from the SAS bus. Data corruption and slow overall performance could be caused by a single “dying” drive. In order to prevent this SpycerNode features the Disk Hospital which constantly measures the average technical performance of a drive. If a prescribed threshold is exceeded the drive
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HOW SURE ARE YOU THAT SYSTEM SET-UP AND MAINTENANCE IS INTUITIVE? One age-old pay-off exists between the desire to use the latest technologies whilst having a storage system that does not require excessive amounts of time and labour to set up and maintain. SpycerNode features our Device Manager web application which is our face to the customer that makes it much easier to set up and use R&S solutions in an integrated and modern fashion. With Device Manager, all Rohde & Schwarz systems on a network can be operated via a single interface. Complex console configurations and laborious maintenance work are no longer necessary, allowing users to focus on their creative work.
ADVERTORIAL is removed from the array and replaced by the spare drive which is declustered and not physical. HOW CAN YOU REDUCE STORAGE OVERHEADS WITHOUT COMPROMISING SYSTEM OPERATION/ PERFORMANCE AND SCALABILITY? This is a key question facing businesses of all sizes and scales of operation. It is one that our design team focused on in developing SpycerNode. Firstly, SpycerNode allows online scalability in bandwidth and capacity – a feature which significantly enhances system agility across a broad range of applications. Also, to reduce storage overheads, it offers ILM (Information Lifecycle Management) to intelligently manage the location of all files on the storage system. Depending on pre-sets and parameters, files can be moved e.g. between fast online storage and slower nearline storage to optimise infrastructure utilisation automatically. Therefore, expensive online storage isn’t blocked with files which currently don’t require maximum performance. HOW EASILY CAN YOU FIND DATA, ESPECIALLY AFTER THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN EXPANDED? When you invest in a new storage system it is similar to investment in your premises. You are making an investment that, hopefully, will last many years. However, just as you may build an extension onto your building, then you will inevitably need to expand the capacity of your storage system as your business grows. Herein lies a big challenge. How sure can you be that your storage system will work as effectively, reliably and efficiently after it has undergone one or more system expansions. How sure can you be that your creative staff will be able to find the material they need quickly and easily? SpycerNode employs ‘Single Namespace’, which enables users to combine all storage repositories under one URL. This improves usability vastly since files are always at the same location in the same directory no matter on which physical drive and storage unit they actually are stored. SpycerNode aggregates different types of drives such as spinning and solid state under a single volume. Policies can be created to direct certain file types to the storage pool with the required technical capabilities. DPX files can be written to the fast online pool while other files may be directed to the high capacity pool. To offload data from a more expensive online pool the project can be moved to the more cost effective nearline pool. This allows companies to use the storage more efficiently, avoids duplicates and simplifies service and maintenance. HOW CAN YOU ENSURE THAT YOUR DATA IS SAFE AND FREE FROM CORRUPTION? This is the $64 million question. If your storage system
does not offer long-term failsafe operation then it can undermine your entire business. Whilst cost efficiency is a key driver, you must be confident that your storage system will support all of your teams and offer dependable data protection. SpycerNode data protection is based on erasure coding and declustering. Erasure coding means that a data block is split into fragments with additional parity, declustering spreads the data and a spare drive virtually over the complete array of disks. In case of a drive failure, all drives are contributing to the rebuild plus the system only needs to rebuild the data that has been written to disk. This is unlike traditional RAID where all drives are writing to one spare disk which has to be rebuilt completely, no matter if the system has a filling level of 10 per cent or 80 per cent. This can lock up the storage system and cause rebuild times up to several days. SpycerNode’s approach results up to four times faster rebuild times and a minimal impact to the overall system performance since all drives only have to rebuild a fragment of the lost data. In an 8+2p (eight data and two parity strips) configuration, which is standard in SpycerNode, two physical disks can be lost at the same time. It is important to understand that the system rebuilds the most critical data first which means that after this data is reconstructed the rebuild is still ongoing and another drive failure could be intercepted. In addition, SpycerNode features an end-to-end checksum mechanism to prevent silent data corruption. Every time a data block is written a checksum is created and written to disk. When the data block is read another checksum is created and compared to the original one. If both checksums match, data is delivered to the application. If the checksums don’t match the data block is recreated out of the parity and the newly created checksum is compared once again with the original one. If they match, the corrected data is delivered to the application and the faulty data block on disk is corrected with the parity information. At Rohde & Schwarz, we are first and foremost, media people: we have over 30 years’ experience developing storage technology and we understand what is most important to our customers and their business operations. SpycerNode represents a new breed of storage systems that harness the latest advantages in High Performance Computing. It has been developed to meet today’s broadcast storage challenges and to future proof your operations for many years to come. If you would like to know more about how SpycerNode can help you grow your business, please contact your local Rohde & Schwarz office. n
PICTURED ABOVE: Hannes Strobel
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FEATURE With the on-going upheaval caused by coronavirus, it would be easy to assume all other industry news has come to a standstill. For TVBEurope.com that is not the case, as we continue to report on the media technology sector as it weathers the storm. Here are some stories you might have missed, and if you haven’t seen our exclusive interview with IBC CEO Mike Crimp on the cancellation of this year’s show, you can catch it here: https://bit.ly/2LHg3Ry
BEST OF SHOW SPECIAL EDITION WINNERS ANNOUNCED
TVBEurope is delighted to announce the winners of the Best of Show Special Edition Awards. The special edition of the programme was created this year in the absence of a physical spring NAB Show. It honours and helps promote outstanding new, recently introduced and pending products and services.
THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS FROM TVBEUROPE ARE: Singula Decisions – Singula Subscriber Intelligence OWNZONES – OWNZONES Connect Wheatstone Corporation – Remote Dimension Three Touch NAGRA – NexGuard ClipMark Winners have been selected by panels of professional users and magazine and site editors. https://bit.ly/2zJEET8
ITV IS TURNING THIS MORNING’S OLD STUDIO INTO A VISITOR ATTRACTION
The former home of This Morning on London’s South Bank is being turned into a new ITV visitor attraction after receiving planning permission from Lambeth Council. The new attraction will open at Prince’s Wharf – between Gabriel’s Wharf and the former London Television Centre building. ITV has been given five-year temporary planning permission for the attraction which will host exhibitions and experiences themed around famous TV programmes. The broadcaster had originally planned to open the attraction this year, but that is now unlikely to happen due to the coronavirus pandemic. n https://bit.ly/3dXlZlK
ELECTRONICS GIANTS WELCOME NEW MPEG-5 EVC CODEC Samsung, Huawei and Qualcomm have endorsed the release of new video coding standard, MPEG-5 Essential Video Coding (EVC). The MPEG-5 EVC standard is a video coding standard for ISO/IEC Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and the FDIS written description of the standard was officially released at the end of April 2020. The electronics companies say they intend to work further to promote the technology and enable its rapid deployment and adoption.
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The new codec will enable more screens to display 4K, 8K, VR, AR and HDR content. The new EVC standard aims to provide a significantly improved compression capability over existing video coding standards and is expected to work well with emerging delivery protocols and networks, such as 5G, enabling the delivery of high-quality video services. n bit.ly/2zhfFX9
THE BIGGEST OTT PLATFORM YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF By John Easum, head of Crunchyroll EMEA
eople often think of anime as niche, but it’s one of the few country-specific entertainment exports that has really travelled globally in the last few decades. From the 1970s onwards, viewers outside of Japan, from the US to Europe to Latin America, started consuming anime. The real game changer of course was Pokémon; which was introduced to international TV networks in the late 1990s. Its success provoked a wave of anime being introduced to the mass markets via mainstream broadcast. But for many anime fans outside of Japan it wasn’t enough, and, coupled with the growth of the internet and the continual enhancement of bandwidth, an opportunity for an animespecific online network was created. Enter Crunchyroll. With over 60 million registered users and two million paid subscribers, we’re the biggest OTT platform you may not have heard of. Since launching in 2006 we’ve provided the global anime community with the content they crave and, for some shows, realtime access from Japan. It’s the service to our fans which goes over and above what other streaming platforms can offer. We’re not just an aggregator of content, we speak to our dedicated community through a 360-degree approach. As well as providing TV content, we have events, manga publishing, consumer products, gaming, and home video. Most recently, Crunchyroll acquired VIZ Media Europe – a move that strengthens our position as an anime brand in Europe. The acquisition brought in Kazé – VIZ’s manga publishing arm as well as key DVD distributors in a region where home entertainment is still very important. It might surprise you to know that in France, for example, manga is bigger in
revenue terms that in the United States. Ultimately, our challenge, like most other streaming platforms, is securing the best content. It’s a cliché, but content is king. We’re fortunate to broadcast some of the top shows in anime – a fact which underpins our position as the dominant platform in this genre; but the competition is fierce. Our strategy is two-fold: 1) to continue to foster the great relationships and partnerships we have with the leading content producers in Japan and 2) bolster our slate with a raft of originals. We recently announced eight new original series spanning adventure, romance, historical fiction, and more. This slate of Crunchyroll Originals perfectly complements and builds upon Crunchyroll’s global collection of anime that boasts more than 1,000 titles and 30,000 episodes currently available for fans. Whilst it’s true that other platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime offer anime content – I
don’t see them as direct competitors. What they are helping to do is potentially bringing in more casual viewers. I should also add that the barrier to becoming invested in Crunchyroll is minimal – registration is free so fans can access great content immediately. To go back to where I started, there’s this notion that anime is somehow ‘niche’, ‘cult’ or ‘geek’ – but this idea needs revisiting in the current climate. Geek has become mass market in many ways – people who watch Star Wars and Game of Thrones can’t really be considered geeks – these properties are massive global franchises. We have 60 million registered users – this is well beyond niche when you consider the numbers. Anime is being consumed on a massive scale and we want to maintain that engagement with fans – it’s what allows us to grow. When I’m asked what the ‘streaming landscape’ will look like in the future, I don’t think TV brands or TV broadcasters will go away because of the proliferation of streaming services - they will adapt and become part of the streaming ecosystem themselves. Having said that, Crunchyroll grew from a selfsufficient community. It was a brand that didn’t benefit from big corporate tie-ups or channel aggregators or telco offerings. It was discovered on the internet and grew out of an organic (and global) passion for the content. Looking to the future I’d like to see Crunchyroll expand further into the living room – become part of the culture of the casual viewer. This migration will come from developing partnerships over time with telcos and platform aggregators and this will blur the lines of the industry even further but allow Crunchyroll to be part of that ubiquitous environment of entertainment. n
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THE STREAMING LANDSCAPE This June issue of TVBEurope was always planned to chart the evolution of the streaming landscape following a busy period of platform launches and consumer take-up; what we hadn’t bargained for in our planning last autumn was the remarkable context in which we would be doing so. With much of the world confined to their homes in recent weeks streaming more on demand content, accessing more content via social media, and consuming more and more internet bandwidth as they work from home, are there lessons to be learnt about the capabilities of streaming technology through this testbed of lockdown? Will consumption habits
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, what key trends were you seeing with streaming in terms of the advance of the technology itself, and its application/adoption by broadcasters and media companies? JIM O’NEIL (JO): 2020 was turning into a watershed year for broadcasters and media companies in the streaming world. The number of big service launches in the US alone signaled that media companies had determined streaming wasn’t just a part of the future, it was the future. Disney started a big push in late 2019 with the launch of Disney Plus and continued that with expansion in the first quarter. There’s little doubt that the company has realised where consumers are going and wanted to be a part of that transition. Of course AT&T went all-in with its HBO Max launch plan, and its growth moving forward. Comcast/NBCUniversal launched Peacock earlier than planned as ad spend on traditional TV took a nose-dive in March because of the pandemic. But they already had determined streaming was going to be one of its core businesses.
