Technology is accelerating the evolution of entertainment

As new forms of media bring profound disruption to the traditional broadcasting landscape, Microsoft’s Simon Crownshaw discusses how the industry is turning to technology and the cloud to help power new ways of working and modernise media processes

Alex Smith
Alex Smith
By Alex Smith on 14 October 2021
Technology is accelerating the evolution of entertainment

The media landscape has been experiencing an almost unprecedented period of change. The shift towards streaming, already in full flow before the pandemic, has accelerated even faster than anticipated, while the gaming industry has brought entirely new ways of creating and delivering content into the wider industry.

The influence of these disruptive forces within media is challenging organisations to rethink the way they work, as Simon Crownshaw, chief technology officer for media and entertainment at Microsoft, explains.

“What you see is companies looking to reimagine their workflows because the lines between media types are disappearing,” he says. “As our physical world blends with the virtual world, the entertainment reality is changing as well. These transformations are ramping up at an amazing rate. I don’t think we’ve yet seen a full disruption of media workflows, but what you’re seeing is a legacy challenge of tried and tested processes and the industry is having to think about how it can leverage technology to do things better and faster.” 

As with many industries, the challenges created by the pandemic for the media industry has led to a questioning of traditional ways of working. Technology has provided an answer to the unrelenting demand for content in this difficult new environment.

“When you think about the impact of Covid-19 on the industry at its peak, it’s shut down productions and disrupted live events across all elements of the media industry,” says Crownshaw. “But it forced them to rethink those experiences. How could they continue to create content as quickly as possible when working with a geographically dispersed team or to provide unique customer engagement opportunities? They have had to rely on the cloud and invent technology to make those things work faster than they probably ever thought.”

The need for isolation and physical distancing has also meant that more people have turned to streaming platforms to consume their content, accelerating a trend that was already reshaping the industry.

“We saw streaming viewership increase exponentially on every platform, with mobile users now consuming and creating more content than ever before,” says Crownshaw. “Personalisation has also improved, so workflows around distribution have sped up incredibly, with the ability to use the cloud to deliver video at higher resolutions and latency resilient live experiences to people on their phones. There has been an acceleration to the point that the industry is probably five years ahead of where it thought it would be. The challenge now is identifying appropriate workflows that can exploit the benefits of the cloud and harnessing even more advanced technology like augmented reality in a scalable way.”

The rapid and profound transformation of the industry also has implications for the way in which consumers are perceived. By bringing together the disparate information they have about their customers in a single, consistent view, media companies can better understand both the content they want to see and how they want to see it.

“One of the workflows that I think the cloud is providing is to defragment social fabrics,” says Crownshaw. “Many people have multiple profiles on different social media platforms, but media companies want to understand you as an individual customer.  At Microsoft we’ve been leveraging Xbox technology and the digital community it drives. By leveraging a single unified user profile we get a complete view of the customer across those platforms, which allows us to provide a connected, informative, digital world to them. This keeps customers more involved, and it keeps them coming back.”

This example is just one of the ways in which the gaming industry has begun to have an influence over more traditional forms of media. Once regarded as being separate from the mainstream, gaming has become an important and disruptive force within the media landscape. This is not only the case in distribution, but also in creation.

“Gaming has brought more freedom to the creation and distribution of media, from beginning to end,” says Crownshaw. “In traditional, linear broadcasting, it would take days, weeks or even months for a visual effect to be inserted into a film. But with game engine technology, this process goes much more quickly. Real-time rendering enables teams to get instant verification of what their ideas look like. With that feedback, they can create different, immersive experiences, eliminating waste at every phase of production.”

In the future, Crownshaw anticipates that sustainability will drive even further change, as media organisations recognise the responsibilities, they have in tackling the threat of climate change.

“It’s going to be really hard to become carbon negative without transforming workflows on a greater scale than we ever have,” he says. “Some of the technologies required won’t even have been invented yet, and it’s not something that media and entertainment in general has begun engaging with on a large scale. But, with such drastic results of a changing climate, I believe businesses will work much harder to understand and reduce their impact. Having spent time with leaders across the industry, I think it’s starting to become a critical issue, and it’s something Microsoft can help them with.”

With the pace of change only set to increase, keeping up with developments in technology and processes is becoming increasingly difficult. Microsoft’s extensive expertise can be a valuable resource to help companies maintain their competitiveness, suggests Crownshaw.

“All of the data shows that the shifts in these workflows are definitely underway,” he says. “It’s reshaping the way that media and entertainment companies think about their competitive edge. They have to think very carefully about how they want to use all these technologies and the process by which they adopt them. And I think Microsoft, as a technology company with decades of experience, is a great partner to help them bring these technologies together and reimagine those processes for people.”

Partner perspectives 
We asked Microsoft partner Experian Data Quality how it has delivered innovation in the developing gaming industry.

“The rise of online gaming has conjured some very real issues around player protection and protection from fraud for the platform provider,” said Steve Farr, vice president of solutions and marketing. “In December 2019, the UK’s National Health Service stated there was a rising tide of gaming-related health problems. Outbreaks of fraudulent activities have also been well-publicised. The need to protect gamblers, while providing a seamless onboarding and playing experience must be balanced as these dual issues attract the attention of regulators. Technologies that manage ‘identity resolution’ can help exclude returning problem gamblers and those that look to use the platforms for nefarious activities such as money laundering. Key to these technologies are a combination of batch and real-time data processing, sophisticated duplicates identification and access to reference data on known individuals and devices.” 

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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