OPEN MIKE BY PETTER OLE JAKOBSEN

How To Deal With The Many Faces Of Mobile

Without an automated workflow, you either can’t deliver dynamic media content to mobile devices or you’re very limited in terms of the quality you can send effectively.

We often hear how the broadcast audience is eroding. But in reality, people who used to watch news, sports and weather on their TVs are now on the move.  

With low-cost tablet PCs like the Apple iPad and smart phones like iPhones, Androids and Nokia and Samsung phones — loaded with mobile apps — they’re able to watch streaming video wherever they go. 

To stay vital, broadcasters must also get on the move, too — across platforms. Others like Turner Broadcasting and Al Jazeera are already delivering timely, media-rich content for consumption on their websites, as well as the iPad and smart phones.

The business proposition is compelling.  Broadcasters can extend their branded content to a global audience to capitalize on new revenue streams, such as subscriptions and online advertising. Their distinctive websites and mobile services offer interactivity, streaming video, VOD, and even tie into social media like Facebook and Twitter.  And their up-to-the-minute websites and mobile services reinforce their reputations as go-to sources for breaking news, sports, and weather.

But multi-platform distribution is technically complex, requiring support for thousands of mobile handheld device models, each with its own technical specifications.

For example, the Apple iPad screen is a 9.7-inch diagonal LED widescreen display for relatively high-quality video; whereas the Apple iPhone has a much smaller 3.5-inch diagonal widescreen display.  Mobile devices also differ in terms of their bandwidth, memory, graphics rendering, storage and multi-touch displays.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

So when mobile users request a media file, the first step is to identify what devices they’re using to determine what media format to send them. Once the device is identified, the media server can transcode the content on the fly and deliver the media format required by that particular device.    

At Vizrt, we’ve developed a software-driven multi-platform workflow that benefits from a mobile architecture (based on MPEG-21 and other industry standards) for transporting content to mobile phones. This architecture includes an extensive database containing the technical specifications for thousands of different mobile phone products. 

Because of this, our mobile workflow and servers are fully “device-aware”—with the ability to identify mobile devices and optimize the media-rich content into the format needed to enjoy an optimal viewing experience on that device. 

Without an automated workflow, you either can’t deliver dynamic media content to mobile devices or you’re very limited in terms of the quality you can send effectively.  Expanding your staff or production pipelines to handle the extra volume isn’t a good option because it’s inefficient and unwieldy.    

While we’ve made great strides in solving the technical problems of serving media to thousands of mobile handheld devices, there are still creative problems yet to be resolved. 

 

While streaming video is fairly commonplace, the process of taking HD/SD broadcast content, such as graphics fed with real-time data, and squeezing them down to fit the small screens of mobile handheld devices can be tricky. Ideally, you want an automated workflow that enables you to repurpose your high-end media and graphics for the Web and iPad, and then scale them back further for phones. 

But having an automated system reduce the size of widescreen HD graphics or media-rich layouts according to user-defined rules might not produce visually appealing results. Perhaps the widescreen HD graphic would over-run the four-inch screen or other visual elements like text would be cut-off or lost.

The results would be better if an artist makes a creative judgment about what picture information should stay or go and how best to reconfigure the HD asset to fit the smaller screen real estate of phones.  But relying on humans to make judgment calls about the content defeats the benefits of having an integrated automated workflow.

So, with the multi-platform content distribution trend in its infancy, we still have some challenges and headaches to resolve. But at Vizrt, we believe that the multi-platform distribution future is inevitable, and we’re moving forward confidently in that direction.

Petter Ole Jakobsen is CTO of Vizrt, based in Bergen, Norway. You can contact him at  [email protected]


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