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be forever changed in our ‘new normal’? Are media companies late to the party with quality OTT offerings suddenly too late to play catch-up? To try to make sense of it all, we assembled a cast of industry experts to pore over these questions, and more, in our virtual roundtable. Contributors include (in no particular order): Jim O’Neil, principal analyst, Brightcove; Guy Taylor, head of account management, M2A Media; Luke Durham, CTO, Switch Media; Anders Wassén, head of online video development, Red Bee Media; John Wastcoat, SVP alliances and marketing, Zixi; and Erik Ahlin, founder and CEO, Vidispine.
GUY TAYLOR (GT): For M2A our expertise is in building services to deliver live sport. To that end, lowering latency has been something of increasing focus. We’re seeing a move towards standardising protocols for low latency and it was interesting to see Amazon’s acquisition of low latency specialist, Sye, from Net Insight at the start of this year, which is a statement of intent. In other areas, we’ve been working on dynamic content insertion and multi-track audio. With the global potential of any live streaming service, broadcasters are looking to maximise the reach of their content, through localisation. Dynamic content insertion, based on SCTE standards, and multi-track audio allows them to do this, whilst lowering their cost of delivery; both technologies facilitate the delivery of one stream to many. LUKE DURHAM (LD): Even prior to Covid-19, content owners were looking at ways to reduce costs and complexity, allowing them to extend their reach, free up operational resources and adapt to the changing OTT
landscape. They are looking for a best-of-breed solution without the need for customisation, other than adapting to company branding. Features this type of ‘off the shelf ’ solution may provide include secure VoD and live streaming with DRM; a global CDN service; real-time analytics reports; comprehensive metadata; high-definition ABR encoding; dynamic adinsertion (DAI); and a range of ready-to-go applications across every screen. DAI is a must for the modern media workflow. We’ve seen a lot of organisations put their traditional linear broadcast channels online without maximising the revenue from them. The ability to replace traditional broadcast ad breaks with more personalised, targeted and lucrative ads is hugely beneficial. This is particularly true in the area of live sports. DAI technology is a key feature for optimised monetisation as it uses server-side ad insertion technology, as opposed to the far less reliable client-side technology. ANDERS WASSÉN (AW): A trend that was apparent even before the coronavirus outbreak was cord-cutting, with households shifting to internet-based content consumption
through smart TVs, connected streaming boxes, etc. This trend has grown in strength these past months; in the US, for example, the major pay-TV operators lost around 1.5 million subscribers in Q1 alone. This might accelerate the development, production and distribution of UHD/HDR content when more viewers will be able to receive this type of content. There has also been a focus on increasing the quality of user experience, including lowering latency and managing limited internet capacity when households are using more streaming devices. This development calls for technical developments such as efficient video codecs and streaming protocols. ERIK AHLIN (EA): The key trend in the last year or so, arguably accelerated in the wake of the pandemic, was both the requirement and ability to very quickly set up streaming services. The shift towards Platformas-a-Service, such as Vidinet, means media
companies can rapidly on-board new services and, if needed, quickly turn them off again making it far easier to respond to changing consumer demand – especially in the dynamic situation we’ve now found ourselves in. JOHN WASTCOAT (JW): Prior to the crisis we were seeing lots of customers adopting IP and hybrid IP workflows for the live video distribution of broadcast-quality video to provide a faster time to market and to leverage a more cost-effective and flexible infrastructure. A number of factors were driving this trend: the rise of consumer cord cutting affecting how and where content is consumed; mega merger integration of companies in the media space; the increased desire to move from a capex to opex business model; relentless pressure to cut costs; and the pending widespread adoption of 5G and its impact on how much C-Band will be available for broadcast in the future. A lot of people had plans to make these strategic moves
towards the virtualisation of streaming systems, but all of a sudden due to the pandemic they had to accelerate those roadmaps a lot sooner than they intended. We’ve heard a lot of the ‘race to zero latency’ as one of the main technology hurdles to be overcome in time. In your view, what are the key issues and challenges in streaming technology’s evolution? LD: Getting a handle on complexity is the primary challenge, which is a broad statement but is fundamental to many issues. The main driver is due to device fragmentation, creating duplication of effort across application development, media distribution technologies and service operations. Latency wasn’t an issue when there was one consistent platform, now there are many and it’s broken. To repair it you need to fix it across multiple services, which isn’t currently possible, and the ROI isn’t stacking up in most cases. The CDN bill is still a major line item, any
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“There’s a certain school of thought that says latency is more an issue for the industry than for the consumer, and I think we need to keep that in mind” JIM O’NEIL, BRIGHTCOVE
efforts to reduce this are looked at closely, whether it is peer to peer CDN services, or better codecs like AV1. But again a single improvement won’t apply across the board and so media companies save money but also increase complexity. GT: One of the main technological hurdles to overcome is the lack of mature standards for low latency delivery. We are seeing moves towards agreed standards, but progress could be quicker (pun intended). Standardisation has to be in place across the entire delivery chain, from encoder manufacturers, to CDNs and players. Many encoder manufacturers will have some form of low latency offering, but often it’s only compatible with a single player or requires some form of firmware update of the customer’s device. A subsequent poor user experience may somewhat devalue the offering. To succeed, low latency solutions will need to be deliverable by a diverse range of CDNs and able to achieve a broad range of device and player compatibility. M2A has been making significant inroads in to this area with key industry interests and we hope to share the results of these labours in the coming months. AW: To have a behind-live latency that is comparable or better than traditional TV broadcast technologies is usually good enough for most viewers and this will most likely settle around three to four seconds in. Close-to-zero latency will be more rare, but for interactive shows and betting there is definitely a use case. The adoption of open standard protocols to reach low latency has brought down the price and reduced potential lock-in effects. Last year, Red Bee managed to reduce latency to 3.5 seconds, for which we received multiple awards. We are continuing our development and we are getting close to zero latency.
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JO: There’s a certain school of thought that says latency is more an issue for the industry than for the consumer, and I think we need to keep that in mind. That said, sports gambling is a major driver of the ‘race to zero latency’ – or at least the push to make latency in streaming more similar to that broadcast sees. As we see 5G deploy commercially, we expect to see a big piece of that resolved, especially for sports. Are we learning anything new about the capabilities of streaming technology during this period of lockdown, good or bad? GT: What we can see is that streaming technologies can be highly responsive to rapidly changing times. Many streaming technologies are cloud native, which has allowed an agility that would be difficult to achieve in traditional linear broadcast. A case in the point is the rise in popularity of esports during the pandemic. The ease in which ad-hoc live events, such as esports tournaments, have been delivered at scale, whilst under lockdown conditions, has been achieved by the use of cloud for all aspects of live delivery, including contribution. That’s the good; the bad is continuing bandwidth constraints stymieing upstream technological progress. You can have the best streaming technologies in the world, but if you’re meeting network infrastructure limits at the last mile, your classy 4K video is potentially going to be delivered to the customer as a buffered, sub-HD quality stream, making any technological gains somewhat redundant. The broadcast industry is doing its bit to address bandwidth constraints, by driving forward technologies that deliver higher video quality at lower bit rates, for example. However, it will need the help of telcos and ISPs to ensure the customer sees the full benefit. That said, wider adoption of 5G should play it’s part in improving the customer’s viewing experience.
JO: How many times can you remember hearing from some segment of the industry that ‘X will break the internet’? Remember the World Cup in Rio? So much streaming traffic that it would slow down the internet and maybe crush it. The Olympics, the Super Bowl in the US. Other global events – usually sports – have the same old wags positing a collapse of infrastructure. It can be a popular position taken ‘just in case’. But the internet and its related technology has proven to be robust. Overall video traffic in Q1 spiked as news of the coronavirus worsened and more people worked remotely, and students learned from home and we all watched more video. And the internet continued to work. LD: I think we’ve learnt that the internet isn’t fully ready for all the high-bandwidth OTT video services. Because of the huge upsurge in activity when lockdowns came into force in March, many of the top streaming services reduced their top bit rates to ease the pressure on broadband networks. But that upswing also shows the increased power and reach of OTT video services around the world and the sheer demand for content from viewers: Netflix alone doubled its expected subscriber growth (up nearly 16 million) in the first quarter of this year. Then there’s been the success of Disney Plus, already reaching 54 million subs. It’s wider than that, it’s now absolutely clear that broadcasters of all shapes and sizes must have a clear OTT strategy in place if they haven’t one already. JW: As more broadcasters are forced to quickly virtualise their workflows, we’ve learned a lot about why the future of streaming technology will be software-defined and delivered over IP backbones. Moving away from fixed hardware infrastructures to more softwaredefined solutions that leverage IP distribution allows for a flexibility and immediacy that is essential when it comes to remote monitoring and operations. But not every live streaming software solution is created equal, to truly maintain broadcast continuity in virtualised workflows your software-defined streaming solution needs a few key items to be successful: multi-protocol acceptance, essential software tools and core media processing functions that operate over any IP network, one centralised control plane to cost-effectively manage complex deployments at scale and a broad
FEATURE network of integrated partners to ensure interoperability to future proof your business. AW: We already know that video consumes a lot of bandwidth and optimising video encoding has become increasingly important. Now that people are not only using streaming services for entertainment, but also using video conferencing and participating in virtual events while working from home, there is additional pressure on the available network capacity which needs to be addressed. We have seen and will be seeing a lot of new streaming services popping up as temporary or permanent substitutes for physical conferences and trade shows.
this pandemic we’ve spent a lot of our time getting people home, helping our broadcast and media customers redefine their workflows for people operating remotely, and giving them the tools they need to provide the monitoring, management, telemetry and orchestration that allows them to work from home while still maintaining broadcast operations and delivering broadcast-quality live video.
