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December 2014
Issue: February 1, 2011

How content supply chain management will shape post

By: Tony Lapolito

It’s all about content. That may be an oft-used cliché, but there’s no denying content’s critical role in these transformative times. In the coming years, media companies will be more challenged than ever to evolve their content businesses to react effectively to breakthrough technologies and the opportunities they’re creating, such as electronic sell-through, video on demand, and multi-platform delivery. 

As key links in the content supply chain, post production companies and operations are deeply affected by these market dynamics. Going forward, successful post companies will turn to content supply chain management (CSCM) technologies that can interconnect the supply chain and aggregate all content, processing, and distribution. In this article, we’ll describe the most important content trends and challenges shaping post into 2011, and the key attributes of an effective strategy for content supply chain management.

FROM CHAOS, KEY TRENDS

Most of us can remember the days when tape was the standard medium in a video operation, with video content moving through the supply chain in a very straightforward way — going from camera to post to playout to archive and ultimately syndication in a linear fashion with looser deadlines. Today’s world is very different, and new distribution outlets and windows are changing the game for content producers. International distribution can lead to an increased audience size — potentially up to 20 times over the domestic market. Same-day-and-date release of major motion pictures has become a critical factor for capturing maximum revenue and increasing ROI before pirating of the content becomes a factor. In addition, digital outlets like iTunes, video on demand, and Hulu offer the promise of getting content out to even wider audiences. Timing has never been more important for taking advantage of these new opportunities — but the old-school linear processes, with their supply chain disconnects and inefficiencies caused by islands of files and tape, simply aren’t up to the task.

Out of this challenging and often chaotic environment, we’ve seen three trends having a major influence. The most fundamental is the move from tape- to file-based workflows — the “go digital” mantra. Some organizations have successfully made the transition — but by our estimation, most are just beginning.

Another important trend is the increased size of the files that have to traverse the network — driven by the transition from SD to HD, “super HD” formats such as 1080p 50/60, and even 3D. The migration to these new formats puts an even greater strain on the supply chain, since globally moving files that are 2x to 10x the size of SD is no easy task using today’s networks. 

The third trend relates to changes in distribution windows, which require the ability to go as quickly to market as possible and distribute the latest versions of content to multiple territories within a select and finite period. Unless you hit the distribution window precisely, while it’s open, the revenue-making opportunity is lost forever. 

The challenges for post companies are multiplied by the rapidly- evolving nature of the business. The trends shaping the post operation of today and tomorrow are all about globalization, decentralization, and collaboration. Whereas most post functions such as editing, dubbing, and special effects were once tape-based and handled in-house by monolithic post companies, today’s digital workflows have enabled many functions to be outsourced to freelancers, mom-and-pop shops, and smaller specialty groups. While decentralization and multi-site operations bring the advantages of reduced costs and greater flexibility, they require coordination and collaboration on a grand scale — complicated by unforgiving distribution windows demanding that all interdependencies adhere to a strict schedule. 

Consider the case of Deluxe Digital Studios, which handled multi-language dubbing to coincide with the same day/date global release of the 3D blockbuster Avatar. Faced with tremendous time constraints and a movie that was being re-cut right up until the final deadline, Deluxe relied on advanced CSCM to handle transfer of the 10-gig dubbing reference material files between the main studio and up to 18 locations around the world, for each new cut of the movie. 

BUILDING A CSCM-BASED BUSINESS

For post companies, therefore, an effective CSCM strategy will become increasingly important as the industry continues to become ever more digitized, fragmented, and accelerated. By CSCM, we mean a system that goes far beyond simply moving large files from point A to point B to provide maximum cost savings, unmatched control and visibility, and unlimited potential for business development. 

The ideal CSCM solution gives media enterprises complete control over their content supply chains via four key functionality areas. The first is accelerated content transport, which ensures that huge files — even up to 1 TB — can be moved quickly, reliably, efficiently, and securely over the network. Accelerated file transport also enables the content to move across the network seamlessly without encountering any security gaps, based on an end-to-end security model. For post companies in particular, this security model should cover interactions beyond the main facility to outside vendors, in much the same manner as banks handle electronic funds transfers.

The second key functionality area is central management to ensure that files arrive at the right place at the right time, with a single dashboard to give an instant snapshot of file status. The system should provide a centrally-managed suite of resources for managing, tracking, and re-prioritizing bandwidth to ensure that files are delivered with first-class efficiency.

Third, effective CSCM requires content process automation to eliminate inefficient manual processes wherever possible — which also removes the delays and errors that inevitably occur with human intervention. Of course, content process automation is predicated on moving from physical media to the world of file-based workflows. 

Finally, an effective CSCM solution enables B2B content peering for a truly interconnected supply chain that crosses the boundaries of organizations and corporations. As we’ve seen, global collaboration and partnerships are key drivers for today’s post operations, with the seamless exchange of content of paramount importance. B2B content peering enables content to flow across these boundaries seamlessly without interruptions while maintaining enterprise security policies. 

Tony Lapolito is vice president of marketing and product management for Signiant, a provider of content supply chain management software that empowers global organizations to automate, accelerate, and simplify the movement of content.