For Media Supply Chains, Put People On Par With Tech
Public cloud platforms and software as a service (SaaS) products have the potential to completely transform traditional television operations into highly automated, flexible media supply chains that give broadcasters and other media companies new capabilities and new insights into their businesses.
But as they consider investing in these new cloud-based workflows, broadcasters should spend as much time thinking about the inherent changes for their personnel as they do weighing software vendors and cloud platforms. That was the message from supply chain experts who gathered for the TVNewsCheck webinar Building ROI into Your Media Supply Chain, moderated by this reporter. (You can watch the full webinar here.)
“This is a business transformation journey as much as it is a technology transformation journey,” said Simon Eldridge, co-founder and chief product officer for SDVI, whose media supply chain management software is used to control cloud-based workflows for big media companies like Discovery, Disney and WarnerMedia.
That journey can mean training traditional broadcast engineers on how to use new cloud software tools or bringing in fresh talent with a DevOps (the combination of software development and IT operations) background and educating them on the unique requirements of the television business. Doing both at the same time is optimal, said Dave Travis, group director of content, broadcast and platforms for U.K. pay TV operator and programmer Sky, which is in the midst of a multi-year shift to cloud-based workflows.
“Software delivery teams think completely differently,” Travis said. “They always learn fast, fail fast, and they never look back. Whereas broadcast engineers are always trying to find every reason why it’s going to be a problem and trying to mitigate that before [you get] there. You just can’t predict everything. And I think the cloud and software development methodologies blended with the traditional mindset is a nice compromise.”
Evan Statton, who previously worked for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (BAMTech) and NBC before joining cloud platform Amazon Web Services as principal architect for media and entertainment, agreed with Travis that both training existing staff and bringing in fresh talent are key to building a cloud-based supply chain.
Statton said change management is consistently “painful” among broadcasters because of the “Five 9s” standard for reliability that broadcasters worldwide hold themselves to, which often leads to even simple technology upgrades being performed in the middle of the night with multiple fallback plans in place. But the cloud can make such changes easier.
“Suppose a customer has two encoders in a redundant configuration, one plus one, and they want to introduce a new version of software that has a feature that they wanted,” Statton said. “Well, it’s risky to go and upgrade them, because you might not know the behavior of what’s going to happen with that new software version.
“But it’s also risky to install another box in the rack and draw more power and pull cables,” he said. “In the cloud you can literally spin up a third one, without risking anything at all. Leave your production system intact, spin up a third one and test it out. Then if you like it, promote it into production and eventually demote the ones that you want to turn off. And in doing so I think broadcasters could be way more reliable than they are now because it takes all of those human ‘oops’ moments out of the equation, because you can test it completely offline. I think we’ll see more of that.”
Terri Davies, SVP of content and media services for in-flight entertainment firm Anuvu (formerly known as Global Eagle), first built a digital supply chain during a previous stint at Sony Pictures and is now doing the same thing for Anuvu as it races to integrate a number of recently acquired companies. She made change management her top priority in bringing Anuvu to the cloud, where she is creating a whole new technology infrastructure based on best-of-breed SaaS products.
“Moving forward on any change I think it’s important to have both new thinking and legacy thinking,” Davies said. “You can’t just throw away the playbook on an industry like ours and think we know better, we’re just going to design it the way we think it should be done. You’ve really got to respect that legacy knowledge that comes from years in an industry. That’s important and needs to be a voice at the table when you’re designing how to reconfigure for these out-of-the box solutions. So for me, change management was the absolute key.”
Moving to software-based, highly automated systems is often associated with cost savings, mainly through headcount reductions, and supply chain thinking is “fundamentally about eliminating waste from your manufacturing process for the product that you ship,” Eldridge said. Not surprisingly, many of SDVI’s customers initially built their business case based on how much money they could save and how much more efficient they could be. But the benefits of a cloud-based media supply chain aren’t always immediately apparent in dollars and cents, but more in the new capabilities and flexibility that it affords.
One of the big advantages is being able to assess the individual costs of every media process as part of one’s supply chain, which allows a broadcaster or content creator to very accurately predict what it is going to cost to do a certain project or launch a new service and weigh that against the expected revenue.
“What most customers find having made the transition is that, yes, the savings were certainly interesting, but look at what I can now do,” Eldridge said. “And that’s really what we’re trying to enable, for our customers to be more responsive and more agile and address those new business opps that are coming up.”
To that point, Travis said cloud-based technology is often more expensive than traditional on-premise hardware, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the investment. He noted that people often forget the associated costs of traditional on-premise technology including cleaning, maintenance and real estate.
“I think it’s a false economy,” Travis said. “When you really look at TCO [total cost of ownership] and dive into it, it’s the cost of the bleach that goes down the bathrooms that you’re managing at your data center. That’s the level of granularity — it’s the parking spaces, the security guard. Quite often I see comparisons of TCO between on-prem and cloud, and I have this sort of theory or formula I adhere to. If it’s 20% or 30% more expensive in the cloud, the cloud will be more efficient, because of the peripheral, [immediately] unquantifiable financial benefits.”
One of the more obvious benefits is putting the onus on refreshing technology on a public cloud giant like AWS instead of undertaking it oneself with a capital investment in on-premise hardware or a “private cloud” data center, Statton said.
“The speed at which technology changes is faster than the speed at which people want to change out hardware,” he added. “So, what ends up happening on-premise is that you buy something, and you put it in and then you have it. New technology might come out, but you may not be able to take advantage of it right away because the thing you bought doesn’t do that. In the cloud you’re able to be much more agile.
“In the cases where you can breathe and scale horizontally and vertically, there are definitely a lot of cost-saving opportunities,” Statton said. “In cases where you can’t, there’s still value for customers because of the ability to adapt quickly, adopt new technology and also find new revenue streams. They might be able to make more money from their workflows, too. For example, personalization workflows or dynamic ad insertion, stuff like that, brings news revenues into customers that they didn’t have before.”
SDVI’s media supply chain platform was designed to work with a mix of public cloud, private cloud and even on-premise hardware, and in its early days the company assumed that customers would start in private cloud or hybrid model and gradually migrate to public cloud. The idea was that customers would use private cloud systems to handle their average workload and then go to the public cloud for their peak requirements.
“That isn’t the way it’s panned out,” Eldridge said. “Most customers have started in public cloud. And I think they realize that once they’re there, the idea of then going back to capital investments to build infrastructure simply doesn’t make sense. The whole ability to be able to pay for what you’re using and align the cost of your processes with the revenue that you’re generating kind of flies in the face of capital infrastructure.”
Watch the full webinar here.