What specific challenges are you facing as a company during this period and what sort of questions/concerns are you getting from your media clients? JO: The safety and security of employees, partners and customers has to be at the forefront of any company at all times and, obviously, especially during this pandemic. Brightcove is no different. Our entire workforce globally has been working remotely and that has created some hurdles, but our company has shown great resilience and has continued to innovate and conduct business. One of our mantras has been to focus on communications – more so than ever before – and it’s really been something of a strength during this crisis.
GT: Ensuring continuity of service was the primary concern of all our clients as we entered the lockdown. From an operational perspective there were initial concerns about how a geographically dispersed M2A operations team could support the delivery of live content. For us the main challenge here was shifting operations from a highly equipped MCR, with all the associated video walls and multiviewer monitoring, to one of home-based working. However, we equipped our operations staff with the necessary kit, in the form of additional screens and laptops, and they’ve risen to the challenge fantastically. Although, it has helped that we’ve seen a decrease in live content, which has lowered the operational overhead during this period. The challenge will now be how we scale up to support the anticipated increase of live events as live sport starts to come back, whilst potentially maintaining home-based work and keeping our staff safe.
JW: During this challenging time where many clients were forced to make the switch to remote operations quickly, the biggest question we’ve been getting is “How do I maintain continuity in broadcast operations from home?” During
AW: For obvious reasons, any project or activity that requires at-site presence has either stalled or slowed down. Also most, if not all, sports-related production and broadcasting has disappeared. We have seen an increased interest in our OTT
end-to-end ecosystem, with customers exploring how to adapt to the changes in viewing habits and available content. LD: The primary question is around costs. Broadcasters depend on sports and advertising for revenue, both of which are hugely affected by the current situation. Our main focus is streamlining processes and delivering maximum value for our customers. Consumers tend to move at an incredibly fast pace, led by technology then followed by business transformation. With the current situation and growing demand for online video, it’s our aim as a business to provide high quality, cost-effective, fast-to-market online video solutions. We’re seeing requests for smaller projects like improved distribution with press conferences, education, business conferences and innovative retail-based live shopping events. We’re also getting enquiries from larger companies about how they can improve their internal communications, particularly around remote production and to improve the automation in their workflows. EA: Arvato Systems was well prepared for colleagues to work from home and implemented that for the majority of colleagues well ahead of the lockdowns across Europe – it’s a big change, but it’s working really well. Many of our clients have been able to adapt well too, but for others the shift has been a huge adjustment. With content security being such a significant factor in our industry in general, organisations that have kept systems secure simply by strictly limiting remote access are now struggling both with operations and also system maintenance.
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“Latency wasn’t an issue when there was one consistent platform, now there are many and it’s broken. To repair it you need to fix it across multiple services, which isn’t currently possible” LUKE DURHAM, SWITCH MEDIA We’ve all seen the reports and stats pointing to significantly increased streaming usage during this lockdown. Do you think people’s consumption habits will change as a result of this quarantine period? JO: This is an evolutionary event in the streaming space with broadcasters, content owners and distributors seeing a period of intense streaming adoption by consumers. In our Q1 2020 Global Video Index we saw an immediate increase in streaming usage across all types of content driving a global increase in video views of 23 per cent. In North America, views increased 51 per cent year-over-year; in Europe that increase was 39 per cent and in Australia/New Zealand it was 46 per cent. A big piece of that was driven by stay-at-home edicts in March. GT: We’ve certainly seen reported increases in streaming for VoD content, but for live streaming, specifically sports, the opposite has been true. Live content has disappeared during this period, so not everyone in the streaming video space has been a winner. My feeling is that consumption habits had already shifted significantly towards streamed content, which was evident by the pre-Covid explosion of a myriad of OTT services. Rises in consumption simply reflect more free time spent at home, particularly where children are concerned. Disney Plus has been a big deal in our house. Lockdown has been all about The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. You couldn’t really make up how serendipitous it was for Disney to launch a UK streaming service within the first few weeks of a national quarantine. LD: A significant change to come out during the lockdown is the film industry’s initiative to release and stream new movies online before releasing in movie theatres. Universal Studios streamed Trolls
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World Tour, much to the anger of some of the cinema chains. Once we go back to ‘normal’, will streaming new films on the same day or soon after the cinema release be a new trend? If so, this will have a huge impact on that side of the industry. In terms of general consumption, once lockdown is lifted people are likely to go back to their normal viewing habits. However the huge rise in OTT subscriptions during this time may be down to people that haven’t previously bought into the online video model, these people may continue to use the services due to the convenience, flexibility, and wide range of additional content SVoD provides. Unfortunately this situation will have further accelerated the change that was already happening, where the big OTT players are quickly eating into the traditional broadcasters’ space. AW: There is an overall increase in streaming, and the biggest change is probably for viewers that haven’t been using streaming services before and have started a subscription in the past few months. This will most likely continue post lockdown and the existing cord-cutting trend will increase speed as a result of the quarantine period when people understand how mature streaming services have become. It will also be interesting to see how the streaming usage during commuting will evolve when things start to return to a new normal. EA: Like so many other trends, the lockdown hasn’t altered the direction of change, but it has accelerated the rate of change. It’s likely that the shift in consumption habits would have occurred anyway, but much more slowly. In general, Covid-19 is forcing us to make changes (to how we do things) faster than it would otherwise. The usual ‘do more with less’ but now also adding ‘anywhere’. But also building in agility and fast pace change into business and tech processes.
What do you think will be the longer term impact for media companies following the pandemic? Does it underline that a more holistic offering incorporating ‘next generation’ TV/media services are fundamentally important going forward? JW: We are seeing that many companies believe there will be a permanent need to facilitate remote operations in the long term, and that a shift towards a virtualisation of workflows from hardware to software-defined is key. We recently took a poll of media industry executives following a Remote Monitoring and Operations Webinar that Zixi hosted and the results demonstrated this shift in that 81 per cent now believe that their organisations require permanent remote workforce capabilities, with 95 per cent believing the move to remote workflows will drive faster Cloud adoption, and 93 per cent believing the move to remote workflows requires more telemetry data and orchestration. We also saw that these executives believe that remote workflows will have a significant economic impact with 97 per cent saying the move to remote workflows will provide new revenue opportunities, and 93 per cent stating that the move to remote workflows will provide cost saving opportunities. GT: If media companies weren’t already thinking this way going into the pandemic, then they’re probably already too far behind to catch up. What the pandemic has done is to underline the value of an extensive VoD catalogue. Media companies need to feed the OTT beast with content, whether it’s new commissions or mining their archives. If I were a media content owner, I would be asking how much of my catalogue is available for streaming and why we haven’t made more, or all of it, accessible. LD: Media companies need to look at the spiralling costs, review how they’ve approached their OTT offerings and look at how they can improve on that in the future. There are requests for rebates/refunds on existing sporting rights contracts, and some sporting organisations are even experiencing fundamental solvency issues. There will be no quick fix to this, it may be that people disconnect and lose interest in sport and move onto other interests, perhaps an acceleration of the trend already seen in the younger generations.
FEATURE One of the important things that we’ve learnt throughout this situation is that good content doesn’t necessarily mean high production costs. There have been a number of new shows that have popped up to keep communities connected and engaged during this time that have really made an impact. Creativity finds a way.
we can promote niche content to receptive audiences and target advertising in the same way. When advertising is well targeted and genuinely engages its target audience, it’s much less intrusive on the experience – that requires agencies and media companies to work together but will ultimately improve ROI for both parties.
JO: While TV usage increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the growth was a fraction of what the streaming industry saw. Viewers wanted content they could binge on, content they could easily watch on any event in the home; a way to watch more news than broadcasters could provide on scheduled newscasts. More media companies will turn to streaming to leverage those capabilities. And consumers won’t go back to consuming content ‘the old way’. Covid-19 accelerated the growth of streaming across income divides, demographics and territories. That’s not going to change. We also saw cinemas go dark as social distancing expanded. Some studios began offering first-run movies as premium video on-demand (PVoD) and did quite well. I think that’s started a significant crack in the theatrical release window that will only expand.
LD: Some of the technology used to monetise video over the years has resulted in a less than ideal viewing experience, with disruptive transitions and buffering for adverts being some of the main issues. With advertising being such a lucrative revenue stream, it’s vital to get it right. Advances in dynamic ad insertion technology mean media companies can now provide a seamless OTT viewing experience as well as addressable advertising options. This enables the delivery of a highquality ad experience whilst elevating the advertiser’s ROI.
