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The Essential Components of a Digital Video CMS Solution

By Pete Czech

The Essential Components of a Digital Video CMS SolutionNew Possibilities Group

Doesn’t it seem like we’ve been talking about video as the fastest-growing type of content for the past 10 years?

That’s because it is. And we’ll continue to talk about it for a long time to come.

Video content is appealing for a multitude of reasons. For starters, it’s easy to consume, as the content typically requires a smaller time commitment. It’s also easy to share, which means it easily goes viral. And most importantly, it explains complicated concepts quickly and easily for viewers across a vast range of demographics such as age and educational background.

Video is huge, and it’s still getting bigger.

But while video is easy for consumers to consume, it is difficult for producers to create. Compelling video content takes time, more so than any other content medium.

Sure, software has made it easier than ever to create decent-quality video. When I earned my degree in broadcasting in 2000, we shot video in standard definition on Hi8 tapes. Then we edited content on linear systems—you know, the big tape-driven editing decks where you’d mark an in-point and out-point, and then run a preview of the content, which led to machines making loud noises just to see how your edit turned out. And worst of all, if you made video content, there was no way to distribute it. Your options were direct-to-video or maybe public access TV (hello, Garth).

Shortly after that, technology such as computer-based, non-linear editing became mainstream, and today, video production can be as easy as shooting video on an iPhone, editing it using iMovie on the same device, and uploading to YouTube, enabling millions of people to consume it instantly.

What a difference 15 years makes!

But despite this new technology that makes it so easy for anyone to quickly produce videos of their children behaving silly or passengers being dragged from airplanes (sorry, United), professionally produced content is still a time-consuming task, which takes time and effort. The process of producing video content is a mixture of project management, content management, distribution, and statistical analysis.

Where the problem presents itself is that integrated software that provides solutions for all these problems isn’t easy to come by.

Why? One reason is that there is a gap between the old way of doing things and the new way. The old method of broadcasting operations didn’t require the integration of all of these pieces. Producers, writers, and talent utilize different systems than production personnel. Production teams use different tools than post-production, and distribution in the past utilized traditional broadcasting methods. None of these parties had time to even think about metrics, and when they did, it was usually based on a handful of statistics available by sampling (think Nielsen or similar) and made available at timed intervals.

This old-school methodology is making the transition from traditional media to digital difficult for today’s largest content producers. They are starting to learn that taking a video and throwing it online isn’t enough.

Today, producing video content on the internet in a timely and efficient manner requires a completely different mindset and workflow. This is mostly because the dynamics of video content for online consumption are so much different.

As a result, a content management system that focuses on video content has to wear multiple hats to be truly successful. Who understands this the best? The new breed of digital content properties achieving success with minimal investment—they are taking advantage of their scrappiness and using software to make their processes efficient and data-driven. These properties are interrupting the media landscape and making traditional media companies nervous.

So what are these start-ups doing well? They are crafting sophisticated production processes and tying them together with single-screen solutions that unify their various production teams. By doing so, the entire organization is a cohesive unit, able to respond to trending social media with creative content and analyze the results to make even better decisions later.

And those doing it best have done it with custom software, including a custom CMS.

Back to the point of this post: What components are essential for a digital production company? We have spotlighted the most common parts of an integrated system that all digital media companies should have as part of their process and production framework.

Project Management

As I mentioned earlier, the best integrated CMS solutions today are a mixture of components that manage the lifecycle of production, distribution, and analysis. That basically means that videos are now treated more as projects in the digital world. As such, a good publishing system must have capabilities to manage the projects through the various stages of development.

Much like project management tools that software developers use, videos must be tracked from conception, through approvals, and through development such as writing, sourcing, and assigning media (images, soundtracks, etc.). The tool must then manage post-production, distribution, and analysis.

The objective here is to consolidate each aspect or phase of the project into a universal platform wherein both management and executives can see in one place an overview of what their organization is producing in real time. And, it should be able to reconcile what individual is responsible for what part of the process, allowing for tasks to be assigned, tracked, and communicated all within the system.

The end goal of a custom CMS project for a media company must be to have this single solution on the screen of EVERY employee, from executives to interns. This comprehensive approach will allow for analysis of the efficacy of the production process, the discovery of areas in need of improvement, and a universal sense of connectedness throughout the company.

Content Management

I am always conflicted about what to call a single-screen production system. Every organization has a different definition of what a “CMS” really is. I’ve seen some places that call their distribution system a CMS, while others call their production system the same thing.

The fact is, content management is a major part of the single-screen solution every media company should employ. For the purposes of this example, we will define the content management component as a database of compiled, finalized content, as well as the pieces of content that are utilized through the production process, whether they be video, audio, images, or anything else.

