2011 NAB roundup

Walking around the show floor at the 2011 NAB show, there was quite a buzz, but it was not about just one topic, like 3-D last year. (I guess most broadcasters have decided it’s not going to be part of their business in the immediate future.) That said, however, there were plenty of developments in the 3-D arena on display.

Broadcasters have more immediate problems. Many broadcasters, in the United States and Europe, have yet to migrate to HD. In addition to HD upgrades, another immediate issue is repurposing content for multiplatform delivery. Broadcasters cannot ignore mobile devices, whether it’s tablets, phones or Internet delivery (over-the-top content, or OTT). Without a new media presence, their brand will wither, losing their audience the competition.

Many exhibitors were showing products to help with the cost-effective creation of multiplatform versions of programming, because the advertising or subscription revenues are just not there for each format of delivery channel outside of regular TV. What underlies these solutions is some form of automation, with template graphics and encoding profiles to create a hundred or so versions as a background task.

Products like Adobe CS5.5 and Grass Valley MediaFUSE are typical of the tool kits now available to aid in multiplatform delivery. Adobe was showing products that can help print publishers add interactivity and video to their products for mobile device publishing. MediaFUSE can be used as a stand-alone system or downstream of the Ignite news production system to create content for mobile devices. These products illustrate that old media — print and TV — and new are all gunning for the same consumers in a battleground where only the strong will survive.

It is not just multiple versions of content that are needed, however. Each delivery platform can carry different advertising campaigns, and potentially targeted advertising. This will potentially add to the complexity of ad sales and traffic.

Harris Morris of Harris Broadcast posed the question, “How do I ensure the right content is in the right format and in the right places to be taken advantage of at a given point in time?” Speaking of VOD, Morris continued, “One of the biggest issues is that we don’t have fat enough pipes to deliver anything from the cloud instantly. How do you ensure that stuff someone is going to want is on a node that is close enough to deliver cost-effectively for what the content is worth? This needs a data model that can use analytics and rules to predict that the right content is in the right place, but this incredibly complex.”

This raises the problem of long-tail content. How do you host, market and deliver minority content for micro audiences and receive sufficient revenue to cover the costs? A better way to look at this may be to ask what minority content will create enough revenue to make it a business proposition to host and deliver that content. There are obviously opportunities here to make money, but also opportunities to lose out.

Capitalizing on broadcast archives and delivering to multiple platforms entails walking a fine line between profit and loss, with the new media upstarts muscling in on the ad revenues. The move to tapeless production and distribution has opened the industry to the management of the enterprise with business software. Digital asset management and resource management have been around for a decade or so, but a recent trend has been the application of workflow management.

In the last few years, both large vendors and the specialist software companies have been developing products that allow the entire business to be managed, not just the content. The downturn of 2009 brought an extra focus on efficiency, but the ongoing competition from new entrants to the media business, such as OTT, means that broadcasters must strive to improve how then run their businesses and how they can maximize revenues.

The generic term is the service-oriented architecture (SOA). The concept has been around in many other sectors, but media and entertainment has had a slow start adopting the principles. Starting with the Hollywood Studios, SOA is seeing a more general acceptance with broadcasters; several companies are already rolling out systems, one of which is the Media Backbone from Sony. The product is already in use by broadcasters in Switzerland and France, with other users expected to be announced in the United States.

Grass Valley announced its STRATUS product at NAB. Built on the K2 platform, STRATUS supports the content life cycle from creation through to distribution from a common user interface. Harris demonstrated its Enterprise Management system, which combines automation, traffic, media ingest and DAM under one umbrella that enables the broadcaster to design and mange workflows from a single dashboard. IBM, a supplier of middleware for SOA for many years, has partnered with several broadcast vendors with its Media Enterprise Framework to support content creation and distribution as well as sales, marketing and business systems.

These products, and many others, provide company management with a business view that was just not possible with videotape operations. Workflow can be optimized, equipment use can be monitored and workflow bottlenecks can be quickly identified. All this information will make future equipment needs easier to identify and improve ROI. Having more control over workflow and service allocation also means the business can be more agile and adapt quickly to the next consumer device that comes along.

Expect to hear more about SOA this year as the media business embraces such terms as business process transformation and optimization. These advances in workflow orchestration aim to improve the bottom line as broadcast companies mange the challenges of OTT and mobile devices.