AW: The SVoD stacking will not continue to grow forever, so streaming services will most likely start including advertising to keep prices low enough. To reduce and minimise the impact of churn, we will see more bundles in different forms. Finally, we will probably see more options to watch content ‘together but apart’, as distancing has become part of the new normal. Finally, what are the monetisation challenges around streamed services, especially in striking a balance between quality of experience for the user and ROI for the platform through advertising? EA: The long tail is getting very thick and there is instant availability for an abundance of ‘good enough’ content. If you are a content owner, you need to be more and more niche in what you do to find your specific segmentation where your content has the highest possible value. With good optimisation
JO: Many subscription video on-demand services have succeeded in growing the number of consumers using their services, but still see some sort of hybrid model as a way to increase incremental revenue, and we may see some more hybrid models. But, as Netflix – with its $15.77 million new users in Q1 – showed, consumers are willing to pay for good, original content. Ad-supported models, many of which offer a smaller quantity or originals, if any at all, will continue to face headwinds from consumer pushback and, right now, an uncertainty among brands of how to spend ad money during these very turbulent times. AW: The benefits of advertising on streaming services is that you have the opportunity to both lower the ad-loads and make them more
targeted and dynamic, so that you don’t have to compromise the quality of experience by showing non-relevant ads. Giving users a choice is a big benefit that becomes available with streaming. You could offer your service with different levels of advertising, where the more you pay, the less ads you get as a viewer. This is a business model that already is in use and probably will continue to grow. GT: Because we’re working on this right now at M2A, the monetisation challenge we’re dealing with is seamless ad insertion into live content. The ad delivery experience for a lot of OTT services is poor, with flash frames of prior content or holding slates where there’s a lack of available inventory for a particular time slot. It’s a bad user experience, which wouldn’t be tolerated in traditional linear TV. The challenge for improving this experience is a typical one of standards being loosely interpreted by vendors and, subsequently, wide interpretations of those standards. I’m specifically referring to SCTE 35 and 104 in that regard. Thankfully we have some hugely bright minds at M2A, who are addressing these challenges head on. It seems to involve a lot of hard maths, way too much talk about fragment sizes and endless conversations about markers and break boundaries. It’s a challenge that requires a lot of effort and cost to get right. For many broadcasters it’s been a trade off between having a sub-optimal viewing experience or grabbing advertising revenue. Unsurprisingly, ad dollars have won out, but our efforts with dynamic content insertion are showing that you no longer need to make that compromise. n
“If I were a media content owner, I would be asking how much of my catalogue is available for streaming and why we haven’t made more, or all of it, accessible” GUY TAYLOR, M2A MEDIA
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THE IMPORTANCE OF SUBTITLES TO THE CONTENT INDUSTRY By Carole Cox PICTURED ABOVE: SubtitleNEXT’s GUI
ubtitles are ubiquitous. We come across them daily when watching videos on phones or tablets, laptops or television, including the big cinematic screen when we can get to a cinema. Subtitles are used in virtually everything from video games and apps, corporate promos, YouTube videos, demos, educational and training videos, titles for live performances, such as opera or bilingual theatre, online tutorials, reported speech on TV, museum or art exhibits etc etc. No longer are subtitles only deemed necessary for those with impaired hearing but are seen as imperative to anyone wanting to watch content when in noisy places or with the sound off. Subtitles assume an audience can hear the audio, but need the dialogue provided in text form as well, whereas closed captioning assumes an audience cannot hear the audio and needs a text description of what they would otherwise be hearing. It is evident that subtitles are now beginning to play a key role in international films gaining global recognition and
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even helping them win awards. Subtitles support upcoming filmmakers by providing accuracy and fluency in order to help directors receive the recognition they deserve on the regional and international stage. At long last, subtitles are being accepted and acknowledged as being hugely important and relevant to filmmakers. This was recently highlighted after multi Oscarwinning South Korean black-comedy thriller Parasite made cinema history by winning Best Picture, a feat that no other subtitled film has achieved in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho used his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes to champion subtitles and encouraged audiences not to be put off by foreign language films. He said once audiences “overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” they will be introduced to so many amazing films. In addition, localisation goes hand in hand with subtitling and entails adapting cultural references in a film
FEATURE or series to local standards or expressions. Right from the synopsis phase through to pre-production and post production, lip-sync dubbing and voice-over screenplays, localisation and subtitling skillsets are involved in making programmes and movies coherent for all audiences. Netflix and Amazon productions are also making use of subtitles, with examples such as Roma and many Amazon series. Riccardo Mimmi is a skilled localisation specialist and subtitler based in Italy and has been translating and subtitling hundreds of well-known movies, TV series, and documentaries from major Hollywood studios, broadcast networks and online streaming companies over the course of his entire career. Some of the many titles he has worked on include The Man in the High Castle, The Americans, The Office and others. Passionate about his work, Riccardo says, “The goal of any filmmaker is to convey messages and emotions by transposing stories and characters to the screen. Localised versions are only as good if they are faithful to the creative intent that sparked their creation.” Universities and colleges are on board with preparing subtitling students for the film industry. A good example is the Hellenic American College in Athens, which is offering courses in leading subtitling software platforms in its Masters in Translation (MAT) Programme and Audiovisual Translation Lab. Students in the MAT programme acquire the credentials to begin a career in translation, audio-visual translation and editing. They have the option of specialising in the creative industries and entering the world of audio-visual translation, gaming localisation or translation for museums or advertising companies. Dr. Vasilis Manousakis, who teaches Literary and Audio-visual Translation at Hellenic American College, is an artist in his own right, having subtitled and translated a broad range of genres, series and films produced by Disney, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and Netflix, including Star Wars and Game of Thrones. He noted, “Our industry is made up of companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney; they all require Accessibility Functions (Audio Description and SDH).” Another major advantage that subtitling brings to filmmakers is that it does not add any large expense to the budget. Both filmmakers and broadcasters need to view subtitling as an affordable “add-on” that increases product value, adheres to accessibility rights, and gives a competitive edge. Furthermore, subtitles play an essential role in helping to improve communication – a fact verified by our current times during the present Covid-19 global pandemic. The United Nations and World Health Organisation along with governments across the globe are relying on using videos with subtitling to demonstrate urgent and emergency messaging to populations. Ranging
from instructional and practical advice to providing educational and instructional details on facts and figures, subtitles have provided an invaluable resource and communications device on phones and television to convey messaging across entire countries and continents concisely with clarity. Solutions architect and support engineer Pedro Jervis from broadcast and media solutions reseller Pantalha based in Portugal shared his views on why he thinks that subtitling is so valid. “While most of our customers are not using, or even need, a subtitle system yet, I foresee that they may do so very soon. One cannot ignore the globalisation of the world, and as customers work towards reaching more and more consumers, they will have to adapt to the reality that they will have viewers from different nationalities. This demands a good subtitling system behind it to ensure maximum quality. Especially once we get into streaming, and the customer wants to provide different languages as subtitles. They will need a quick and easy system that can empower their content. “Portugal, compared to fellow European countries such as Spain and Germany, has very little tradition of dubbing international content other than children’s television shows. As such, we are quite used to subtitling imported content. Having a platform that allows subtitling companies to quickly and easily create and add subtitles to their customer’s content, proves itself to be an invaluable tool.” CEO of PBT EU Ivanka Vassileva who heads the distribution of the SubtitleNEXT system which has been adopted by the likes of Belgium’s production company Videohouse and has been used on series such as Vikings and Big Little Lies, said the team at SubtitleNEXT, firmly believe in opening audiences up to a whole new world. “By creating a subtitling application to help surpass language barriers, our aim is to make subtitling more widely accessible and user friendly. From the very beginning, the platform was created to be made available to everyone at every level. To achieve this, it has familiar text-editing application tools that are user-friendly.” Vassileva’s words provide an optimistic overview of subtitling and the future ahead. “In these difficult times when sharing vital information with everyone is crucial, it is apparent how important subtitles and captions have become. The current global health crisis has demonstrated how essential subtitles are for critical information exchange. On a filmmaking note, subtitling is being used to enhance entertainment and help audiences enjoy a wider variety of film, television and social media footage. “Subtitles are informative, helpful, and a great communication tool and enhance a movie. Our message to filmmakers out there is to use them where you can and have fun with them. Happy subtitling!” n
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ADAPTING TO THE NEW NORMAL OF LIVE STREAMING By Richard Mansfield, director of streaming and delivery, MediaKind
T PICTURED ABOVE: Richard Mansfield
he impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt heavily throughout the broadcast industry. Sports fans in particular have awakened to a new world where goals and wickets have been impeded by social distancing, lockdown measures and event postponements. While live news and on-demand content libraries may satisfy consumer cravings in the short term, live events will soon return. In order to prepare for the biggest televised comeback of the decade, operators and rights owners must find ways to bring these events back on air swiftly and safely, ensuring they match traditional broadcasting quality. Luckily, there are already ready-to-go solutions available on the market to bring these events back with the gravitas they deserve. BACK TO NORMALITY: LIVE CONTENT IS STILL KING Appetite for streamed content remains strong. During the week of 16th March, when lockdown measures were first introduced in the UK, the demand for streaming services increased by 34 per cent, with overall screen time among children soaring by 43 per cent according to Nielsen. Live TV dominated this time, making up 63 per cent of screen time, including a significant rise in news streaming. Recent trends have also shown consumers are accessing this content in new ways. Comscore’s State of OTT 2019 Report found that the biggest rise in streaming devices between 2018-2019 was focussed on the main screen experience, with Smart TV’s witnessing a 23 per cent growth in use. Yet despite the shift in consumer viewing habits from traditional broadcast infrastructures, such as cable and satellite, to OTT, consumers still expect the same quality of experience for live content that traditional broadcast
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offers. A poll by TVBEurope and MediaKind, which was carried out during our recent webinar Live Streaming 2020 – Shifting Consumer Habits – found consistent broadcast quality across all devices is the most important element for an operator when delivering a streaming service (65.8 per cent of the votes cast). These changing user behaviours, faster and more reliable internet access, and the desire for more flexible viewing are diversifying the broadcast chain to leverage internet-based adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming as the delivery of this content. This content typically goes over the top (OTT) of an operator/ISP’s network, but increasingly the operators themselves are using the same technology for their own managed TV services to end users. Live services that leverage internet based ABR streaming allow broadcasters and operators to reach an extended number of device types both in and out of the home. It also reduces the barriers to entry, enabling new players to offer live services. This can be seen through Amazon Prime’s foray into the live sports market, with Premier League football coverage at the end of 2019. BROADCAST QUALITY STREAMING When life does return to normal, broadcasters and operators will ultimately need to address the same questions and challenges facing them prior to lockdown; achieving broadcast quality streaming, monetising this content effectively, and finding ways to produce content remotely. Broadcast quality streaming has several defining metrics. These are high picture quality, low latency and scaled delivery. All three attributes are hugely important for delivering valuable live content, particularly sports. The issue at hand is being able to offer all three simultaneously
ADVERTORIAL in real networks, where there may be congestion from other traffic. MediaKind’s Aquila Streaming solution, a Cloud-native, ABR headend solution that enables content to be received, transcoded, packaged and encrypted, addresses this challenge. The solution leverages software encoding and packaging components to ensure the delivery of content at the highest picture quality and a latency equivalent to a broadcast workflow. In order to apply these same benefits to non-linear content, MediaKind Encoding On Demand brings the same encoding and packaging benefits to on demand workflows, providing the same high quality of experience for on-demand assets. Monetisation solutions will also play an important role in funding these streaming services. Online platforms, such as YouTube, can provide a quick route to market with preparation and distribution costs covered along with revenue potential, however content providers and operators looking to have closer engagement with their customers and a larger ownership of the advertising revenue will look to provide their own offering as an alternative or addition to the online platforms. LIFE BEYOND LOCKDOWN Although many live events will initially resume in stadiums behind closed doors, this will spark a huge increase in live TV and sports streaming. In order to cover all of these rescheduled sporting events, live sports catch-up services will be critical. However, in addition to the cost of streaming this content to each user, it will become necessary to optimise the content to reduce these costs, either from the viewpoint of a CDN delivery, or from a storage cost perspective. This is a particularly challenging area, given the growing ubiquity of 4K Ultra HD content and emerging consumer interest around High Dynamic Range (HDR) and 8K Ultra HD viewing. The investments in expansion and segmentation of fixed broadband networks and the rollout of 5G is enabling more capacity for delivery, while the improvement in existing video codecs and potential adoption of new codecs will support better use of the available capacity. Looking beyond the lockdown, remote production and cloud-hosted ‘pop-up’ channels will also be an incredibly valuable asset for broadcasters looking to get games on air
quickly and safely, while reducing on-premise facilities. Cloud-centric, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings are only becoming more accessible to broadcasters, with event locations and remote set ups being increasingly internet connected. LEVERAGING CLOUD AND SAAS With the expected increase in live streaming traffic, offering a fast time to market will be a key need, providing broadcasters and operators with more opportunities to deliver new services. Leveraging the public Cloud can offer tremendous benefits here, by removing the need for long on-premise installation times. Furthermore, using a Cloud-based SaaS solution overcomes the need to have complex in-house technical skills for video solution deployments. With the increasing number of direct-to-consumer offerings coming to market, delivering a video service with less in-house experience
will mean services can leverage the latest technologies without having a major in-house skills deficit. MediaKind recently enabled its Aquila Streaming solution as-a-Service on Google Cloud Platform, enabling customers to quickly launch OTT services at broadcast quality without the expense of a highly skilled in-house team. Live sports will return. Once the pandemic has been successfully overcome and lockdown measures are lifted, broadcasters and operators have a chance to reconnect with audiences and recover from recent event postponement and bring those much-loved events back on air. While the initial events filmed behind closed doors will happen without a physical audience, the time is now to ensure consumers will be able to access this content in the highest possible quality, on any device they want. Planning for this growth has already begun, it’s now time to implement it. n
‘ When life does return to normal, broadcasters and operators will ultimately need to address the same questions and challenges facing them prior to lockdown; achieving broadcast quality streaming, monetising content effectively, and finding ways to produce content remotely.’