It’s essential that the content management component of your production system allows for flexible cataloging, organization, and the ability to search assets utilized for production. It should allow for a redundancy of systems and integrate to a vast infrastructure for storage. Most of all, it must integrate into the production and project management tools we mentioned before, in addition to seamlessly being part of the distribution mechanism.

I want to be clear about something in this section. We’re treating content management in this example as a database of content, more or less. That simplifies it to a degree, but it’s appropriate when combined with these other essential components.

Ultimately, many customers call their entire production system a “CMS,” which is okay. In fact, we oftentimes do that too. But the actual management of content is just one of the essential components that go into a much larger system.

Finally, one last note: The term “CMS” has been coupled much too closely with the concept of “Web CMS” platforms. The large majority of information you will read on the internet about CMS systems are focused on web CMS platforms. Those systems, such as WordPress, Drupal, SiteCore, etc., are not what we are talking about in this article.

For sure, most digital properties have a web presence that needs to be managed. In our recommended ecosystem to clients, the Web CMS is just one tool and one channel of distribution. Off-the-shelf Web CMS platforms are not meant to be digital production systems and are designed for the purpose of website content management. It’s important to be very clear on this distinction.

Distribution

Digital media companies MUST do this well. And with custom systems, it’s much easier to accomplish.

Today, you are distributing content across a broad variety of mediums. You have the possibility of distributing to social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and many more. Of course, as mentioned before, you have your own website as well. In addition, media companies have partner distribution channels—other properties that feature your content and need to ingest it in automated ways. Finally, you have other mediums such as OTT devices (Roku, Apple TV, TiVo) and live broadcast.

The best production system has ways to distribute to all of these mediums and allows you to control what content goes where and when.

Enter also into this section the requirements to develop, monitor, and maintain all of these individual feeds and connection methods. Almost every partner you will distribute to will have specific requirements for their ingestion methods. The key here is flexibility. Bespoke CMS platforms, when built properly, can allow you to customize your approach to partner distribution. Once built, it becomes easier to monitor and make any additional changes when you own and maintain the code yourself, as opposed to being beholden to a third party.

I feel that many digital media companies overlook this essential component. They feel that distribution, while important, is a tertiary concern. But then there is frustration when a new partner comes to the table with specific tech requirements and they are unable to quickly make it happen. Worse is when your video CMS provider is days, weeks, or even months away from a solution.

Vendor lock-in is truly the enemy of innovation. With that in mind, you should think carefully about the scenarios in the future that may be required as your business and production distribution scales.

Statistics

Old-school broadcasters didn’t need to worry about timely statistics much. There was one distribution method, and the ratings came out at intervals that didn’t amount to all that much insight. You may have received some simple metrics: viewers and cross-reference to known demographics.

Today, the world is completely different. The best digital media companies produce content not based on what they want to cover, but based on what the world wants to see covered. What topics are trending right now? Which perform the best across what demographic? Which had the highest completion rate and the highest fill rate in terms of advertisements?

This is just a small fraction of the data now available to content producers.

How does this relate to your production CMS? It means everything. The one-screen solution needs to integrate everything about production—including costs—with statistics to be able to analyze content performance. This is the essence of why a single-screen solution makes sense in the first place—it aggregates data necessary to make insightful decisions.

This is also the most complex part of almost all CMS platforms. Think back to distribution. If you are distributing content across a variety of different mediums, you’ll be receiving statistics back from presumably all of them. And those stats will be in different formats—not just a different naming convention. Your system will have to aggregate those statistics, normalize them, and present them for display. And this should all happen within that single-screen scenario we spoke so much about.

Where this gets even more complex is that we live in a “moneyball” world. Every content producer is analyzing statistics their own way. And this requires, as an absolute must, a flexible software foundation to allow for that level of analysis to happen.

Thus far, there is no comprehensive third-party tool that accomplishes this task perfectly. And the ones that do exist lack that connectivity to your ecosystem. For now, to do this right, you must take a custom approach.

Conclusion

The growth of digital publishing, especially of video content, is now beyond infancy. Growing pains are making many media organizations realize that now is the time to invest in properly developing their production ecosystem.

The benefits of consolidating disparate systems into a universal solution include higher productivity, lower production costs, and more production output—not to mention the ability to have actual insight into what is working and what isn’t.

If your production process today is scattered across many different platforms, if management has no clear overview of where the organization is headed, and if assembling statistics takes days to make presentable, it’s time to consider how you can build a platform that unifies all your resources into one cohesive unit. 

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