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Combining Operations and Commerce; Blurring Supply Chain Boundaries

IP
(Image credit: SMPTE)

Companies are always on the lookout for something that will make them stand out from the competition. To do this there are important, if superficial, techniques like branding, which often highlight more substantial elements such as the use of innovative products and groundbreaking research and development. These factors play a major role in the broadcast and facilities markets, although the technology used by the main players is often sourced from the same pool of manufacturers.

This means that the real way for broadcasters and facility providers to differentiate themselves from everyone else in technological terms is to promote the efficiency of their infrastructures. Offering technical operations as a service is nothing new but there are definite benefits to be had in creating something that perfectly fits the specific workflow requirements of a client.

Doing this effectively calls for a combination of two sides of the business that previously would have been considered unconnected or even contradictory to each other: commerce and operations. But in today's competitive and high-stakes broadcasting and streaming sector, having an innovative commercial and operational model is imperative for creating a quality of experience (QoE) that sets your facility or platform apart from the others.

BUSINESS PROCESS MANAGEMENT

Streamers including Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime and BritBox are vying not only with each other but also “traditional” broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Canal+ for audience share. This means QoE in the form of not only Ultra HD and 3D audio but also intuitive interactivity and flawless delivery will be imperative in attracting and keeping viewers who—particularly in these days of COVID-imposed confinement—are clamoring for a superior home entertainment experience.

While the idea of an innovative commercial and operational model sounds highly theoretical, it can be based on established working practices and business pragmatism. At the core of it is efficient business process management (BPM), which ensures the smooth running of supply chains and technical workflows. This style of setup will bring enormous benefits at a main broadcast center or playout facility but, through modern connectivity and networking technologies, it can be extended out to suppliers, localization houses and edge centers.

By extending the combined BPM and integration layer it is possible to remotely manage and have full visibility of operations at third-party facilities. This can involve driving through the selection, creation and distribution of files, which effectively means a broadcaster, streaming service or primary distribution facility is controlling somebody else's business. 

While such a description sounds domineering and a little sinister, this form of commercial/operational model is mutually beneficial to all those working to it. The main client has the reassurance of being able to see directly where their services are going and how they are performing; while the local remote hubs, who don’t have the capability to automate themselves, can run more efficiently and reassign operators to other work that requires more immediate attention.

Service-based operations like this can reduce costs for all concerned and effectively change the whole supplier model. A key component in making such a setup work is automation. Even with good workflows in place, there can still be problems when attempting to tightly integrate those with either each other or the distribution chains of other organizations. 

Which is where the concept of handing over control of part of the entire supply chain to a third party and having it run as a service comes into its own. A broadcaster does not need to control the delivery of its channels. This has been proved categorically over the last 20 or so years with the shift towards greater degrees of outsourcing by broadcasters of all types.

COMPLETELY AUTOMATED PROCESS

The missing element has been integration with the internal management at a central facility, which enables the technology and products there to take charge of the business operations at the facilities of all the companies working with the main broadcaster. Through this interconnectivity, it is possible for the BPM to make requests of the broadcaster, alerting staff there that some action is needed at the right time.

Through its consultancy work on major broadcast projects and installations, Three Media has been at the forefront of establishing innovative commercial and operational models. Our long experience over the past 12 years, during which time the broadcast landscape has changed dramatically, has enabled us to develop technology designed specially to simplify but at the same time optimize workflows so that users can control operations and output more effectively.

This enables users to discover and identify files and objects and then package and deliver both content and metadata. In this way it is possible to see where program material is from and push it to wherever it needs to be. All the user needs to know is that the content exists and is being distributed, they do not have to do anything because it is a completely automated process. In this way the whole archetype of how broadcast distribution is carried out can be changed for the better.

A key change is in the traditional relationship between broadcasters and facilities providers or affiliates. Everybody in broadcasting has been looking for ways to automate the supply chain, not just within their own organization but also extending out to all those involved in the distribution process. By employing an open system approach, all parts of a distribution chain can be connected. This enables more collaboration and partnerships between not just broadcasters and facilities providers but also other types of suppliers, such as production companies. That last feature could prove to be a boon to the entire production chain, particularly in shortening delivery schedules and ensuring greater security.

As much as “innovative commercial and operational model” sounds like something from an obscure reference book, it will provide the basis for broadcast infrastructures now and into the future, particularly when realized with the latest workflow technologies.

Debra Slater is founder and director for Three Media