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FEATURE CASE STUDY
VRT FORGES AHEAD WITH A NEW ONLINE PATH
hen the Flemish Radio and Television Broadcasting Organisation launched online video platform VRT NU, it set an example to other public service broadcasters (PSBs) of how to achieve sustainability in a streaming world. The project was part of the public service providerâ€™s larger video and audio workflow overhaul, which aimed to improve its revenue model. VRT, as the broadcaster is called locally, established a new online revenue stream within an on-demand video service that delivered an optimum user experience to all segments of the Flemish Community. The broadcaster found a dynamic ad-stitching, or dynamic ad insertion (DAI) solution for VRT NU that fit with its remit as a PSB. It was implemented in collaboration with technical partners VUALTO and Unified Streaming. VRT spotted an opportunity to extend TV sponsorship
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on its linear channels to its on-demand offering via VRT NU. But being a public broadcaster, VRT approached sponsorship in a way that departs from the classic pre-roll ad model. Advertisers were not buying a range of ads tailored to a certain target group, but rather a fixed spot during a certain programme within a given timeframe. A TV-LIKE EXPERIENCE A crucial requirement for any new online platform is to deliver a thoroughly TV-like experience. This means transitions between programming and ads have to appear seamless. Video consumption across devices has to feel identical â€“ whether streamed via desktop computer, smart TV, smartphone, or tablet, and no matter how old or new. Another requirement for VRT was to prove resistant to adblockers and flushing. Adding another layer of complexity to the situation was the fact that sponsor
messages – consisting of one or two ads appearing five seconds before or after a show – were time-bound to specific broadcasts of specific programmes, meaning a one-size-fits-all approach to ad insertion would not work. The solution had to be highly dynamic. THE SOLUTION: SERVER-SIDE AD-STITCHING Dynamic ad-stitching is relatively new, and its deployment can be challenging, especially when tasked with supporting many platforms and apps. For VRT’s demands, however, the benefits of “remixing” ads and main content on the server side outweighed those of doing so on the client side, which is a method that many other broadcasters use for advertising on VoD. For implementation, VRT used VUREPLAY, a comprehensive Live-2-VoD solution created by online video specialists VUALTO that allowed VoD assets to be created efficiently and quickly from the linear channel. They, in turn, are partnered with Unified Streaming, whose products help power many VUALTO solutions. Unified Streaming software engine Unified Remix was an integral part of the VRT solution. Unified Remix takes care of content stitching upstream from the server, thereby mixing clips from various origins into a single stream for multiple devices. Not only does this method allow for total personalisation of programming and ads while adding no discontinuities for the viewer, but it also renders adblockers ineffective.
Because no player development is required, a larger audience is effortlessly reached. By storing both on-demand assets and links to sponsored materials, VRT could therefore build personalised dynamic playlists to support pre-, post- and mid-roll insertion. All content could be delivered dynamically and in real-time, uniquely shaping a user’s VoD experience according to view time, geolocation, device and other factors. ACHIEVEMENTS VRT NU’s technical features dovetail with the broadcaster’s ambitions to consistently achieve smooth, fast delivery of top-quality radio, TV and digital services. VRT has continued to stay at the forefront of technological innovation without compromising its rich, distinctive and often daring programming. Moreover: • In just over three months, VRT NU was implemented as a VoD platform featuring sever-side ad-stitching. • VRT has provided users with the desired TV-like experience, implying seamlessness – no buffering – and availability on all platforms (including AirPlay and Chromecast). • As of April 2020, 2.5 million members of the Flemish population have signed up for VRT NU. • The solution allows VRT to conveniently sell linear and online TV as one unit and therefore with consistency across platforms/devices. n
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LEARNING THE ROPES 30 | TVBEUROPE JUNE 2020
Philip Stevens takes a look at some training opportunities for the industry
PRODUCTION AND POST
ourses offering training in all aspects of TV production have always been popular. But they do need to keep up with a fastchanging industry. So, what’s on offer? Here are three options. Training for TV was set up by Neil Garner in 2006 when the BBC Academy started to withdraw from the commercial training market. Garner had been a fulltime trainer at the BBC’s Wood Norton facility for 17 years and was occupied across many varied projects –
including working with customers outside of the BBC. “In 2006 came an announcement that the Corporation was going to ‘give training back to the BBC’,” says Garner. “That meant, effectively, it would stop taking external bookings and concentrate only on internal training. Following the announcement of 70 per cent redundancies within the team, I made some calls to external customers and quickly realised that the need for training was still there and the wish to continue working with the known and trusted group was not diminished.” He says the answer to the question ‘Would you still work with me if I was freelance?’ generally prompted the response, ‘Yes. And when can you start?’ Training for TV is now a joint venture between Garner and fellow trainer Mike Butler. Garner and Butler do much of the training work themselves, but also call on the services of other colleagues to help with topics outside of their comfort zones or where specialist knowledge or expertise is required. “We have taught in more than 40 countries around the world. These include Korea and The Philippines in the east, Iceland and the USA in the west, Norway to the north and to many countries in Southern Africa. We have also been to some more unlikely places, including Myanmar, Palestine, Eswatini and Malawi.” In addition to its own direct customers, Training for TV has a number of partners with whom the company works, including professional organisations, system integrators and manufacturers. Among those partners are Grass Valley and Avid for which Butler is a Certified Instructor for Media Composer. Garner goes on to explain that training by its very nature is about meeting specific objectives for a customer. “It is about efficiently getting the customer to a point where they are able to do what they need to do. As a result, the outcomes for every business – and course – will be both focused and different, but there will be core elements that are common. We adjust any programme to meet the customer’s budget, time constraints and specific needs.” With that in mind, what specially tailored courses are on offer for engineers, directors, producers, editors, and so on? Butler explains, “This is really my field. I teach skills in a range of post production software including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. Software teaching lends itself to a structured approach to build competency. That said, if I’m teaching Avid to a group of editors, it’ll be a very different course to if I’m teaching producers or directors. The emphasis needs to be on the way they will actually use the software in their different roles.”
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PRODUCTION AND POST
PICTURED ABOVE: Neil Garner delivering a lecture in Johannesburg
PICTURED ABOVE: Mike Butler
CHANGES Over those 30 years in the industry means both have seen considerable changes. But have training methods changed, too? “There has been a general move away from training in long and detailed blocks,” reports Garner. “When we both started, the BBC still operated like the military and sent staff on 10 to 20 weeks of ‘basic training’ before they even got posted to a department. This has long since disappeared and it has now become much more focused and ‘specific need’ based.” He says the result is that a great deal of ‘fashion’ based training is now used – which relates to the new technology being developed and promoted. “One downside of this type of market behaviour is that in many cases, the basics get overlooked. It is very easy to worry about skills and knowledge for the latest tech, to fill what appears to be a massive gap, but to forget that actually, video is still video, audio is still audio and a router, switcher or editor still fundamentally fulfil the same job. Interestingly, the techniques we use for making shows have not fundamentally changed – only the transport mechanisms.” So, for example, does that mean Training for TV teaches both the technology of editing as well as the creative process? “Yes,” states Butler. “Although for many customers the button pushing is the number one requirement. The approach is often ‘we need people who can operate the software’. Of course, the story telling element is much harder to quantify and therefore often overlooked, at least by those specifying or paying! However, a major benefit of any edit training is the ability to better understand the story-telling process and how the tools can be used to enhance that element. Having time to investigate a story-telling process and perhaps then sit down and discuss different versions as well as to
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be challenged about why a shot should be in the place is important. Also, the ability to explain why something works may well be as important as the ability to actually create it in the first place.” Garner concludes, “Very little in our industry is rocket science, but with technology changing so fast, it can be a very scary place to work. One of our greatest joys is to be able to demystify the science and jargon and to create perspective for people. Helping them to understand the importance of different topics and see how their current skills can be adapted or enhanced to take them to the next level, or just cope with change and not be intimidated.” UNDERGRADUATE COURSES Bournemouth University offers undergraduate programmes focusing on BA Film, BA Media Production and BA Television Production. The TV Production course gives students a grounding in a variety of skills, including production and craft skills as well as focusing on producing new concepts and ideas for programmes. Students have the opportunity to specialise in certain areas once they have the basics in the subject. “Our undergraduate programme is a three-year course,” explains Steve Rafter, programme leader BA (Hons) Television Production, Bournemouth University. “Students have the option to do either a 30-day work experience placement or a full year placement at a suitable company. So, for some students taking the full year option, the programme will be a four-year course.” He says that this academic year, there were around 75 students joining the programme. There are about as many students in each of the three-year groups of the programme. Rafter goes on, “While our courses have always been popular, there does appear to have been a recent increased interest in TV production skills.”
