How do you build a winning team when it comes to your media supply chain? That’s easy, you may think. Or you may worry it’s impossible. First things first: in order to win, you have to know what game you’re playing and not everybody agrees on what a media supply chain is or what it should include. Even the name can mean different things to different people. For example, IBC calls it the ‘Content Supply Chain’. But there is consensus around the fact that it’s a key part of IBC’s content program. It’s crucial to our industry both now and moving forward so let’s have a look at what we see as the winning attributes of a media supply chain.
Let’s not waste time: if your media supply chain is not in the cloud, it’s not anywhere in today’s market. This is a point that Simon Farnsworth, CTO Broadcast Technology & Operations at an SDVI, makes about the way Discovery is working, as an IBC article states:
“He estimates Discovery’s cloud-based supply chain has already saved the company $100m. Cloud is also claimed to have shaved $1bn in synergies from Discovery’s 2018 acquisition of Scripps Networks.”
You might say, “Thanks, captain obvious”. Yes, it’s obvious but it’s still worth repeating. Because if your media supply chain is NOT agile you’ll lose many of the benefits, faster time-to-market being a prime example. And you don’t want that.
Flexibility is another word that’s often thrown around when talking about this subject. Flexibility? As in we weren’t able to be flexible before the cloud. We, as an industry, have always been flexible to some extent; that’s how we’ve grown. Scalability is about quality but it’s mostly about scaling up. Scaling down? Well, that didn’t work so well because it was always going to cost money. A media supply chain that isn’t elastic is as useless as, say, black type subtitles for the movie Alien. And yes, if your media supply chain is not cloudified, you can’t be truly elastic – I promise you there’s logic to these winning attributes.
Ubiquitous? “Oh you mean, I can access all the components of a media supply chain from everywhere in the world? Well, thanks for more obvious advice but I have internet!” And then you might laugh at us.
So, you want to ingest an 8K video raw file for, say, transcoding, or even storage from your internet connection. “I have 100 Mbps fibre!” is you brag. Great. A proper 10 TB file will take 10 days to upload on your magnificent fibre.
No wonder the IABM reported, “The top investment area in Connect is internet/IP connectivity, which has been propelled by the move to remote working and remote production at media businesses.”
Even if you could upload or play with such big files, are you sure everyone can play at the same time? How are you going to win the game if you can’t have all your players on the field at the same time?
That’s the thing, your media supply chain needs to have team spirit so that everybody can work at the same time, from anywhere without creating a mess. That team spirit also means every part of your company can and should work more closely. The distance, or even the time difference, between the production team and the media asset management team, for example, should be far less of a factor, if even a factor at all, so the teams can work more closely together. This could and should be the case at nearly every level of the content value chain. But this doesn’t mean that you’ll let everybody do everything.
A media supply chain that doesn’t prevent or deal with security issues effectively will lead to disaster, and quickly, in or outside the cloud.
If access isn’t as tightly controlled as it could be or as it should be then problems will occur. Access, user roles, and third-party use must be state-of-the-art in terms of security and because things change very fast, you need to adapt and respond to these changes.
Don’t forget, as you add innovation to your media supply chain, you add new risk and new potential threats emerge so you need to be prepared.
This is a main function of a proper media supply chain. No wonder it comes out as the top investment area in the latest IABM reports. The topic of orchestration itself would require a full blog to cover what’s at stake here. The name says it all though: if your orchestrator, as with an orchestra, is out of time or sync, you don’t get great music, you get noise and nuisance and if that happens too often, the audience will ask for its money back.
Data is the new oil and harnessing data is great. But if you can’t do anything with it, if you can’t act upon that data and make decisions based on it, then why are you even collecting it in the first place? One thing to keep in mind with a media supply chain is that it can collect and generate a lot of data, of varying types and levels. Are you ready to decide, based on data, that your transcoding process should be modified or that the accuracy of your quality assurance requires updating or that you‘re definitely spending too much on your transfer over to the cloud?
AI is like the Lionel Messi of a media supply chain. If you have it, you’re good to go, says everyone. Well, ask PSG about that. It‘s not that simple.
