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Today, Infrastructure Virtualization is a Digital Imperative

Originally printed in TVB Europe. Reposting with permission.

We all know that the media industry is undergoing a radical transformation: content owners are seeking direct relationships with consumers and building competitive differentiation on the strength of the user experience they provide. With the proliferation of distribution options, and the content deals that come with them, it’s more important than ever to be able to make fast decisions, execute efficiently, and shorten time-to-revenue.

Media businesses must transform accordingly, requiring infrastructure that is more agile, scalable, and cost-effective. Gone are the days of custom-built, on-premise infrastructure with its multiple layers of redundancy and dedicated hardware. This kind of infrastructure, while incredibly reliable, can’t adapt easily to demand fluctuations and changing workloads, which then limits the agility and efficiency of a company’s media supply chain. As a result, media companies face an infrastructure imperative: embrace virtualization and a cloud model or risk not being able to deliver what consumers want.

Streaming technology led consumer electronics spending in 2020. Disney, NBC and Discovery all launched streaming services. They compete with Fortnite and TikTok as much as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Competition for attention is escalating because, as options increase, so do consumer expectations. Their time is the currency of the exchange, and it can’t be wasted.

Content creation that responds to consumer demand is a creative enhancement. The consumer’s ability to select what they want and how they want to watch it is fundamental to the content itself. People are realizing that responsive, flexible distribution is tightly bound to the content development process. Any presumption that demand is predictable is folly. It’s just the nature of the consumer experience and the business environment: if you can’t anticipate demand, you’d better be able to respond to it very quickly.

Ease of experience now rivals content in importance. Having a competitive edge in the consumer’s content search experience cannot be minimized. Neither content nor technology will stand alone in the media ecosystem. Great content with a lousy interface won’t cut it, and vice versa. This is why Disney is breaking theater windows and content investment is booming. You can catch a subscriber easily enough, but can you keep them?

There is an ever-increasing, ever-changing demand for all types of content—everything from the licensing of large, established libraries like Discovery’s or A&E; to new niche material that’s likely to rise and fall in popularity with fickle audiences. In such scenarios, it is impossible for legacy processing to meet consumer expectations in time. The only way to meet new demands and respond to new opportunities quickly is with a virtualized media supply chain that can flex and adapt as needed, from start to finish. (This is what A&E gets from Discovery, which was able to onboard A&E’s library in days instead of months.)

In many ways, the media industry in its current state still reflects analog thinking, only in digital form. Media is still processed in sequential and capacity-limited silos: one group does a task and passes it to the next and so on. The digital transition we are now witnessing virtualizes those functions in a way that delimits capacity and eliminates costs associated with downtime. There’s no idling equipment to keep cool. There’s no idling, period, and no money left on the table due to workflow capacity limitations. No job is too large or too fast. C-levels are waking up to this. So is the investment community. The time to market for Discovery+ was sufficient proof of concept.

If this seems like a metaphoric call to arms, it is. Expectations are driving infrastructure virtualization with an urgency we did not see in the digital content transition. Once again, however, there’s a certain inertia with the status quo that’s relatable. Virtualizing is no small undertaking. Cost modeling is a departure from a physical build-out. It’s a brave new world. If the status quo is working, compliant and even recently considered “state of the art,” then why change it? Because there’s a growing cost to maintaining the status quo. Doing nothing today will cost more as time goes on. The capabilities of the virtualized media supply chain so far exceed on-prem that early adopters are just starting to realize that the only limitation is their imagination.

Automate metadata? How about automating metadata translation for onboarding acquired content? Automate the processing sequence relative to distribution at the point of acquisition, or access templates for delivery to large distributors. Update the tech stack frequently with no operational interruptions. Launch a new service via API versus a build-out, turning the risk of failure into a minimal opportunity cost.

The virtualized, responsive media supply chain represents a full departure from the linearity that carried over from the analog era into early digital workflows. Users have left analog-era behavior far behind them. Outdated media workflows should likewise be left behind. Those media companies that have already virtualized are pulling ahead in a way that can’t be done on-prem. We’ll see this in stark relief over the next few years.

Not to be underestimated is also the unprecedented visibility into a virtualized media supply chain that allows for data collection at every touchpoint. The availability of this type of data opens up a vast new frontier. Data-driven cost analysis can be done down to the level of a single program, a single minute of programming, on a per-user basis, or any other desired metric. Project estimates can be turned around in a few days versus weeks or more, and with much greater accuracy and ability to modify if necessary. The cost of anticipating expectations versus waiting for orders is substantially reduced.

Virtualization also opens up a new dimension of operational intelligence. There’s a data-level view into applying different workflow scenarios and processes without going through the actual exercise. Supply-chain decisions can be automated for peak operational efficiency and flexibility, based on any number of inputs—e.g., transfer failure rates, content performance, acquisition-to-distribution times, etc.

The time to virtualize the media supply chain was yesterday. The tipping point of needing to do so is on the horizon. SDVI is pushing the bounds of media supply chain innovation with some of the largest media providers in the world. We’ve seen first-hand that this industry has the know-how, experience and technology to equip and support operations of any size and shape through this transition. We hope to see everyone on the other side.


Learn more in our eBook, “Journey to a Modern Media Supply Chain“.

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