OTTAWA—In 2015, Discovery’s process of producing programming was overdue for a fundamental overhaul. The company was relying on a mix of tape-based workflows and physical media delivery that was anything but standardized across the enterprise–and it was causing problems.
For instance, although Discovery’s U.S. facility had standardized on receiving content using LFTS-formatted LTO data cartridges (Linear Tape File System/Linear Tape-Open), other Discovery regional facilities were using their own file delivery systems. Discovery’s various facilities even differed on whether content suppliers had to provide the network with broadcast-ready or master-quality video files; the latter being formatted in whatever frame rate the content producer had selected.
This lack of standardization was costing Discovery time and money. This is why the network selected software from SDVI, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of content management software to standardize its content acquisition and creation workflow over IP. The company’s Rally next-gen, cloud-based media supply chain platform gives Discovery’s many content providers a central point to submit their content, in line with the network’s file standards. Having made this happen, SDVI’s Rally now gives Discovery a fast, effective, end-to-end solution to serving out content to cable, satellite, and the web, as well as a way to spin new program streams and even channels.
Discovery is just one example of a traditional broadcaster/media company that has adopted what the industry refers to as a “next-gen media supply chain” to speed up and rationalize its content creation workflow. Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) is another: They are using Imagine Communications’ Versio platform, EPIC MV, SelenioFlex File, and Nexio Motion to provision SBG’s KidsClick children’s programming block to SBG TV stations. Meanwhile, Disney/ABC is using Verizon Digital Media Solutions’ evolved delivery platform and Broadcast/OTT Solution to prepare all of their content for online distribution; with sufficient flexibility to allow ABC affiliates to insert viewer-targeted local advertising quickly and easily.
THE NEXT-GEN ADVANTAGE
In a traditional media supply chain, content is either created or received—or both—at a broadcaster/media company, and then packaged using production hardware and software that is dedicated to the company’s existing playout channel(s) on their physical premises. If a new playout stream needs to be added or a new channel spun up, an entirely new physical production workflow needs to provisioned; machines, personnel and floor space are included.
In a next-gen media supply chain, all of this functionality is provisioned using software and commodity computer hardware; just add servers and stir. Move it into the cloud, and a third-party provider like Imagine, SDVI, or Verizon can handle all of the details. All the broadcaster/media company has to do is to interact with the software (which can be stored in the cloud or loaded onto their own on-premises servers) to format their content as they see fit, and then play it out to a linear delivery system (broadcast./cable/satellite), or serve it directly to the viewer via OTT online.
LAUNCHING NEW CHANNELS QUICKLY
With access to a next-gen media supply chain, broadcasters/media companies can spin new channels up and down as quickly as opportunities dictate.
In the case of SBG’s KidsClick and Imagine Communications, making this happen required some initial customization to serve the varying needs of SBG’s many local stations. But once this work was done, “it was really just an exercise of pointing at the cloud, requesting the required resources, and validating that they’re available and match your requirements,” said Brick Eksten, Imagine’s CTO of Playout & Networking. “We do this for this particular customer three times a day.”
Being able to spin up new channels virtually in the cloud is obviously far more economical than building an entirely new physical plant to produce and distribute them. But the savings can go even further. For instance, at Verizon Digital Media Services, “we only charge you based on the number of viewed content hours,” said Jason Friedlander, the company’s senior director of Product Marketing. “This approach enables our customers to experiment with new strategies and test what works in the market; if no one is watching, you don’t pay.”
SOLVING DISCOVERY’S PROBLEMS
At Discovery, SDVI’s Rally platform is a key part of the company’s global, scalable, and automated media supply chain. “Over the past three years we’ve worked to rebuild our supply chain, transitioning from physical media and fixed assets to a flexible, cloud-based model,” said Josh Derby, vice president, technology development & strategy at Discovery.
According to Derby, moving to a next-gen media supply chain has provided three key benefits to Discovery.
First, “the inherent scalability of Rally and of the public cloud has allowed us to improve the throughput of our supply chain,” he said. “This week we celebrated the upload of the 100,000th asset through our front-end supply chain, a milestone we hit within just two years of our launch. Earlier this year, that supply chain seamlessly absorbed over 20,000 additional assets in just four months as we quickly brought content from our new networks into the supply chain.”
Second, moving to a next-gen media supply chain has allowed Discovery to incorporate “a tremendous amount of automation into our workflows,” Derby said. “We are no longer reliant on having our logistics staff shepherd content through the supply chain. In our Rally supply chain, the assets find their own path through the workflow based on the system’s ability to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the asset metadata and the results of previous workflow steps.”
Thirdly, adopting a next-gen media supply chain has standardized content acquisition and handling across Discovery’s entire operation. “The new supply chain lets us have a truly global media factory,” said Derby. “Regardless of whether it’s an episode of ‘Deadliest Catch’ airing in the US or an episode of ‘House Hunters’ going to Poland, the content comes through the same supply chain. It’s checked against the correct standards, converted to the necessary file format, and delivered to its correct destination based on metadata from our business systems, allowing us to give each region the files it needs while maintaining a single global media pipeline.”
Next-gen media supply chains have the power to revolutionize content creation workflows, according to Lawrence Kaplan, president and CEO of SDVI. “The fact that they can speed up the rollout of new channels is just the beginning: Next-gen media supply chains can fundamentally improve the ways in which broadcasters and media companies prepare, playout, and distribute their content worldwide.”
James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.
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