It’s true that too much time is being wasted on routine stuff and manual processes. It’s also true that AI is not ready yet for everything that a media supply chain is meant to handle: translation, close captioning, text analysis and QC come to mind. Is-AI really ready? The answer is yes and no, and it depends on your expectations and your quality standards.
If you need quick press conference transcripts, AI is perfect. If you want Shakespearean subtitles, well then you better ask a human to proofread it at the minimum.
“AI/ML (machine learning) used within automated QC processes enables broadcasters and service providers to operate faster and more efficiently, bringing increased consistency and reliability to certain media tasks, such as content quality checks, compliance, classification, content categorization, lip sync checks, and more.”
Now, if AI/ML is not yet ready for use in a certain field, should you wait? Well, if you wait too long, you won’t learn from the process and will feel handicapped. And remember: your data decision will rely more and more on data AI/ML augmentation refinement and treatment, so you need to be ready.
Life would be too easy if we could sort things into two categories, black and white, good or bad. A media supply chain is not 100% human or 100% AI; it’s not all in the cloud or on-premise – though if you have to choose, all in the cloud is the way to go; it’s not insourced or outsourced; it’s not accessible for everyone from everywhere because of bandwidth requirements; nor is it “for live only” or only “dealing with a long-term archive”. The value is in the ability to get the most from both worlds.
The true DNA of a media supply chain lies in its hybridisation.
It’s true that your media supply chain should be tight as hell! Because if not, you’ll have problems on top of problems. By tight, we don’t mean that you shouldn’t spend money on your it, obviously. As a matter of fact, the more you get involved, the more you’ll spend as the IABM stated in its latest report. But nobody wants to spend for the sake of spending, so better be sure that ‘tightness’ will lead to cost optimization. Think this is obvious? When you’re dealing with such complexity, it’s not obvious anymore.
“Supply chains have countless, siloed third-party partners.”
Again, everybody is always able to work with everybody. But can you do it on a budget and for the next week? Probably not. Are you ready to integrate third parties? Sure. Now can you integrate third parties WITHOUT adding more complexity? That’s very common: you integrate a third party that’s supposed to smooth your workflow and you end up adding more complexity to the overall media supply chain. Do you REALLY need that third party? If they’re asking about the difference between public and private cloud, you better move on to the next one. Is everyone using the same standards? Like the exact same and not the tenth variation?
Again, media supply chains are not new. As an industry, we’ve been doing it for years with a level of prediction that was sometimes somewhat inaccurate, to say the least. We were buying mountains of servers or cards without being sure of the ROI. The thing is, if you’re not clever in your media supply chain management, the danger is you’ll end up repeating the same mistakes, cloud or not! The good news is that everything is made easier in terms of predictability, control, and monitoring.
If you want to get the most from your team, you have to be disciplined. “Companies who can bring ‘real discipline’ into supply chain optimisation – possibly through the rigorous application of business efficiency concepts such as Lean and Six Sigma – are likely to be best-placed in the future,” concludes Steve Russell, Head of OTT and media management at Red Bee Media. He adds, “The organisations that master this change will ‘win’ through lower marginal cost of delivery, but more importantly by being able to offer a ‘product’ (content) that is more responsive and adjustable according to the needs and wants of the audience – collectively and individually.”
Yes, you can start to wonder if there is such thing as a winning media supply chain. If you’re not brave with your decisions about your chain, it will be very difficult to move forward. So, you have to be innovative without making it too complicated by changing everything from one day to another. Being brave is easy, being cautious is natural, being both is the winner’s mark!
Is that it? Well not exactly. We could discuss the migration costs when you move into the cloud or when you move from cloud to cloud. We could talk about the standards that everybody is supposed to follow and that are never exactly the same. We could talk about evolution and personalisation that can be more complicated in the cloud. The Media supply chains are evolving fast and the quality of today won’t be the quality of tomorrow, so you need to be to align the best attributes of your team with the best of a supply chain to be able to maximise both.