PRODUCTION AND POST FACILITIES “Our current facilities are excellent. We have just opened a brand-new building containing two Ultra High Definition broadcast standard multicamera TV studios, a sound stage and industry standard post production facilities – Avid Media Composer for video editing and Pro Tools for audio post production – including online and finishing suites, surround mixing suites and post production labs. As part of our new building rollout, we are also adopting EditShare as a post production workflow, this will enable remote editing and facilitate streamlined group editing as well as enabling other industry standard workflows and tasks.” Rafter says the focus is not simply on the technical aspects of any part of production or post process. “We always focus on the creative and narrative which is driving the technical decisions made.” In the studio, students have access to industry standard camera, lighting and location equipment. This includes Sony FS5 / FS7s and Panasonic AC160/AG371 cameras, SQN sound mixers and Zoom F4 digital multitrack recorders. The galleries are centred around a Sony 4K vision mixer and graphics processing as well as broadcast standard camera kit, wireless microphones
“Using that equipment, students create programmes and content from the moment they arrive on the course,” explains Rafter. “Often, the programmes our students make are entered into competitions and frequently do very well. Most recently, some of our graduate TV projects have won Royal Television Society Awards. In addition to this, our TV production facilities and students have taken part in live broadcasts for various national and international events such as the UK general election, the US election in 2016 and the Brexit referendum. These projects are often cross faculty, partnering with journalism students and other media production students and are broadcast live via the departments’ webpages or YouTube.” He adds, “For their graduation project, students are required to form production companies in order to create a slate of projects as their final, major piece of work. In addition to this, students must also ‘freelance’ for other production companies during the course in order to provide and develop their own specialist skills and roles, such as cinematographer, editor, sound designer and so on.” APPRENTICES British broadcaster UKTV introduced an apprenticeship
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PRODUCTION AND POST
PICTURED RIGHT: Bournemouth students rehearse a production
PICTURED ABOVE: Neill Garner
scheme in 2013. Since then 15 apprentices have progressed through the 18-month programme, with around half staying with the company in permanent positions. “We currently have two apprentices at UKTV studying for their qualifications – one in the communications team and another in the commercial team – who joined as part of a new in-take in January 2020,” reveals Anne Sheehan, head of Talent Acquisition at UKTV. “We also have a production assistant apprentice role coming up soon within our creative team. For this role, we are teaming up with All Spring Media which is a specialist creative and digital media training provider.” UKTV also works with London tech start-up WhiteHat to offer apprenticeships across the business. Candidates ! can apply to WhiteHat directly. It then works closely with UKTV’s recruitment team to match suitable applicants with live vacancies at the company. Sheehan says, “We don’t expect candidates to have any previous experience, just lots of enthusiasm, hard work and passion for TV!” Successful applicants work with an apprenticeship coach and their UKTV line manager to ensure their study is reflected in their day to day role. Sheehan adds that apprentices do not move from one area of the business to another, but rather specialise within one area of the business for the duration of the apprenticeship. “However, we do have some in-house facilities which are managed by The Farm and we also have an in-house creative team. While they are with us, apprentices are able to take advantage of shadowing
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opportunities within the business which gives them an insight and experience of other departments, such as the creative team.” In addition to working at the company, UKTV provides time, space and support for apprentices to complete coursework and attend college during working hours. Among those who have passed through the scheme is Dan Verby. He joined UKTV in 2018 as a communications apprentice. While on the programme he supported the external and internal communications teams with photo shoots, PR campaigns, events, social media, writing press releases, financial administration, media monitoring, and much more. Since completing level 3 NVQ diploma in Business Administration, Verby has joined the marketing department as a marketing assistant working on campaigns for UKTV’s seven channels. Another success story involves Ashleigh Sullivan. She joined UKTV in 2016 as a social and digital apprentice. During the 18-month apprenticeship she managed the dayto-day running of the Alibi, Drama and Yesterday social accounts, learned about audiences and brands, organic and paid social, and worked on Rosewood, Quantico and The Bill launch campaigns. Sullivan completed level 3 NVQ diploma in digital marketing and is now assistant brand manager in the marketing department. Sheehan concludes, “Apprenticeships are a great way for UKTV to give opportunities to people who otherwise might not be able to break into the TV industry. It’s also a great alternative to university as it offers invaluable insight and first-hand experience working in TV.” n
PRODUCTION AND POST
PICTURED: Andrew Osayemi and Debra Odutuyo
MEET THE PRODUCER BEHIND
Jenny Priestley meets Andrew Osayemi, the producer of Netflix’s new British African sitcom
ow do you go from investment banking to having your first TV series picked up by Netflix? Well, that’s Andrew Osayemi’s career path. After being made redundant from his investment banking job, Osayemi found himself at a crossroads: continue in banking or pursue his dream of making a TV series? Luckily, his cousin Debra Odutuyo convinced him to go for option two. Meet the Adebanjos is Osayemi’s first TV series. Not only is he the show’s co-creator, he’s also co-writer and executive producer, not bad for someone with limited TV experience! The show follows the lives of a British Nigerian family living in London, and draws on both Osayemi and Odutuyo’s real lives. “We felt this was a story which was rarely told and we knew Nigerian
households could be extremely funny,” he says. “So we decided the first show we wanted to produce would be a sitcom about the struggles of old fashion Nigeran parents trying to raise their modern British kids.” Osayemi and Odutuyo made the decision to film the show before they had a distributor on board. “Why not? I think many people are stopped by the so-called rules of TV production,” he says. “People waste precious years of their lives trying to get projects off the ground because they are all drinking from the same well of the traditional TV model. “After speaking to the major UK TV broadcasters we discovered really quickly that they were not sold on the show and also on us as we had no major track record. We decided to go ahead and follow
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PRODUCTION AND POST
PICTURED ABOVE: The stars of Meet The Adebanjos
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our own path and if it failed at least we did it. Worst case scenario we would just release it all on YouTube.” For the first season, Osayemi and Odutuyo worked with production company Fresh Media who provided all the crew and the location - a sports hall in a community centre in Clapham, South London. “This enabled Debra and I to learn on the job,” explains Osayemi. “For season two and three (43 episodes) we took the lessons we learned from Fresh Media and perfected it on our own to produce the series on a budget. From filming in warehouses to filming multiple episodes a week, we did what it took to get it done.” The show was shot using a multiple camera setup with three Canon EOS 5D cameras rolling at all times. Sets were built back-to-back in a warehouse in order to save time and so everything could be filmed on site. Three editors worked on the Final Cut Pro to produce the final edit. “We had one editor doing the first rough cut based on the script, another working with Debra to make sure the vision was consistent, and there was editor working on final touches (special effects, colouring etc),” explains Osayemi. Shooting in empty warehouses in London can’t have been easy, not least in terms of sound. How did the production navigate those issues? “The biggest
problem we had was most warehouse parks have trucks coming in and out of them all the time,” he says. “We boarded up all the windows and then put Rockwool above all the ceilings. Warehouses have industrial power so the power was sufficient for all the lights and cameras. We made sure the warehouse had a kitchen, showers and toilets so we were self-sufficient. I found a local caterer and got a water company to deliver fresh water each week. It was a proper logistical operation which would probably give most people a heart attack. People who came to visit couldn’t believe what we were able to accomplish!” Osayemi and Odutuyo obviously threw themselves into the task of getting the show made. So much so that Osayemi was on set the day before his wedding. “When we did the production schedule I forgot that my wedding took place during it. It was only when Debra reminded me that I realised!” he laughs “I’m someone who likes to be around to put out fires so I didn’t want to use the fact I was getting married as an excuse not to be on set. I had given investors my word that I would do all it took to make the show so I decided to come in right up to the day before I got married.” As mentioned above, the show launched on Netflix at the beginning of April. In fact, all three seasons are
PRODUCTION AND POST now available. Osayemi says the team had almost given up hope of getting on a mainstream platform before the streaming giant stepped in. “We had created a bit of a niche by selling each season to TV stations across the world via a pre-sell model. We didn’t have a distribution company so I travelled across Africa to strike deals with various TV stations. It was really tough and it was always touch and go if we would get the funds for the season. That’s why between each season there was a two year gap because that’s how long it took to get the funds together. “We were happy that we had made history, produced a show we were proud of and it had international success even if we hadn’t cracked our home market,” Osayemi continues. “But something inside of me said we could still do it and I continued attending TV conferences and networking on my travels. Then at the beginning of the year, via a LinkedIn notification, I found out that an executive I had met during those travels had joined Netflix and I reached out. I was then able to arrange subsequent meetings and negotiate a deal for Netflix to licence all the seasons of the show. “I was very lucky because I was dealing directly with Netflix and not through a distribution company. It’s down to the years I spent plugging away. If you stick at it and
people see you making progress despite the rejections, you will get the chance to one day be in position to make something happen.” So what does the future hold? Well, the duo are currently in talks with Netflix about another season of Meet the Adebanjos. Meanwhile, Osayemi himself is looking at other media projects. “A big passion of mine is audio drama so I’m currently speaking with investors to start an audio drama production company,” he says. “A lot of producers around the world have many ideas which they struggle to get off the ground and audio could be a cost effective alternative to achieve it.” n
PICTURED ABOVE: The crew on set
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PRODUCTION AND POST
A STORY-CENTRIC APPROACH TO NEWS PRODUCTION
Jenny Priestley investigates CGI’s multi-media approach to helping news producers and journalists reach a bigger audience
riginally launched as Science Systems in 1980, Scisys moved into the broadcast and media space in 2016 following the acquisition of Annova Systems. Scisys itself was acquired by independent IT and business consulting firm CGI in December of last year. The company has now relaunched under the CGI banner. In the media and broadcast space, CGI is best known for its newsroom systems - particularly its OpenMedia computer system. Had NAB taken place in April, CGI would have been showcasing the latest release
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of NewsBoard, the company’s cross media platform collaboration tool. As a web browser based tool, the platform is especially topical in these strange times as many journalists, reporters and news producers are working from home. “We would have also showcased things around integrations with our External Tools, which is a client-side API where we can very flexibly and easily integrate third party systems as opposed to having a backend integration,” explains Michael Pfitzner, VP of CGI Media Systems. “We also wanted to show the new version of our
PRODUCTION AND POST OpenMedia NOW system, which is an off the shelf configured system from our Infinity system,” continues Pfitzner. “It’s ready to install as it has all the basic features already pre-configured for typical customer workflows. This is especially good for those on a small budget, or if you want to get up and running quickly. We would have also been showing a prototype of our reporter app that we have in development. It is an app that enables journalists to work from the field and easily access the main system.” CGI’s newsroom systems aren’t just aimed at TV journalists, but have a multi-media approach. OpenMedia covers all kinds of distribution channels, radio, TV, online. “All of those distribution streams use planning features and often rundowns, and OpenMedia is an agnostic distribution channel, so we don’t care if at the end it’s connecting to a radio playout, TV playout, or to a CMS system that’s publishing the content on the web, or directly to social media platforms,” explains Pfitzner. “We care about the planning coordination, creation and completion of the textual content, surrounded by the media assets that we get from other systems.” CGI’s newsroom system is used by the BBC and Sky in the UK, the major public broadcasters in France and Germany, as well as broadcasters in Belgium, Switzerland, the Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. The company is also seeking to launch in other territories, with a recent installation in Canada. A STORY-CENTRIC APPROACH As stated above, any newsroom system employed by a major broadcaster needs to work across multiple media. As well as OpenMedia, CGI also has dira, an end-to-end workflow for radio, which enables journalists to record content, archive and report live. An iPhone and Android version allows journalists out in the field to upload content including pictures, videos, scripts and audio files - thus ensuring all media is covered. “When we receive this we have interfaces to transport the content into the newsroom systems,” explains Michael Thielen, vice president for Radio Solutions. “So, for example, at the BBC where we have both the radio system and the newsroom system, if journalists on location are sending something in using the app, you can also share this with the OpenMedia system.” “One thing where we toggle a little bit with the television side is at NDR in Germany,” adds Thielen. “We have a new product called Viura which is an automated camera control and switching system for radio. We’re basically doing visual radio. It is not television, but the whole setup is a complete 4K setup, so we’ve got 4K cameras which are captured by our systems locally, and the content is sent over to the television system. Thielen cites a recent example of how this technology has been used. “There is a very famous virologist in
Germany who’s always talking about coronavirus, and when he comes into the radio studio in the morning and does a 10 minute interview, the material, which is mainly produced for radio, is automatically sent over to the television side. This is very helpful, because it enables NDR to be more productive.” It’s that multi-media approach that broadcasters are now looking for, even if they don’t have a multi-media operation. Radio stations are becoming more visual, and major TV broadcasters are providing news clips for radio stations. “It’s really a very interesting thing, and when you look into the whole media environment it’s as if the separate mediums were containers,” says Thielen. “It used to be that you have the television container and the television journalist just did television stuff, and then you had the radio container. You also had this kind of strange alien thing people were doing called online and that would be a different team. “This has completely changed because most of the big broadcasters are now saying online first, they want to have content available on digital platforms, even before they broadcast it on the linear channels,” he adds. “It’s about the story-centric approach, the journalist is not doing a television story or a radio story or an online story. They are working on a story, and OpenMedia gives them all the tools they need to make it available to different outlets. “This is where the distinction between the outlets or the distribution channels vanishes,” agrees Pfitzner. “Broadcasters used to say that if you haven’t used the content, store it for later. But now you can publish it online as soon as possible, it’s literally seconds. Online is the fastest medium that broadcasts.”
