The changing face of service provision in the broadcast & media industry
The changing face of service provision in the broadcast & media industry
The changing face of service provision in the broadcast & media industry
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We are experiencing a fundamental shift in the way technology is provisioned in the broadcast and media sector, yet the procurement processes have remained largely unchanged in 20-years. Moreover, there is increasing frustration in the vendor community that process isn’t as rigorous as it should be. Is it time to review the approach to RFP?
One of our programme management consultants, who has an adage or anecdote for almost every aspect of our business, is often heard saying “if an RFP lands on your desk, you know it’s not for you.” This is usually followed by a collective sigh in our office, but the point is as sharp as the messenger: many technology Request for Proposals (RfPs) are not necessarily the new business opportunity that they appear to be.
Within our software business we have developed a stringent set of criteria which we use to assess all RfIs (Requests for Information), RfPs (Requests for Proposal) and PoCs (Proof of Concepts) and decide whether to respond or decline the invitation to participate. The range of criteria is broad but ultimately equates to our likelihood of winning the project, balanced against the cost and risk (opportunity cost) of bidding.
I imagine that this is a standard approach among vendors but, on discussing the issue with colleagues and competitors during IBC, I noted a marked increase in cynicism. Vendors are increasingly treating PoCs and RfP with suspicion. Views range from “We are being invited to tender just so the customer can beat down the price of [alternative vendor x]” to “Customer y is seeking some free workflow design” or the prosaic “They need three bids for internal audit, but you never know.” The underlying sentiment across the board is that procurement processes increasingly lack the rigor and integrity they once had, and I consider this detrimental to both vendors and customers alike.
While the software division of our business responds to these tender requests, a proportion of the Blue Lucy business remains pure consultancy; where we provide advice and expertise on projects or programmes without supplying software. For consultancy projects, we typically manage or support the technology procurement process – including dealing with RfIs, RfPs and PoCs from other vendors. So, as both poachers and gamekeepers (bad analogy) we thought we could share broad lessons to tender success from our experience over the years:
Ensure that you set the vendor engagement approach in the context of the project’s relative maturity. Before rushing to formally commission a weighty RfP, examine the maturity of the project or programme. Where are you in the process? If the business case and a target operating model aren’t clearly defined, then you probably aren’t ready to formally engage in a tendering process with an RfP or PoC request.
Of course, it may not be possible to prepare the business case or define the operating model without vendor engagement – i.e. looking at what is ‘out there’ in terms of capability. If this is the case, your request should be limited to an RfI.
Get the key information you need from an RfI
The outcome of the RfI will often inform the high level operating model and business case and will probably identify the likely vendors for the later RfP or PoC.
RfP Light and more Talking
The formal RfP – the phase in the procurement when you require vendors to provide a costed solution to your business requirements and target operating model – should also be kept lightweight. The quality of the RfP should not be based on its printed weight and more may be gained from a spreadsheet of prioritised requirements and an operational workflow diagram than a verbose and overly prescriptive tome.
PoC Should Prove Something
More on the PoC phase is set out in (5) below but we normally recommend limiting the PoC phase to the preferred vendor from the RfI stage. Be clear what the objectives of the PoC are – a key integration or proving a minimum viable end-to-end workflow. Both sides should be clear what success looks like.
The rigorous governance you apply to a programme or project should include the vendor engagement component, particularly in the RfP and PoC phases. Be fair and be seen to be fair.
There was a time when a conversation between a business customer and supplier was implicitly, mutually confidential, but increasingly business operators and vendors alike have sought to formalise this in NDAs. Non-disclosure agreements are designed to protect against the promulgation of non-public information about product capabilities or techniques as well as other confidential business matters. But they are routinely flouted.
In my opinion, the proliferation of the NDA has had the reverse effect on the disclosure of confidential information. Operators are naturally trying to ensure that they define and build the best systems possible, but doing this by sharing product information with a vendor of another product isn’t good form and is very likely to be in breach of the NDA. The technology innovation of tomorrow relies on respecting intellectual property today.
