“Broadcast management” is a term often used but not always fully understood.
Its broad nature can often lead to confusion and time wasted in discovery of what is actually required as a solution. Add to this the disrupted nature of the content delivery market place, with many players not coming from a traditional broadcast TV background, the term ‘broadcast management’ may not even be known or recognised as relevant.
In this post we attempt to explain what it means to us at MSA Focus and how it fits with the current broadcast, tv and content delivery landscape.
A brief history
Broadcast playout automation is one of those rare things that has become easier over time. 30 years ago, when people first started thinking about automating the various devices you need to put out a television channel, it was quite a challenge.
That was because all the content existed on tapes. Typically, those tapes were inside robot tape players, which stored hundreds – maybe even a thousand – individual tapes. The libraries had a stack of VTRs, and the software had to move the right tapes into machines in advance, find the start point of the content then wind back however long the ballistics of the VTR took to run up to speed, then cue the content not when it was needed but early on the pre-roll time.
And remember you had to do all this with the computing power of 30 years ago. It was a miracle it worked at all. Famously, some high-profile developers never did get their systems to work.
But also consider that there was substantially less content available than there is now and far fewer outlets for it. Channels had often closed down at night and there could be periods in the day where there was no programming at all, with just a simple test card shown on screen – 30 years ago channels were only just starting their first forays into full 24hr programming. Even commercial breaks were a simpler affair requiring minimal management by today’s standards.
The physical hassles of play-out disappeared with digitisation and the coming of the video server, which allowed for instant access to any content within a library at any time. But this also made the business of content delivery far more accessible and among other things contributed to an explosion in channels, content and therefore competition for advertising and audience.
The rules have changed completely since automating a single channel was considered a big challenge. Now every major media company provides a range of channels, each running 24/7 with their own programming and therefore their own branding and promotional requirements, all of which must be managed and curated. This is without even considering the complexities of modern commercial ad-sales.
More channels, more platforms, more complexity
These same channels might also be streamed online or the content repurposed for on-demand and catch-up services. However, some of the content may only be licensed for traditional linear broadcast and not for online or on-demand and vice versa.
The management of all this involves complex workflows, which are ideal for automation and software management. Indeed, in practical terms even if you could afford to throw people at the problem – and today’s highly competitive environment means you cannot – it would likely be hugely inefficient; manual checking & double checking, data duplication and repetition of tasks would provide great scope for human error. Everything would just take longer and therefore be more expensive. Much better to set up business rules and let them control the processing.
If we consider scheduling alone. How can you manage licenses to ensure you meet the terms of the production company’s contract? Show a programme too many times, show it outside of the license window or on the wrong channel/platform and you are liable to huge penalty payments. But show it too few times or fail to make it available via all the platforms you are permitted to and you have wasted acquisition budget.
Much of the revenue for these activities is likely to come from advertising. But you will need to offer different commercials for different audiences. Online streaming may have dynamic advertising insertion, creating bespoke commercial presentations potentially down to the individual. Broadcast television cannot do that, but there is increasing interest in tailored advertising, getting much closer to the demographics of the audience.
All methods though, require intelligent use of the targets, placement rules and requirements agreed with the advertiser, along with tracking and verification routines to determine exactly what was shown, when and under what circumstances. Again, you want to maximise revenue by hitting targets within agreed timescales and parameters, but you probably don’t want to over deliver as that might impact potential revenue from your other advertisers and contracts.
It’s a data game. But to get value from that data there must be integrated toolsets and functionality that allow it to be used to streamline workflow, increase efficiency and decrease the possibility for error. In short, to help manage the process.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a multi-channel media giant with broadcast, online and on-demand services, a small single linear-channel operation or an online only VOD/Streaming service – content is your lifeblood. Therefore, it is the management of that content; how it’s used, how it’s promoted, how it’s funded and how it is monetised, that will be a key factor in the success of your operation.
Today’s systems integrators should be looking to bring all these activities into a single, over-arching system that provides a holistic monitoring and management portal for every part of the business, from content acquisition to tracking downloads and maybe even evaluating social media reaction.
This is a challenge, and there may not yet be many people who have fully embraced a complete, end-to-end broadcast management system. But when we talk about disruptive technology, it is this sort of situation we mean.
With IP connectivity for content, and a virtualised, microservices software environment, it is possible to transform the way that broadcast technology works. It should no longer be dictating what we do, limiting our output by the tight definitions of a fixed architecture.
Broadcast management today should allow us to determine what we want to do – and to monitor the effectiveness of our decisions – on commercial grounds, while ensuring that the process is efficient and results accurate. These are some of the driving factors behind the continuing evolution of MSA Focus’ own solutions.
But also, as a BMS (Broadcast Management System) provider, we need to fully embrace and engage with the new world in which we operate. We must evolve and expand our terminology to further our reach and to help build awareness of what we do, outside of the traditional broadcast TV world. For example, it’s unlikely that the term “Secondary Event” would be fully understood outside of traditional broadcast circles, yet the idea of an “Overlay” might be more widely recognised. Even the term “broadcast” could be seen as problematic, as what we’re really dealing with is content delivery – it doesn’t matter how that content is actually delivered to the viewer, the tools and functionality offered by a complete BMS are relevant, desirable and necessary.
To sum up, for MSA Focus, “broadcast management” means: Providing efficient, integrated and intelligent software to deliver business process solutions that improve the productivity and profitability of organisations operating in the content delivery industries.