PICTURED ABOVE: Michael Pfitzner
PICTURED ABOVE: Michael Thielen
THE FUTURE So with the acquisition, and new name, what does the next six months hold for the media and broadcast team at CGI? “The great thing about the acquisition of Scisys by CGI is that we now have a huge amount of colleagues around the world,” says Thielen. “CGI has around 80,000 employees all around the world, and they’re working in all different industry sectors. They have a vast amount of knowledge in areas where we might be lacking. We’ve got Cloud specialists, security analysts etc. CGI didn’t have media specialists, but with the acuisition now they have. “Having all these new colleagues helps very much when talking about implementing new technical features. Because, although those colleagues are working in other industries, they might have faced problems which are exactly the same as the media industry. We really hope that it will be much easier for us to scale our operations, to grow in a quicker way, to improve on things like time-tomarket for new software products just because we have a bigger knowledge base.” n
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PRODUCTION AND POST
RUSSIAN Philip Stevens looks at the completion of a ten-year project
ased in Moscow, Vserossiyskaya gosudarstvennaya televizionnaya i radioveshchatelnaya kompaniya (VGTRK, for short), the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company operates five national television stations, two international networks, five radio stations, and over 80 regional TV and radio networks in 53 of Russia’s languages. It offers channels for entertainment, news, sport, children, culture, and documentaries. Last year it completed a massive upgrade to HD for 30 studios across its 83 regional television stations. MIX AND MATCH According to Ilya Lebedev, chief of Regional TV Systems Department at VGTRK, the upgrade covered a whole raft of equipment. “When it came to cameras, we opted for three makes: Ikegami, Grass Valley and Sony. In the galleries, there is a combination of Guramex, Ross Video and Grass Valley switchers.” He goes on to say that this selection of a mixture of equipment continues in other areas of the stations’ operations. “For graphics, we decided to install Bram Technologies TitleStation, Dalet Cube and Ross Video Xpression. These suited our needs when we were looking at the various – and different – requirements across the network.” Bram Technologies is also the choice when it comes to playout. VGTRK selected the Autoplay systems with Azimuth servers. Around 100 Azimuth video servers were installed over the period of the upgrade programme. That relationship with the company continues with the installation in the newsrooms of Bram Technologies NewsHouse system. In addition, Dalet has provided other newsroom systems for the broadcaster. For editing, Adobe on PC is the choice. Evertz and Profitt have been selected for the supply of Master Control systems, Sync Pulse Generators (SPG) and Glue. Intercom systems come from RTS and Tract, while gallery Multiviewers comprise models from Evertz, Decimator and Teletor.
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SOUND INVESTMENT A recent completion of the upgrade involved the installation of Calrec Brio36 Audio Consoles. Each of the 30 regional studios is installing a Brio36 as the main console and a Br.IO Stagebox to expand the I/O capacity, along with an Allen & Heath ZED16 as the backup console. The Br.IO Stageboxes are being used for wired and wireless microphones, speakers, and wireless monitoring transmitters. “The challenge was that we needed an audio console that would work seamlessly across different stations with varying needs over a wide territory,” states Lebedev. “Of course, we’d known of Calrec’s good reputation, and our integration partner, OKNO-TV, suggested using the Brio console for our studio upgrades. The Brio is a vast improvement over what we were previously using in these studios, with superb sound quality. In combination with Calrec’s Br.IO Stageboxes, this expands our capabilities and gives us the flexibility and sound quality that we need across various production formats.” Lebedev continues, “The functional characteristics and possibilities of the combination of Brio36 and Allen & Heath ZED16 corresponded to the range of our tasks and provided a space for development. As a result, we decided this was the best choice for our use.” MANY FEATURES Mike Reddick, international sales manager at Calrec provides some further details. “The benefit of the Brio36 is that it is a small form factor broadcast audio console, which offers an immense amount of power in a compact footprint. It is a broadcast specific console, complete with all the features found on Calrec’s larger format consoles. It crams 64 input channels – although this is upgradable to 96, and 36 dual layer faders into less than a metre squared.” Reddick believes that Brio36 is in a class of its own. “Many of its competitors are multi-purpose consoles, which can be used for live or theatre applications, too, and may not offer the full complement of features demanded by broadcast applications. Brio36 excels as it’s the most powerful broadcast console of its size at this price point.”
He states that Brio36 is suitable for all broadcast applications. “It is as at-home in a studio environment as much as it is in an OB truck. It has been tried and tested for many applications including sports, news, flypacks, esports, education facilities and it is also very popular with broadcast rental companies. It is an immensely flexible tool that has proven to be the go-to solution for many in this industry sector.” GOOD COMBINATION Earlier, Lebedev mentioned the benefits of the combination of Brio36 and Allen & Heath ZED16. How do these advantages play out? “Allen & Heath and Calrec are sister companies and together with DiGiCo and SSL form the Audiotonix group,” says Reddick. “All the companies in the group are leaders in their fields, and high-quality products are key to its success. The Allen & Heath ZED16 was the obvious choice for this install as it fulfilled all
the requirements and it was guaranteed to have the same meticulous build quality and reliability that Calrec’s consoles are renowned for. It was great to be able to offer a complete Audiotonix solution for the main and backup consoles.” Reddick concludes, “All the VGTRK regions are configured and monitored by a central team of specialists based in Moscow. This presents a challenge due to the sheer distances involved. For example, the region of Anadyr is over 6000km from Moscow and nine time zones apart. Within Russia this upgrade is seen as one of the most significant long-term projects.” Lebedev adds, “It was a challenge to work to a single, overall technological ideology, along with common installation processes, across such a vast area and so many companies. This unity of purpose also had to be maintained across this entire 10-year project. But the results speak for themselves and enhance the viewer experience, our ultimate aim.” n
“We needed an audio console that would work seamlessly across different stations.” MIKE REDDICK www.tvbeurope.com
PICTURED ABOVE: VGTRK selected Calrec Brio36 Audio Consoles as part of its upgrade
PICTURED ABOVE: Mike Reddick
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FINDING A GLOBAL AUDIENCE THROUGH INFORMED DECISIONS Since its founding in 2001 by owners Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, Magnolia Pictures has established itself as a foremost distributor of independent films in the US market, with critical hits such as Blackfish, Tangerine and I Am Not Your Negro. Magnolia combines savvy business strategies with a commitment to elevating new artists and giving voice to fiercely original points of view
ith the film industry’s decline in theatrical sales and the growth of over-the-top (OTT) video consumption, Magnolia’s leadership understood that it needed to adapt to continue to forge ahead. They identified three primary reasons to break into the OTT space: • Among American film distributors, Magnolia’s library carries a uniquely international appeal, making a strong case for a reliable and cost-effective method of global distribution. • Magnolia’s focus on building outstanding audience experiences is a top priority and the ease of use and user customisability is unparalleled with OTT platforms. • An OTT solution offers priceless user and consumption data that would help Magnolia make informed content decisions and move quickly on new business opportunities. MOVING INTO THE OTT SPACE In 2016, Magnolia began its move into the OTT video market to earn new revenue and further monetise its vast, burgeoning content library. With a strong brand built on premium content and a loyal following among a diverse audience, the distributor saw an opportunity to stand apart in the fragmented, highly competitive OTT services landscape. Rather than rely solely on established subscription services, Magnolia planned to launch OTT services under its own well-recognised brand. However, they soon encountered the
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inevitable challenges that accompany OTT video supply chains. For one thing, their content library contained assets that were acquired from multiple post production houses with different technical specifications. When it came time to deliver them, each piece of content needed to be transformed to fit the proper tech specs; thousands of titles required time and attention before they could reach their final destinations. This significantly increased the overall cost of transcoding and delivery, which meant they needed a solution that could both alleviate their video supply chain as well as offer an OTT platform. Magnolia searched for a partner who could assist with the design and delivery of its services, while providing a video supply chain solution. They found that partner in OWNZONES Entertainment Technologies. Magnolia implemented OWNZONES Connect, a proprietary, Cloud-based media logistics solution, to tackle their unique challenges and requirements. With Connect, Magnolia built its services around a multi-
platform strategy, delivering device-optimised audio and video to web interfaces and appbased distribution. Over the course of three years, OWNZONES successfully and efficiently delivered thousands of titles to almost a dozen different delivery points from OTT platforms to linear channels. In addition to Connect, Magnolia also utilised OWNZONES’ customised appbuilding solution, Discover, creating subscription-based, à la carte OTT channels for each of their key genres. Once each channel was up and running, Discover’s backend analytics gave Magnolia further insights about their audience. With these custom build platforms, they were able to reach people from three continents and 15 different countries Furthermore, with the analytics from OWNZONES, Magnolia had the opportunity to isolate the highest performing titles within their different audience markets. This was especially important as it gave them the information needed to make lucrative decisions when selecting content in the future. Having identified a reliable and experienced partner, Magnolia successfully launched multiple OTT platforms. In conjunction with Discover, Magnolia was able to leverage Connect to exploit their content’s international appeal by distributing it to a worldwide audience. Moreover, the backend data provided by Discover also gave them invaluable insights into who made up their audiences and what they preferred when it came to content. n
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WHY QC AND MONITORING ARE KEY FOR OTT SERVICES By Praney Mahajan, technical product specialist at Interra Systems