Change occurs in all projects and things change rapidly in this industry. The change management process set in the project governance should extend to the vendor engagement.
Project changes that may impact on the RfP process include a change in the objectives of the business or identifying a new potential vendor.
A change in business goals or objectives which alter the assessment criteria under which vendors are to be measured should be communicated to all tenderers. Modern software systems are inherently flexible, and it is likely that a response to an RfP has been crafted to focus the capabilities with the highest priority criteria. If the criteria change then allow the vendors to update their submissions.
If new vendors are identified during any part of the procurement process, ensure that they are taken through the same procedure and that all involved are kept informed if requirements evolve.
It is the PoC more than any other aspect of the procurement process that seems to cause the most heat in the vendor community. I suspect that this is because responding to an RfP may be viewed as a “sunk cost” in staff headcount, whereas a PoC will incur additional expense – such as infrastructure or writing software to a proprietary system which isn’t reusable.
Tom Gittins, CEO of Pebble Beach Systems wrote a very good piece for the IBC Daily back in September. Tom’s article is typically forthright, but balanced and constructive. In the spoken, rather than written, medium other suppliers are more vociferous. “We provided a 4-week PoC which cost us more than [large number] thousand pounds…..and [end user customer] decided to cancel the procurement process and build the system themselves, probably based on our architecture;” and “The workflow defined in the RfP was exactly what we had provided as part of the PoC and they award the contract to [another vendor], [expletive deleted.]”
As a software vendor, Blue Lucy has provided both paid and unpaid PoC systems in recent years and we too have felt that pain. But, as consultants we are clear: PoC or low-level design work should be paid for. If the fees involved merely cover a supplier’s costs the goodwill, focus and resulting quality of the outcome is immeasurably increased. To the customer there are some up-front costs, some of which will be apparently written-off, but this is more than outweighed by quality of the outcome and is ALWAYS less expensive than using an internal design team and clean whiteboard.
We have run two large projects as such in the last 18-months, both of which have achieved consensus and precision in the outcomes. None of the vendors, including those whose software does not form part of the ultimate solution, feel cheated or hard done by.
Always define and design the PoC in concert with suppliers and be clear about the aims.
There are generally no second prizes in a competitive tender process and outcomes are binary. In deference to the tenderers and the effort required to respond to even a simple RfP, it is important to provide constructive feedback. Ideally this should be a formal debriefing highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the received proposal. This process can be painful for vendors and it shouldn’t be viewed as a further negotiating opportunity – it is invaluable in terms of lessons learned for the bid team and useful insight for the product management team.
Selecting a vendor or blend of vendors is only the start of the journey: you will have to work collaboratively through the delivery and transition to service phases, and for the lifetime of the systems you are building. This may be ten years or more. Establishing the partnership on the right footing is key to delivering projects successfully – and it starts at the very beginning.
The above guidelines have been forged through experience over the last 20 years and following them should help ensure the engagement is productive and fair. But shifting approaches to the implementation of technology may change the entire procurement process in the not-so-distant future.
How will the, welcome, trend toward cloud and SaaS operations impact the ‘traditional’ RfP and PoC process? We may be on the cusp of a functional shift. Comparatively, even the largest broadcast vendors are mere minnows in the rapidly expanding media services business if compared to Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
Once the scourge of the of the industry, these businesses are held up as role models, which the smallest supplier and the largest broadcasters aspire to emulate. But these businesses are not burning cycles and resources on RfP’s and PoC’s. If you want to use the cloud, you spin up the services you require and pay for the resources you consume, whether that be for a PoC or a fully featured deployment.
The world is changing, and the broadcast industry will need to adapt accordingly to retain the breadth of solution vendors and maintain innovation
We were back at Europe’s biggest broadcasting convention in September – demonstrating how Blue Lucy and the BLAM tackle media operations management bottlenecks and enable new opportunities from our usual spot in Hall 7 of the IBC Show.
