This TV Program Is Brought to You By Automation

Reducing costs to create more content
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Consumers and producers both want more video content. Viewers are dying to see another season of Game of Thrones, up-to-the-minute clips from the home team's game, or a film from the Twilight saga. Content producers are motivated to create more programming in order to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of viewers and brands. As a result, we've recently seen producers pump up the content. This past year, Netflix promised to double content production and Amazon committed to tripling the number of its original shows. Industry watchers believe the uptick will continue, predicting that by 2017, output could reach more than 500 scripted shows.

While it's exciting to be part of a growth industry, in reality it's neither easy nor straightforward for content producers, broadcasters or VOD service providers to keep pace with viewers' and advertisers' increasing demand for video. In fact, some are saying that this massive increase in programming—coined "peak" TV—is unsustainable and that producers may simply run out of resources and bandwidth. There's some truth to that. In today's video ecosystem, content producers are taxed not simply with producing great shows but also with competing for ever more scarce talent—such as writers, actors and crew members. These challenges are compounded by that fact that content must meet the needs of different delivery platforms, devices, syndicate partners, regional variations, technical standards, and more—often without budget increases. Organizations across the entire industry are struggling to meet this challenge, and few are sure where to turn for solutions.

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Some producers are hoping to meet these exponentially increasing content demands and simultaneously reduce costs and manpower requirements by using technologies that automate various aspects of video production. The National Basketball Association, for example, uses a software application that generates game highlight clips that are customized to individual fan preferences and then delivers those clips immediately following games or during games in near real time. Similarly, a recent New York Times article discussed new technology that helps publishers such as Hearst, Gannett and The Huffington Post increase video production and save costs by automating the analysis of existing articles or scripts and searching for video clips to accompany that text or by providing computerized voice-overs for videos. The article points to "technology that promises to streamline video production, sometimes to the point of near-full automation."

These new technologies hold great promise for the production of content that already exists (e.g. repurposing game highlights or articles), but what about automation to help with the production of original content, such as those Game of Thrones episodes that viewers love? Certainly original content producers would welcome more help with both the non-creative and creative parts of production, but is automation the answer to all those needs and just how far will producers go with automation—or do they even know enough to decide?

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The Long Road From Creation to Distribution

When "pumping up the content," content producers must consider nearly every facet of production, from concept development to scriptwriting and editing, all the way through to delivery, and often must customize those processes in various ways for dozens of partners. Consider this example: A major production company recently signed a contract with a distributor to produce more than ten animated cartoon series based on characters in its films. To meet this demand, the company not only had to find animators, writers, and production studios to create and produce the series, they also had to deliver each of the shows in multiple languages, with various versions, and with subtitles, obligations that often required script changes. Additionally, the company had to package up the content assets to meet distributor's preferences. All of these steps had to be completed for each and every episode in all 10 series on a rigorous schedule calling for production of roughly one episode per day. Scaling was a major concern, and the pain of managing existing day-to-day needs, combined with the requirements of the overall increased demand, created a ripple effect that was felt throughout the entire organization.

Not All Video Production Is Created Equally

So, can automation do for original content and more complex programming what is does for repackaged videos? Well, yes—and no. Production of original content is, in general, more creative, nuanced and involved than repackaged video production, particularly when that programming is licensed to scores of outlets or partners that require quick turnaround and delivery. Given that complexity, it's unrealistic to think that automation could help original content producers to the extent and in the same ways it's helping repackaged content producers—certainly it won't take the place of Aaron Sorkin's stellar scriptwriting in The West Wing. However, technology can be employed for many other creative processes involved in production. For example, tasks that require human input, such as collaboration on a script or the decision to move ahead with production after receiving comments during a review, can be orchestrated and managed with automation. By removing the barriers to collaboration—the large chunks of time and the sometimes byzantine logistics required—a production can significantly speed up reviews and conduct more in total, a move that can dramatically improve content quality. And, of course, there are many non-creative aspects of original programming production that content producers can automate, including quality control (QC), versioning, standards and format adherence, ingestion, packaging, delivery, content commissioning and pre-production workflows.

Automation Increases More Than Volume

By automating production, content producers can eliminate many manual tasks and shorten production cycles, which reduces errors and increases productivity, speed and efficiency. In fact, one Ooyala customer reported that automation technology helped reduce the length of its average job from 90 minutes to just 10 minutes. Another commented that automation allowed them to on-board new clients or launch new services in a fraction of the time, making them significantly more agile in a rapidly changing market.

Automation can also provide content producers with increased control over and visibility into production, eliminating waste and saving money. These savings allow organizations to do more work with the same budget or to accomplish the same work at a lower cost. The savings can also be reinvested, for example, to hire star-quality on-screen talent, better producers, or better directors. The visibility afforded by automation can also be invaluable in risk assessment and growth management, which can help an organization determine if it can add distribution partners without adding resources.

For all its many benefits, automation will never be a complete substitute for human creativity—the subtleties of plot development, nuances of language, and artistic flair required in design, staging, and lighting —but it can help significantly augment many creative processes, such as collaboration, and perform a good share of the non-creative ones, such as ingestion. All told, automation technology saves time and frees up the resources needed to add the creative cycles that can improve the quality of programming and to realize greater overall efficiency and cost savings. And, yes, automation can also help organizations "pump up the content" to meet the demand for peak TV—an outcome that will make both viewers and content producers happy.

Barry Hartman is product director of media logistics at Ooyala. Ooyala helps deliver content that connects. Ooyala's end-to-end solutions help large-scale broadcasters, operators, media companies, enterprises and brands build more engaged and more profitable audiences and monetize video and TV with personalized, interactive experiences across any screen.

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