Roundtable: Experience is your best asset

Avid Roundtable, The Shard
Neal Romanek
March 22nd 2016 at 1:27PM : By Neal Romanek

Overlooking a rainy London, Avid hosted a TVBEurope roundtable that sought a high altitude perspective on managing assets in an IT-based broadcast industry

"We are like a brewery who has discovered that everyone's drinking wine now" was how TV2 Denmark's Kjeld Skovlund described himself and his fellow broadcasters at an Avid industry roundtable, held high above London in The Shard.

Produced in association with TV Technology Europe’s sister publication, TVBEurope, the roundtable sought to address issues of media asset management in an age of file-based challenges. The participants, top technology execs from leading European broadcasters, were (see image - clockwise from left) Alistair Brown, CTO of Scotland’s STV, the afternoon’s moderator Jeremy Bancroft of Media Asset Capital, Jose de Freitas, CTO of TV3, Avid solution specialist Carl Perry, Tim Bertioli SVP, technology director, EMEA at Deluxe, Neal Romanek, editor of TV Technology Europe, Arne Berven, CTO of Norwegian systems integrator OB-Team, Avid regional sales director North EMEA Tom Evetts, Ian Baker, director of media technology at Discovery Communications, Peter Russell, director of technology at ITV, Kjeld Skovlund, head of TV projects and deputy manager of TV2 Denmark, and Avid director of strategic solutions Paul Thomson.

Avid’s Paul Thompson kicked off the afternoon with a presentation on the company’s Media Central asset management platform. Thompson set the tone with a reminder that the new media value chain had left behind the old model of produce/distribute/monetise. The new media ecosystem is now more like a loop than a chain, with content developed and produced in a non-linear way, and endlessly repurposed for consumption by audiences in different ways across different time scales.

Tom Evetts, Avid & Tim Bertioli, Deluxe

Avid's Tom Evetts and Deluxe's Tim Bertioli


VOD team gold dust

Moderator Jeremy Bancroft asked the group how they had been dealing with multi-screen publishing, whether it was treated as a separate or an integral part of the business. The answers revealed a lot about the state of the industry and where we are in the evolution to a fully multiplatform environment.

“The primary problem is technical,” said Discovery’s Ian Baker. “At the end of the day, a traditional broadcast chain is going to put out an SDI stream. But even if you could wave a magic wand and make your broadcast chain output a file, you’d still find your operation can’t support it. The metadata can’t go through the business, because the whole thing’s been set up with linear playout in mind. You realise you have another 25 fields of metadata, and there’s no way to get them through apart from a phone call and an Excel spreadsheet.” He added, eliciting laughs of recognition: “Excel spreadsheets are the SDI of metadata.”

Most of the broadcasters had been steadily moving their multiplatform teams closer to the centre of the business, and learning a lot in the process. Adapting to delivery on multiple platforms has been a catalyst in forcing broadcasters to evolve.

A few years ago, we said: ‘We’re no longer a broadcast business. We’re a digital media business.’

Alistair Brown said that necessity was the mother of invention in STV’s multi-platform strategy. “We had limited budgets and things were moving very quickly. We didn’t have the resources and manpower to do a lot of it manually, so we wrote some software internally, called Autocatch, which allowed us to capture linear streams and get them pretty slickly onto the digital platforms.”

STV’s internally designed solution wasn’t the result of months of planning by multiple design teams, but essentially the work of a single internal talent, senior engineer John Nicholl, “He built a prototype over a May bank holiday in 2007. We were very lucky to have young digital developers working cheek by jowl with highly experienced broadcast engineers, helping each other – that may be quite rare.”

Digital teams, once seen as add-ons to the network's infrastructure, are being integrated into the main production teams. Though the move to multiplatform delivery has been sometimes laborious, the struggle has paid dividends.

“The skills we have developed with our VoD team have been gold dust,” said Discovery’s Baker. “The ‘VoD’ team now really are the ‘turn video into different formats and send it anywhere’ team.”


The end of an era

As linear production and distribution falls away, the steady rhythm of innovation broadcasters once counted on has been replaced by the rate of change the IT industry. Gone are the days of a leisurely nine-month progression of design, procurement, and deployment. Continuous updating and iteration is essential for broadcasters looking at improving their infrastructure and for their suppliers.

Whether to negotiate these new technological demands with internally designed solutions or to look completely to outside vendors is an eternal question for CTOs. Some roundtable participants expressed doubt about the ability of external vendors to handle briefs in the rapid manner demanded by the new IT timeframes.

“Just to understand what you do may take them two months, let along understanding the problem, and giving you a solution,” said Discovery’s Baker.

“And once they’ve done that,” added Skovlund, “They will take another two months discussing internally how the internal functionality they have built for you might hurt sales of the products they already have on the shelves.”

As TV moves into the IT world, start looking to hire IT people, not broadcast people

Discovery has been following the path of most broadcasters, developing internal solutions to deal with its increasing digital demands. “But I dare say we’re at the end of an era,” said Ian Baker. “Now, because of finances, there’s a shift in philosophy. Instead of saying ‘We’ll get that thing done with our three guys’, there’s a shift to getting something done, and getting it done consistently, with bigger partners.”

The transformation into being an IT industry means a huge internal shift for broadcasters, right down to the composition of the workforce. IT technologists and information specialists are going to be in high demand in the future.

“One role that you’re just starting to see in media organisations is, for lack of a better term, ‘data scientist’ - someone who’s really skilled at analytics,” said Avid’s Carl Perry. “You’re going to want to understand the data you’ve got coming from your consumers. Unless you have someone who is skilled with that data in coming up with the patterns that are there and the way you need to connect with new consumers, you’ll be missing out.”

"As TV moves into the IT world," suggested Baker, "start looking to hire IT people, not broadcast people." 

STV’s Brown showed the way forward when he described how his company had made a decision to leave behind the old world. “A few years ago, we said: ‘We’re no longer a broadcast business. We’re a digital media business.’ That reset was very good for us.”