The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) had their yearly conference in Las Vegas this week. We made the journey (reluctantly, as you can imagine…) to see how broadcasters and digital content creators are utilizing the variety of technologies available to streamline their production and distribution processes.
The show is huge. It easily fills all three halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The halls were organized well with some sections dedicated to digital distribution, some to post-production, all the way down to production satellite trucks and drone technologies (which was very cool!).
Why did we go? To study what the state of the industry is in relation to digital content management and distribution—or more specifically, to see how the industry is approaching the CMS problem.
To that extent, almost all of the major players were on display. The video distribution and management platforms such as BrightCove, Ooyala, Verizon Digital Media Services, and many other were well represented. We also had a chance to look at some of the largest CDN solutions: Akamai, MIcrosoft and Amazon AWS had a large presence.
And of course, whereas 10 years ago, there were one or two players in the encoding space, now there are literally a hundred providers doing the same work. How far we’ve come!
What we didn’t see, however, were any major players specializing in content management and distribution as a unified platform, especially when it comes to digital distribution to the Web and beyond.
As we have talked about recently, the term “CMS” is used in a plethora of different ways. There were some companies participating here that labeled their products as CMS solutions, but they didn’t appear to be focused on a digital-first approach. And worst of all, they had very weak tools for managing websites and mobile applications.
That is a great segue to our first point of interest from the NAB show.
The 90/10 Rule: The Case for Custom CMS Installations
This is still an issue that plagues content creators and publishers. There is not a perfect solution available for their needs. As one publisher told us: “We evaluated all the tools available and they only take us 90% of the way there.”
This is the major selling point for the custom solutions we build for customers: The 10% difference in functionality from your wish list is often where the value lives.
The challenge is something that will be very difficult for a single technology company to achieve. Digital content producers need tools that perform a broad amount of functions. Production of a video is basically project management with many specific workflows added into the mix: tools to organize assets, scripts, user interaction between producers, editors, talent, etc. This toolset is complicated and requires a thoughtful approach.
On top of that, you then have the actual content management and distribution. Distribution now means many destinations: Web, apps, partners, OTT, live broadcast solutions, and many more. There were not many products on display at the show that produced both of those features in one platform effectively.
Add on two other essential components for almost every content creator: website management and insights. I didn’t see any solutions that focused on website management for content producers. There were many companies offering plugins to other CMS solutions such as WordPress or Drupal, but there weren’t any solutions that integrated this functionality into a single unified platform.
In terms of insight, there are many distribution solutions out there today. As I mentioned, Ooyala, Brightcove, and even JW Player now offer great hosted scenarios with accompanying analysis of analytics and insights. However, to get this functionality into a single-screen solution, you will have to make API connections or log in to those areas separately, which is a slower workflow.
So, we’re still waiting to see who will offer a single-screen solution that is capable of the above features. Until then, custom solutions are still the best bet to achieve all of your wish list items in one platform.
If you’ve been reading our blog regularly, you know we’ve spent many blog posts talking about the benefits of custom solutions versus connecting many off-the-shelf solutions. There is no industry or setting where this makes more sense than video production, where companies have many employees working across a broad range of disciplines to produce content in relatively short order, as well as distributing content to many channels and analyzing performance and monetization.
This is the precise reasoning why custom solutions make sense in this industry—no one size fits all. Every publisher has a unique workflow and set of rules for producing and distributing content. It will be very challenging for any company to develop a one-screen solution that will be universal.
Not to dig too far into the custom-versus-off-the-shelf debate again, but looking industry-wide, you can see the trend to build custom CMS solutions is growing across not just video, but traditional media publications as well. We’ve discussed this topic in the past, but many publishers are realizing the value of custom technology, built to their specifications.
The next piece of the puzzle is how custom solutions can be made available to lower-tier publishers, niche publishers, and small businesses. So far, we all know the NY Times and players of that scale are building custom systems. Making that philosophy available to smaller content creators is going to be a massive area of opportunity.
Short-Form Content Rules
One interesting sentiment we heard from multiple people at the NAB show was the fact that the era of short-form content is no longer debatable. It is here for good.
Today, even long-form content is mostly broken up into shorter pieces of content that are pieced together. This makes sense—user attention spans are low, and transforming content from traditional channels to digital makes much more sense at these particular sizes. Also, shorter content is much faster to produce. Content producers can create content based on trending topics, in response to breaking events or news, etc.
Statistics show that penetration of short-form video in the 12-44 year old demographic is now 96%. That’s insane!
As such, the tools we mention above in relation to content creation are more important than ever before. Short-form video requires two things: timely and/or targeted content, and content of a high quality. In looking at the venues for this type of content—study Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram—these platforms are driving the popularity of short-form video even further, to the extent that clips are now coming in at 60 seconds or less!
Regardless of whether you produce long-form pieces of content containing multiple shorter clips or short-form video for social media specifically, it’s important that your workflows and management systems can handle the creation of that type of content. It’s also important that you’re constantly aware of what videos are performing at what level, which is best accomplished via statistical analysis.
Short-form content is powerful, and the reason is not only because of how easily it is consumed, but also because of the way it is produced. It’s fast, cheap, and can be effective, provided you have the information available to make good decisions about what content to produce and how to distribute it.
Lean and Mean is Gaining Traction
We’ve all heard about it, and you can see the concept of “lean and mean” in other industries. With software development, for example, we talk a lot about the idea of a “minimum viable product,” or MVP. There are “lean startups” as well, the concept of starting new businesses with a bootstrapped budget, allowing for the highest level of pivoting and continuous improvement to the business model on an ongoing basis.
Now, this is finally gaining more traction in the arena of video production and with the largest media companies in the world. There have been enough success stories where small media companies were able to grow quickly and move the needle that the traditional media companies are taking notice. To react, they are either starting their own small digital properties, buying existing ones, or taking the tactics of the lean mentality to their old-school organizations.
How does this relate to content management systems? In a nutshell, it brings to light the problem we noted above: the inability of a one-screen solution to exist in a setting where it would do the best, which is an agile and ever-iterating media organization.
It simply isn’t feasible to try to compete with the interrupters utilizing an old-school mentality. To be nimble, quick, and produce great content, you will need a centralized piece of software that manages your entire process of production and distribution. Otherwise, you will have issues as you scale to a size that is required for profitability.
Overall, the NAB show is a fascinating experience. Many different areas of an enormous industry come together in one setting to see the latest and greatest technology, and converse about the state of the business in addition to where it is going. After this year’s show, there can be no doubt that the proliferation of online distribution of short-form video will continue. We can also be sure that more and more traditional media companies will fight to stop interruption from the smaller players vying for more and more attention.
The one question remains: Who will invest in building out the proper content management ecosystem that allows them to scale properly and manage their property in the most effective way possible?