ver the last few years, OTT video consumption has taken off rapidly and continues to grow at pace. More than 310 million connected households will have at least one OTT service by 2024, according to Parks Associates. Today, viewers expect a high quality of experience (QoE) on every screen. Research suggests that if there is any buffering or issues with the audio/video, consumers will seek a different service. With the current pandemic gripping the world, streaming video networks are working overtime as consumers stay at home and watch services such as Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime to keep themselves entertained. Pay-TV providers and broadcasters in general are also seeing an uptick in demand for their content and services. With this increase in demand, there is an even greater potential for something to go wrong and impact end-users’ quality of service (QoS). Jitter, packet loss, audio sync issues, blank screens, HTTP errors, and more can ruin the video streaming experience and cause dissatisfaction. Now more than ever, it is important to ensure that QC and monitoring remains among the highest level of priorities for OTT service providers and broadcasters. In particular, a holistic approach to end-to-end QC and monitoring is critical to providing a good QoE. By making an investment in end-toend QC and monitoring, service providers and broadcasters can ensure higher customer satisfaction and retention. WHAT MAKES THE OTT WORKFLOW COMPLEX There is a key reason why having a holistic solution for QC and monitoring is essential:
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errors can happen at any point in the OTT workflow. They can happen from ingest to post-transcode, post-origin server, CDN, and at the edge. At the ingest stage, the quality of the original signals needs to be assessed to see whether it contains errors or is of poor quality. A monitoring system can help with root cause analysis, taking the guesswork out and improving efficiency. Monitoring the transcoding process is also vital, enabling OTT service providers to detect errors within the multiple versions that exist of each stream. At the post-origin server phase, content is packaged and put on the origin server. That’s where profile alignment, encryption, and server related issues can often occur. At the CDN point of the workflow, high-level monitoring can be used to detect issues that might cause long join times or frequent stalling and switching during playback. The final piece of the puzzle is monitoring ABR streams at the edge. Since OTT video is delivered over an unmanaged network, service providers don’t have control over certain factors that can affect quality. However, they can gain insight as to where and what type of problems are encountered and improve QoE.
WHAT MAKES UP A HOLISTIC SOLUTION Given the significant number of errors that can happen all throughout the OTT workflow, the case for end-to-end OTT monitoring and QC is clear. There are several important capabilities that make a holistic, non-fragmented, and end-toend solution the most effective at detecting and resolving video streaming issues. First and foremost, holistic QC and monitoring solutions are software-based. While many monitoring systems today are built on custom hardware, having a software-based solution allows OTT service providers and broadcasters to take advantage of newer, faster processors for optimum performance. Secondly, holistic solutions feature centralised monitoring, offering OTT service providers and broadcasters insight into what’s happening at each and every point of the workflow. When an error occurs, even if it is minor, the monitoring system will provide all of the relevant details. A centralised monitoring approach allows for errors to be caught quickly, bringing efficiency to the troubleshooting process and assuring the delivery of flawless quality on every screen at all times. Covid-19 has significantly impacted streaming consumption patterns. According to a recent report from Conviva, during the month of March 2020, on-demand content consumption grew 41 per cent in Europe. Ultimately, people will go back to work and spend less time in the home. But many will keep their video streaming service subscriptions after recognising the entertainment or news value. Using a holistic, non-fragmented, end-to-end solution for QC and monitoring of traditional linear and OTT channels, service providers can deliver a superior QoE and QoS, retaining those new subscribers. n
THE FINAL WORD
THE FINAL WORD Pixel Power’s James Gilbert wonders what keeps his customers awake at night, and thinks we need to “sex up” opportunities for young people How did you get started in the media tech industry? I read engineering at Cambridge, and for beer money did some development work for a company making a graphics system, including a 24-bit (“full colour”) framestore. This was around the time of the Quantel Paintbox. When I graduated in 1987 I had an offer to go into digital audio processing, but I had met my business partner Nick Wright, and together we set up Pixel Power, and I have been here ever since. I think it is really important to remind people that we started in broadcast graphics and we have been committed to the broadcast industry for 33 years now. A couple of years ago we joined Rohde & Schwarz because it was a great fit: we are now part of a bigger company dedicated to the broadcast industry. How has the industry changed since you started your career? The most obvious difference is that, although Pixel Power was always a software company, at first we had to build our own hardware to support the software. Today we can buy the same workstations as banks and airlines, which are powerful enough to run the very complex software that we produce. But the bigger issue is a change in the sense of the industry, in the way we think. Today the industry is more dynamic, more adaptive: the pace of change is much faster. Because we can rely on the IT industry to do the hardware development, we can be much more responsive to the demands of our users than we were. When we started, decisions were made by engineers because everything was limited by what was technically possible. Today vendors can quickly respond to demands by users, which has meant that we are no longer dominated by a handful of manufacturers, chiefly those with the latest in video tape formats. It is a much more creative, fast-moving industry today. What makes you passionate about working in the industry? My interest remains in finding out what keeps our customers awake at night, and finding solutions that
will allow them to make better television, more costeffectively. That is as much about people as it is about technology: if the right workflow for today means changing long-established workflows, then it is down to us to create the path to adapt and change. Everyone says that this is very much a people-driven industry, but this is really true: my kick comes from understanding what people need to do and finding ways to achieve it. If you could change one thing about the media tech industry, what would it be? That is easy. I would lower the average age. We still haven’t cracked the challenge of attracting new talent into the industry. Not just to my company, but into the industry as a whole. Even though television is
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THE FINAL WORD self-evidently glamorous, whether you are looking at the latest dramas or the latest Attenborough documentary, we do not seem to be able to sell it to kids at school age, so they are lined up for university with the right qualifications and the right goals. To do that, we have to find the right way to engage young people. We need to show we are not all old blokes in dustcoats, but developers working on solutions to very demanding challenges. How do we do that? How do you think we crack that challenge? Who wouldn’t want to be involved in creating the next Blue Planet or Normal People? We have to sell the excitement of delivering things that engage everyone around the world. It should not be hard to ‘sex up’ the opportunities in, say, designing machine-learning driven live graphics as opposed to, say, finding bugs in the ‘like’ button on Facebook. In an ideal world, every vendor would be engaging with local schools to explain what they do and evangelise the industry. Just at the moment – with a lot of businesses fighting for survival – that may not be an easy option. If you are a small company of 10 people, then sending one out to do presentations at schools is a huge burden, so the bigger businesses may have to shoulder a big part of the load here. But it surely should be an easy sell. How inclusive do you think the industry is, and how can we make it more inclusive? I think we have a pretty good record in inclusivity – we are doing better than many industries. We can point to strong female leadership in our customers, as well as good female role models on the vendor side. Organisations like Rise provide excellent resources including mentoring. But I say it again: if we can get young people coming into the industry, then we can get young women coming in to provide fresh ideas and, in due course, fresh leadership. Where do you think the industry will go next? Up until a couple of months ago, my answer would be that there will be more consolidation. Niche companies are great for innovation but not so good at serving a worldwide industry that is used to a high level of service. Now we have the Covid-19 factor to add in, and I am afraid that it will have a lasting effect on companies, particularly those who were already close to the edge. In terms of trends, I think we will see more remote productions. Obviously today we are seeing a lot of content generated from home which would once have been a studio. But interest in remote production has been growing for a while, with sufficient bandwidth over fibre
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or 5G for multiple cameras from a distant venue to a production centre. Added to automated tools, it is a way to achieve quality production – and quality will always be important – while controlling costs. The industry will also take a fresh look at exhibitions, I think. There was no NAB this year, and we now know there’ll be no IBC. But not going to Las Vegas did not cause the end of the world, so how much do we need the big global events, at least on the scale we have become used to? For us, the benefit of a major exhibition was being able to sit down with potential customers and work through the details of a project, most of the time these meetings were arranged long before we got on the plane. Surely there are other ways to create opportunities for these one-to-one conversations.
‘In an ideal world, every vendor would be engaging with local schools to explain what they do and evangelise the industry.’ JAMES GILBERT What’s the biggest topic of discussion in your area of the industry? Replacing legacy technology with more agile solutions. That was already the big driver in conversations about playout automation, but Covid-19 has brought home the realisation that software-defined architecture provides much more flexibility and resilience. One of our customers, a major broadcaster in Germany, discovered that its legacy playout system simply could not be operated remotely. Systems that separate control and content, that virtualise workflows, not only give agility but allow management from wherever you need to be. Sadly, we now all know how important that is. What should the industry be talking about if it isn’t at the moment? You can guess my answer to that! How are we going to get the best, the brightest, the most enthusiastic talent into the industry, so it can continue to innovate and continue to deliver compelling content in impeccable quality? Recruitment really is an existential threat to our continued success, so we should all be talking about how much time we devote to telling the rest of the world, and young people in particular, how exciting our industry is and how they should come and join us. n
Streaming big: A look at the current streaming landscape.