VBS 2024: Driving distribution success with NexC

VBS 2024: Driving distribution success with NexC

The fireside chat covered topics from major trends to understanding the NexC concept & more.

Video and Broadband Summit 2024

Mumbai: India is in the grips of seismic changes as far as video and broadband consumption is concerned. Pay TV cord-cutting is rampant even as free TV subscriptions are on the rise and OTT buy-ins are churning with the signs up for certain platforms stagnating even as others are seeing rapid increases and some are seeing cataclysmic drops. Aggregators of OTTs are popping up on the horizon promising cheap bundles along with value-added services for cable TV and DTH. There's a rush to set up free advertising-supported TV channels by TV set manufacturers and smart TV device makers. There's the Jio factor where it is seeking to convert most pay TV customers to free streaming of video content by offering access to consumers at no cost. The consumer continues to demand bandwidths higher than ever imagined even as prices are dropping. Margins are under pressure as every player goes one-up on each other to acquire and retain customers.

Clearly, the video and broadband distribution landscape has not been as vibrant as it is now... How long will this pot-boiling continue? What will the magic potion of video and broadband look and taste like? And what's the end game? Indiantelevision.com held its 20th edition of Video and Broadband Summit better known as VBS at Sahara Star Hotel, Mumbai.

The fireside chat on the topic: ‘Driving Distribution Success with NexC’ had Planetcast CEO Sanjay Duda in conversation with Indian Television.com group founder, chairman & editor-in-chief Anil NM Wanvari.

Wanvari began the conversation by asking, “What are the major trends that you all see in terms of the workflows that are going on in production, acquisition, creation, and distribution?”

Duda answered, “Largely what we've seen in the last 25 years and more so in the last seven years, most of the trends are being driven by the fact that on both sides, production and consumption, the creation environment is exploding. There are large, medium, and very small content creators, and they need to deliver ever-increasing profiles of people, and viewers who are viewing across multiple devices. So there are multiple options for delivery and there are multiple creators on this side. This actually is what is creating most of the pressure, it’s creating most of the direction to development. Clearly, content will always be king. It will always be the most important determinant of success. The stress right now is, how do you get your content to the right cohorts of viewers? How do you monetise your content? How do you get your money for the content that you've created in the most effective and efficient way? And how do you retain your viewers time after time? Slowly earlier, this whole pipeline had multiple stages, multiple players, there were three or four middlemen, so to speak. There were content creators used to provide the content to a large broadcaster and aggregator. Then they used to process that and then deliver it to the next stage for maybe creating linear channels for playout and slowly creating VOD assets. It then used to go to the next digital platform or cable platform, cable head-end or DTH head-end from where it was then distributed to final consumers who were managed by local cable operators or a DTH operator. This whole pipeline was well-oiled. There were clear business models, people were making money. But now what has happened is everything has been disrupted by the fact that the entire environment has become digital. And we are seeing that the content creator is increasingly able to see who's viewing the content. Everything is getting driven by data. Information on who is viewing the content, how long they've been viewing the content, and that has created avenues for many technologies to come in. Like advertising or targeted advertising, so that you can even earn more for every viewer that you're reaching. So this is how the overall ecosystem has changed.”

He added, “From a production perspective, how this has now forced people, forced creators to think, innovate on how to produce your content. Content is of two to three types. One is the live content, which is actually driving this pipeline. Then there is the episodic content, user-generated content. The UGC content technologies are driven by the fact that users should be very easily able to create, curate, and deliver the content. The GECs or the episodic content or the movies, which is the library content, has its own non-linear production behaviour. There too technologies have changed. There’s a lot of VFX, a lot of virtual productions. The world is changing so that you don't have to create one studio and then break it down and then create it for the next show. And in-between this, is the live. In the live content aggregation, there are a lot more changes. There's a lot immersive content coming in. Now people get 360 degree cameras at the venue, creating a kind of remote viewer or an e-viewer kind of situation. Also now, data regarding the content that's going in is also traveling with it. So there's for sports, for example, all the information about the players is traveling along with it. A lot of the time, you can create a game. Already it's happening, based on the performance of the players, the rating is determined on a daily basis. There's a whole gaming industry. So these are the things that are driving the production technology at this end.”

Wanvari then asked, “Where does your company come into play?”

Doda replied saying, “I think all the players in this industry have seen change. Initially, there was some amount of denial and then acceptance, innovation, and then change. So we started our journey, providing essentially, distribution over satellite, bringing live videos from the arenas, be it news or sports. But largely satellite driven. We created a huge infrastructure for uplinking, DSNG services. We set up the first commercial teleport in the country and then as the media industry was growing rapidly in the country, our only thought was how do we create more teleports? How do we set up more facilities at that point of time? Then we saw that there are two things that are happening. A: people were going into a zone where they were not too sure. Earlier, most of our services were, because we needed to invest a lot of money to set up this infrastructure to provide services to our four or five customers, we used to always say five-year agreements or 10-year agreements. But as we all have stepped into a world where people have to keep trying. The viewers or the consumers have become very choice-oriented. They don't want to watch a particular channel or a particular platform all the time. They need the right to stop the subscription and go somewhere else. Similarly, all the broadcasters, therefore, they would also like to experiment, but if they have to be tied down with three-year, five-year contracts, they won’t go there. Therefore, we also realised that we need to create solutions, which are flexible in terms of commitment from customers. And eventually, as some of these services have become robust and they’re accepted, then you'll automatically see long-term commitments.”