We had a packed schedule with a record number of bookings being made in the run-up to the event, possibly a benefit of the show being held over the 3rd weekend in September. However, the show felt quiet in terms of footfall and big announcements, certainly on the, hitherto ceaseless, M&A front. In technology obviously lots of cloud – some of it real – but the stand-out was certainly the SMPTE approvals of standards within the 2110 envelope. The approval of many of these standards will mark the tipping point for content over IP. Standardisation affords assurance which should drive investment.
Back to the operational matters: Our big reveal at this year’s show was BLAM-in-a-Can – a series of six pre-packaged MAMs for quick deployment across a range of operational use cases, from content supply chain management to post production.
To mark the occasion, we gave away 300 cans filled with chocolate money and the opportunity to win a GoPro Hero for the most innovative re-use of the can. There is still a chance to enter with the winner being decided later this month so please post your pics on Twitter using and include #BLAMInaCan and @BlueLucyMedia or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
We also showed a number of new BLidgets – the building blocks behind the Blue Lucy Asset Manager’s workflow capability that provide management control of Blue Lucy plug-ins and access to 3rd party software and services.
Watch the IABM’s interview with Blue Lucy founder, Julian Wright to find out:
We weren’t great believers in industry awards until we won one. Each year IBC gives three awards for the most attractive, practical and effective exhibitions stands at the show and Blue Lucy was awarded the Best Use of Shell Scheme Space trophy for our “fun and eye-catching [pop art inspired] graphics.” With over 1700 exhibitors, spanning across 15 halls, we’re quite pleased that our stand stood out from the crowd.
Candice of Little Cricket PR for convincing us the Pop Art idea from Matt at Heavylight Design was a good one, Matt and Dickie of Heavylight Design for the concept and final designs, Clem and team at CoreModular for the reproduction and installation and finally the IBC Awards Judges, you know who you are, for excellent tastes.
Video rights management used to be so much simpler………
We were quite surprised by the large response to last month’s blog on the rather dry topic of metadata. Of most interest to correspondents was the specific subject of video rights and rights management within an operation. This time we explore that subject in more detail and draw on some real word use cases that we see in news operations where the increasing use of user-generated content has complicated matters further.
The first consumer camcorder was released by Sony in 1983. It was a monster device so unwieldly that you had to rest it on your shoulder while you recorded to an internally stored VHS cassette. The difference between professional and consumer video equipment and quality was vast – so vast that any content recorded on a consumer camera was unfit for broadcast. And it stayed that way for a long time.
Up until as recently as ten years ago, the only place most of us watched any kind of video content was on TV. We might have hired a VHS or DVD movie from the local video shop occasionally, but the bulk of our viewing was limited to whatever broadcast, cable or satellite stations we had access to on our televisions. The only way we were likely to see footage shot by any-one other than a professional was when families gathered to watch home movies.
Because content generation was limited to a relatively small pool of contributors, and distribution was restricted largely to television – both of which were firmly controlled by the professional industry – the amount of content produced was limited, so keeping track of video content rights was reasonably simple. But all this has changed in the last decade.
The advent of video sharing sites, proliferation of smartphones with built-in cameras capable of recording broadcast quality video content and increasing bandwidth availability have culminated in a video content explosion. Now everyone is a producer and video platforms abound.
User-generated content (UGC) has become part of our everyday media landscape. YouTube celebrities have created careers out of it, most news bulletins feature footage from those caught up in big events, and it dominates our daily social feeds. As this consumer content becomes more commonplace, so these everyday video producers are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their contribution and their right to control how their video is used. And the previously simple task of managing video rights has become a whole bunch more complicated.
In the UK, copyright applies as soon as a video is made available to the public, no matter if the content has been specifically copyrighted or not. The 1998 Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act states that, for broadcast and cable programmes the duration of copyright is 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made. When a video is published online, the copyright period lasts for the life of the copyrights owner, plus an additional 70 years.
