Building a Content Pipeline for Today and Tomorrow
By Cindy McKenzie, CIO, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group And Allan Lamkin, CTO, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group
This is an exciting and challenging time to be in technology at a Media and Entertainment company. Demand for content is exploding and the once-solid walls dividing television shows, on-demand programming, movies, webisodes, user generated content and every other type of media are quickly crumbling. There are new ways to look at content–in HDR, 4K and even 8K, on every kind of screen, from theaters to smart devices. Consumers worldwide expect to see their content “on-demand”: what they want, when and how they want to see it.
Transitioning from a Media Industry to a Technology Industry
M&E is a technology industry now. The changes started over a decade ago, as physical media such as film and tape started giving way to digital files in numerous formats and companies and personnel who were slow to adapt are losing their footing.
“Content distributors are racing to meet consumers’ ever-increasing demand for content”
Deluxe itself has transformed, from nearly a century as a photochemical film laboratory, creating and shipping physical media around the world, into a global digital platform company, with services to address the increasingly complex digital supply chain of content from ingest to delivery including post production, visual effects, localization, IP delivery, business intelligence and more, with the goal of providing end-to-end services for content creators, owners, and providers.
The industry’s demand for globalized content is growing exponentially. Content distributors are racing to meet consumers’ ever-increasing demand for content by distributing both new and catalog content globally in local languages. The amount of content originating in non-English-speaking countries is rapidly increasing as evidenced by the growth of the entertainment industries in India and China and the desire to reach global audiences with this content as well. These factors have caused the need for more varied types of translations and tailoring processes to adhere to local standards and practices. In parallel, the industry is moving to a day and date release strategy for theatrical products, shrinking the windows between US and international distribution dates, VOD and Internet releases and a whole-season release strategy for video content through OTT providers. The combination of the growth in localized content and shrinking windows requires increased efficiencies to meet these industry demands.
Serving the Wide Variety of Consumption Options
Audiences expect to consume their favorite entertainment, from films to TV, sports, and live events in theaters, on TV (in HDR, 4K, 8K, etc) and on all manner of devices. Picture and sound must be optimized for every type of screen and content providers need to think several steps ahead to anticipate what’s coming and optimize content for consumption in ways that aren’t even available yet.
How Technology is Being Harnessed to Meet these Needs
To address these challenges, Deluxe has made significant changes in its technology environment, both organizationally and technically. One step Deluxe has taken is to design and implement a “one workflow” platform with micro-services architecture. This allows the global operations teams to utilize the same processes and workflows, but to create the customized content deliverables as required. This infrastructure makes extensive use of services to transform as much of the arduous business of transcoding, packaging, and delivery of our clients’ content; making our internal operations essentially a technology platform. New services can be quickly brought online and integrated quickly into the platform. These services can vary from off the shelf software or hardware functionality that can be exposed as services or internally developed functions to meet specialized specifications that tools do not exist. Further, platform changes can be quickly made to support new workflows and new or modified services with no system downtime. Designing and evolving a platform approach to the new demands of the content supply chain is a critical pillar of support for our industry’s next phase.
In addition, the infrastructure environments needed to be coalesced globally allowing global, around the clock work-share to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Technology advancements in the use of containers, grid computing and cloud computing are enabling the platform to scale as needed to meet the changes in volume, content types, and sizes. Deluxe is continuing to develop technology in predictive data movement for optimized workflows and the movement of content to be processed in the global locations where available people and/ or platform services exist to provide further efficiencies.
The ability to anticipate and address what’s next in M&E is being driven by the ability to track each piece of content at every stage from the creation of the content to the playback by the consumer. This data is being leveraged by the ever-expanding role of the data scientist in M&E companies. This supports an almost real-time feedback loop allowing dynamic promotions, windowing, and even regional availability of content for given windows.
To further speed our digital transformation, Deluxe is also continually looking at strategic acquisitions. We recently acquired Sfera primarily for its innovative technology platform, which automates key functions in localization such as crowdsourcing translators and automated quality checks of content. Bringing tools such as this into Deluxe’s platform has enabled us to meet the continually increasing volume of material while scaling our capacity and localizing content faster within the decreasing timeframe required.
To support a holistic strategy across the organization, Deluxe brought together disparate product management and product engineering teams into one organization. IT and Engineering also came together to ensure that the platform tied into the HR, Financial and Sales systems, as well as, the data warehouse and analytics platform. Business process reengineering and master data management teams are engaged to support the design of a cohesive platform. All technology projects and initiatives are managed together into a seamless, aligned architecture and roadmap.
Disney CEO Bob Iger recently said “you have to be willing to create or experience some disruption as we migrate from what has been a more traditionally distributed world to a more modern or non-traditional distribution world”. We believe that for Deluxe to succeed and thrive in this modern M&E distribution world that we must have an organization, platforms and processes that allow us to understand and respond to the industry’s next wave.