This article was originally published in the Autumn 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
In an age where rich media has reached a state of near ubiquity, broadcasters face a number of challenges. “Broadcasters are increasingly competing with new digital entrants, which include big players such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FAANG),” says Jennifer Cooper, Microsoft’s global head of media and communications industry strategy and solutions. “The race for audiences and access to advertising dollars is in full swing, and traditional broadcasters are trying to keep their share of wallet.”
All too often, traditional broadcasters are attempting to do this with a legacy infrastructure. “The digital over-the-top (OTT) video workflow is now largely in the cloud, but the legacy broadcast infrastructure is still largely on premises,” says Sudheer Sirivara, Microsoft’s general manager for Azure. “Broadcasters are challenged to optimise costs while maintaining two parallel infrastructures until they can streamline the operations.”
Monetising the digital audience at the same scale as they achieve with traditional broadcasting is a further challenge. “The consumer is used to an advertising-supported model for broadcasts, which is typically bundled as part of a cable or satellite package,” Sirivara says. “Broadcasters need to choose wisely when they pick a digital aggregator for carrying their content while they try to figure out their own direct to consumer (D2C) service that can rival the scale of their existing broadcast business while bringing in content addressability.”
In order to stay ahead in this rapidly changing landscape, broadcasters need to do several things. “First, they need to rethink their content creation processes,” says Cooper. “Integrating cloud-based operations is going to be the most important technical consideration. Including a geographically dispersed creative workforce will help to reduce overall costs.”
They will also need to update their largely on-premises operations to cloud broadcast operations for live and linear productions. “Margin and economic efficiency pressures are dictating this migration,” Cooper explains.
As more and more broadcasters redefine their relationship with consumers via D2C services, they will also need to harness more audience engagement data. “This will make their cross-channel entertainment experiences more personalised and ubiquitous,” Cooper says.
Sirivara says this area is a particularly compelling opportunity for broadcasters. “Because every consumer is typically logged in with their individual ID, broadcasters can do a much better job of targeting content to enhance engagement,” he explains. “For example, video artificial intelligence (AI) can unearth valuable information that can be combined with audience data to deliver better ad targeting to drive up the number of impressions.”
While knowing where to start with all of this can be a daunting proposition for broadcasters, Microsoft and its partners are in a unique position to help. “Microsoft and its partners offer Azure Media Services, Data+AI, virtual reality, mixed reality and other platform technologies to support broadcasters as they compete with FAANG,” says Cooper.
“Microsoft is a platform company at its heart and relies on a rich partner ecosystem to help deliver vertical solutions for the media industry,” adds Sirivara. “Video Indexer, which is part of the Azure Media Services family of services, is a great example of content intelligence from video that can be applied in several media industry use cases. It brings together 28 different AI models into a single product to enable partners to integrate quickly and take advantage of the breadth of cognitive AI capabilities from Microsoft.”
Zone TV is one example of a customer that is using Video Indexer to enhance content addressability by combining content intelligence with social media and user data. “The result is hyper-personalised content,” says Sirivara. “IRIS.TV has also integrated with Video Indexer to improve advertising addressability by providing hints to the ad decisioning service on the type of content being watched by a user. Meanwhile, capabilities in Azure Data Lake and Azure Data Factory help customers aggregate their user data to derive insights using machine learning to enable better targeting of content and ads.”
Looking ahead, there’s no question that broadcasting will continue to evolve – and at breakneck speed. “Broadcasting is most definitely moving to all internet protocol (IP) delivery as well as towards ATSC 3.0 standards (free to air),” says Cooper. “With IP signals, more audience engagement data will be available. This is also known as ‘advanced TV’. With advanced TV applications, audience data drives better experiences for consumers, and more direct monetisation for broadcasters since in-IP stream ads will be delivered directly in the programming stream to the IP-based device. With Microsoft’s Azure platform cloud, Data+AI for video and other rich media content, broadcasters can be empowered and ready to compete with digital natives for audiences and advertising revenues.”
“We are seeing the beginnings of the convergence of broadcast and digital workflows in the cloud with multiple distribution outlets,” Sirivara adds. “Over the next few years I expect this trend to accelerate. This will help broadcasters streamline operations and costs across traditional broadcast and digital workflows and, more importantly, help with more intelligent ad inventory management across broadcast and digital to optimise engagement.
“Microsoft is playing its part in fostering this change by pulling together a set of partners to help stitch together exchange to exchange live broadcast workflows in the cloud,” Sirivara continues. “We showed a proof of concept at last year’s IBC event and plan to expand on it in the 2019 edition. By helping to push the envelope of what’s possible in the cloud and partnering closely with the ecosystem of media industry partners, Microsoft is helping define OTT 2.0 and is fostering the convergence of broadcast and digital workflows in the cloud.”
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