Content distributors now need to have robust systems in place to track and manage video rights for individuals as well as corporate organisations across a myriad of distribution platforms. This means that rights metadata is now one of the most important datasets that video producers and distributors need to create, manage and track. Typically restrictions that need to be tracked in a clip’s video rights metadata include the following :
Many news operations rely on their MAM system to provide the tools for managing rights throughout the production process. Because these organisations deal with so many sources and distribution methods, by breaking down the newsroom rights management process, we can identify solutions for almost any media company’s needs.
Step 1 : Make it mandatory to record video rights information at ingest
Applying rights (restrictions) at the point of ingest is of the utmost importance – setting rights at ingest should be considered mandatory.
For known 3rd party agency ‘feeds’ which are file-based deliveries this is relatively straightforward. Received media is automatically imported into the MAM via FTP or watch-folders. The media object is typically accompanied with some associated XML which carries data about the story together with rights and usage details. This XML is automatically parsed by the MAM and the relevant metadata fields are set and populated. Other organisational rules defined within the MAM may also be set for particular types of media or sources. File-based deliveries from an organisation’s own field crews will follow a similar ingest path, although obviously the rights restrictions will differ.
Lines (baseband) recordings may be automated in terms of routing and initiating but the rights metadata will probably have to be manually assigned. Ideally customised drop-down menus should be created within the MAM software so that ingest operators that are responsible for scheduling recordings from outside sources can input as much information as possible into the system. Setting simple information, such as originator details, will enable the MAM to derive usage rights based on pre-set rules.
For less controlled, ad-hoc deliveries such as submitted UGC material, operators need to be quite structured as to the way material is imported into the production MAM. Material may arrive on a USB memory stick, attached to an email or uploaded through a web portal. Crucially, the delivery is highly unlikely to come with any inherent rights metadata. In these cases, it the broadcasters’ responsibility to ensure that a formal release agreement exists between the rights owner and the operator. Ideally this should be templated by the operator, but a telephone conversation followed up in writing via email often suffices. Leading MAM systems will allow this correspondence to be appended as a child object of the original media, but the rights metadata will, once again, need to be manually assigned when the content is ingested.
Regardless of how your media is obtained, or what you intend using it for, it’s important that all usage rights and assertions are captured in the MAM at the point of ingest so that producers and output editors can clearly see the bounds of usage. The creator of a piece of content may be happy that it is used in a breaking news situation but not in perpetuity and only on a traditional (non-internet) transmission channel for example.
Step 2 : Keep rights information visible throughout the production process
Like all metadata relating to an asset, the rights data ‘follows’ the object through the production lifecycle. When a producer is making shot or clip selections for a package it is important that the rights information captured at ingest is displayed in the MAM so that they can ensure the material is clear for the given distribution method.
Ideally there should be a tight coupling between the MAM and the editing tools so an operator can view rights information for material in project bins or on the timeline.
Step 3 : Don’t stop tracking rights when you archive
A good MAM should flag any issues with rights in finished packages prior to delivery to the channel or broadcast rundown . In order to do this the sequence or Edit Decision List (EDL) used to create the edit needs to be parsed by the MAM to ensure the source material used in the edit is cleared for distribution on a given platform at a given time.
When a package is finally archived, the links to the source assets should be preserved so that, if it is later restored to be used as source itself in another package, the original rights metadata is carried forward.
One of the challenges of using metadata to track video rights is that there is often inconsistency in metadata fields and terms between different systems and organisations. The IPTC video metadata Hub is working to solve this by creating standards for naming, managing and exchanging metadata across platforms and organisations.
Tracking and managing video rights might requires a bit of up-front planning and diligence throughout the process, but integrating your MAM throughout your workflow means you should be able to focus on the creating the best content without worrying about infringing on anyone’s copyright.