Sunday, 9 February 2014

Futuregazing, part 2: Better Integration. And Lego.

The digital islands in the content chain are getting bigger and better, but they’re still not integrated.

February is a bit late to make predictions for the year, even if it still feels like the year has only just started. Instead, this year I thought I’d write about advances I’d like to see in the industry. These will probably arrive later than 2014, but I think they’re necessary, and sooner rather than later. Here is the next lot, in smaller bite-sized chunks this time.

Better integrated workflow
Every step of the digital content supply chain workflow appears to have its own set of rules. Wouldn’t it be nicer if the file made by the content producer was the file viewed by the consumer, with the minimum of re-formatting steps to introduce quality flaws? For example, the final cut that the director envisaged, reflecting the hours of effort in staging, lighting, editing, post (not to mention acting), was the one that got displayed on your TV set? This integrated workflow is an enabler to greater efficiency = lower Opex, and improved interoperability = greater choice.

The first technological enabler is already in place – most content systems are all-IP, or at least heading that way. The next enabler is harder, to implement media interoperability in workflows, formats, metadata. Each digital island has its own versions of each, to suit its own needs. The challenge is implementing this interoperability without losing capability.

Better integrated quality
Very much linked to the previous point is the need to improve quality through better predictability, or standardisation, throughout the content chain. Common to all the steps are need for common understanding of:
  • ·       Measuring quality, e.g. EBU Quality Check criteria
  • ·       Standardising software/ hardware architecture, e.g. RDK for STB middleware, or CCAP for cable infrastructure
  • ·       Standardising interoperability, e.g. UK Digital Production Partnership AS-11 for file-based programme delivery
  • ·       Data gathering and analytics – because information on engagement needs to be how we measure success.

Start valuing through engagement, not sales
I wrote in a previous blog entry about how the business of art ruins the art. By chasing the money, entertainment often forgets that it’s about making a connection with the viewer, it’s about engagement. This engagement will make a viewer stick with the programme, through the break bumpers and product placements. And better engagement with the ads will better sales, more effectively than just increasing the number of eyeballs.

Example: today’s Dancing on Ice on ITV contained an ad break taken over by Lego to celebrate the launch of The Lego Movie. Well-known commercials for Premier Inn, BT and were re-made in bricks. I didn’t watch the programme, but I went to YouTube to and enjoyed the ads, after seeing it posted in Facebook. This ad break created direct engagement, which means the break was far more valuable to ITV than the other breaks even in the same programme.

Bonus feature: sharing engagement as the goal, will integrate the digital islands too, as everyone has exactly the same goal to aim for.

Integration is about predictability through standardisation. It’s about not wasting too much effort on the tin, and instead focusing on the beans inside. One of the ways that integration can be fostered is through forcing commoditisation of the parts that don’t help you differentiate. I’ll discuss this more in the next part of this post.

More in this series: part 1, part 3.

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