Guest post by Fernando Ribeiro, Cloud4Media, Product Manager, Arkena
When broadcasters stopped working with tapes and replaced them with digital files, they strongly believed that it would make things much simpler. With technology come new possibilities. And new possibilities bring new challenges. Video consumption changed so much that what was previously considered a nice-to-have feature is today a compulsory service: addressing multiple screens, providing multiple versions… Broadcasters embraced digital content but feel concerned about the complexity they now have to deal with, including the securing of these new forms of assets and the management of tight schedules for worldwide-distributed content… How does the industry deal with these new challenges?
Digitization is a fact: a few figures
At Arkena, we have been offering Playout services for almost 20 years. We have witnessed the mutation of the industry and adapted to it. Today, we still have customers that send us tapes, but they are becoming the exception. This is a transition period and it is coming to an end. In France, film stock manufacturers have seen their revenue decrease significantly by almost 60% between 2008 and 2012, to € 13 million (source FICAM). Tapes have disappeared from major French broadcasters such as TF1 (in 2009), M6 (2010) and Canal+ (2011).
Challenge #1 – Safety first: securing the content
In our business, we deal a lot with right-holders that have their content distributed worldwide. A few years ago, when trying to have their assets store in the cloud, they were more than reluctant, fearing of piracy. Today, cloud-based file exchange solutions are highly secure and enable the creation of entire closed ecosystems. User accesses are secured through VPNs and electronic certificates, and the content is cyphered by default. At Arkena, we developed our own protocol called RBC (Reliable Bit Cast) that ensures fast data transfer and integrity of the content across the network and includes AES-128 encryption, which is one the safest encryption specification of electronic data today.
Challenge #2 – Connecting multiple stakeholders
The value chain of content has become more complex. Production got global: a movie is shot in a studio in the US and edited by a post-production lab in Europe, or anywhere else… Content travels back and forth across the world within complex ecosystems of stakeholders. Some major industry players tried to develop their own network to connect their ecosystem and faced disappointing results. It requires a strong expertise to manage a secured network with a multitude of connections. At Arkena, we often compare it to a highway: it needs to be monitored and requires maintenance to prevent incidents. In other words, working efficiently with digital content is impossible without a strong network provided by a professional vendor.
Challenge #3 – Global Entertainment
Over the last few decades, the US entertainment industry has taken over the world and spread their assets. Today, US TV shows, for example, have become global phenomena. HBO’s Game of Thrones is the most recent example. Europe used to wait for months before having the possibility to watch the latest US shows. With the rise of Internet and peer-to-peer exchanges, European broadcasters had to face a strong competition which required them to offer the content as quickly as possible. Digitalization of content enabled this possibility. European broadcasters are now able to offer US content at the same time. As soon as a mezzanine file is uploaded in Los Angeles, a broadcaster in Europe is notified that the movie is ready to download.
Challenge #4 – Multiple versions, multiple screens, multiple devices…
Another consequence of globalization of entertainment is the need to create multiple versions. Integrate different audio tracks, subtitles, extended versions, director’s cut, censored versions… In other words, not only the content needs to be distributed quite rapidly, but it also needs to be adapted. Walt Disney’s Howard Lukk’s quote is now famous for saying that a movie could have up to 35 000 different versions. One can imagine how complex workflows could be. In 2008, the major US studios decided to work together on a new standard. Today, IMF (Interoperable Master Format) is the result. This is basically a mezzanine file containing the core framework as well as the specific parts of each different version, which are combined by playlists to create the distributed version according to the destination. At Arkena, we are considering IMF-support in Cloud4Media, our media logistics platform, tailored to offer an efficient solution to all those issues. IMF files also contain the transcoding parameters to generate the different output formats to address different screens. Every connected device being a potential screen to watch video content, every device needs to be provided with adapted formats. There is a huge market for broadcasters which are addressing more and more OTT services.
OTT has brought many new possibilities for broadcasters. What did we say already? With new possibilities come new challenges.
 Source FICAM (Fédération des Industries du Cinéma, de l’Audiovisuel et du Multimédia)