Doda added, “What we did was we expanded from very infrastructure-heavy services to a set of platform-driven services. We are moving from our on-prem to cloud. What that has done is, on cloud, there are two things you can do. One is that even your services can be flexible in terms of commitments from the customer and you can even deliver services globally anywhere. It connects the entire world and opens it up to you. Whereas infrastructure-based services are you need to set up something and they're very regional in their influence. What NexC does is, as we have seen over the years, the content journey has four individual stages. One stage is the creation, where you're creating the content, once you've created the content, the content needs to be made addressable. There is a lot of data that has to be attached, meta tagging has to be done, content has to be prepared for consumption, you've to check it for quality, technical quality, and SNP, to make sure it meets the content rules and regulations based on where you want to sell the content. You also then create another layer of it, which is localisation. If I'm creating content in India, and the broadcaster or the other publisher wants to deliver it in Korea, or Middle East, or Malaysia. So there's a requirement for subtitling, dubbing, and SNP. So these are the localisation inputs that go into the client. So that part is essentially content management. Then when you've made the content, there is a need to create promos around it so that you're able to market your content. Then we have the post-production, where you do on-air promotion, creating OEPs or teasers. That's the second part of the stage that the content goes through these days.”

Duda further added, “Once that is done, your content is essentially ready for consumption. Either it will go as a VOD asset, which is then delivered to an OTT platform or it could be archived for later use or it will be sent to a playout solution where it is converted into a linear stream. So, that is the third stage. Once it’s created into a linear stream, it is then delivered either directly to customers, or it can be delivered to a cable operator or a digital head end, or a FAST TV channel or FAST digital head end. Delivery is the other aspect of it. So essentially, the content once it's created, moves from one stage to the other and then the to final destination, which could be your handsets where you're watching it either on Instagram, YouTube, or Meta. So every platform has its own, technical specs, and you need to create the content for each spec, or it can be delivered to a teleport from where it can be uplinked, or it can be delivered to a digital head-end from where it is delivered through an OTT platform. These three main solutions or you can say modules. We have been involved with all of these three modules over a period of time. First, we started with essentially, delivery, then we did playouts. Maybe six to seven years ago, we got into the post-production domain. Now since we realised that we need to go global, we need to go on cloud, the need was to put it all together under a single umbrella, so to speak. What we found was that it missed only the last stage, which is the OTT. Why we did not go very aggressively initially for OTT because everybody wanted to set up their own OTTs. But we have seen over the years now and we know that it's going to happen sooner, people will eventually want to outsource the OTT function as well. Right now every OTT has different feature sets. Every OTT player believes that their OTT is something very special, that only they know, they have created. Eventually, all OTT technology will become quite standard, and all features offered will be quite standard. That is where everybody will want to outsource it. It is just a technical platform and that's what it is. So we therefore put together the entire set of solutions, right from acquisition to delivery to consumption, and this we’ve named NexC, where C stands for comprehensive. Incidentally, it rhymes with sexy.”

Moving on to his next question, Wanvari asked, “Have you found customers for it so far within India and overseas?”

Duda replied, “Yes, in fact, we had customers who were using each of these modules, anyway. So as we have started evangelizing the NexC concept, it becomes automatically an upgrade for them. We are able to upsell the other stages, and other services on either side of what they're using. A playout or customer is ready to utilise the content aggregation. A content aggregation customer is happy to do post-production with us. So that we find a very easy-to-sell, easy-to-manage platform. In almost everything, in all these technologies, what you’ve seen is, that you think of all the problems that you're solving, and you create a product, and once the product is used, it starts generating its own workflows, its own advantages, and it creates another set of development requirements on top of it. We are already seeing that, because everything is on a single platform, you're saving a lot of multiple functions, be it a single sign-on, or a common database. We are able to pull a lot of metadata from various stages and eventually, it’s a part of our development plan. We will enable AI-based analytics based on all the data that we're collecting, and that will automatically give you reports or give you advice on which content is selling better, and which content needs to be sent to which platform, and you can get literally get a real-time feedback on what is happening here.”

Adding on to that, Duda said, “The idea is that it saves money because you are cutting out a lot of repetition of processes and at the end of the day, it is a solution you can use as long as you want. It takes in all formats. The input formats can range from MXF to MOV to any movie to any. In fact, we are using it for one of our customers, who brings in live feeds from outside. They sometimes bring the worst quality feeds and we are able to stabilise those feeds and put them back into the system. The fact is that this is nothing new. It is well tested, well used by our customers. So it's nothing new. It's just putting things together so that people can make better sense of what they're doing. You've seen that there's so many more questions than answers that are coming up these days. The least that you can do is make things easier and simpler.”