Next-Gen Tech Leader Insights: Richard Clarke
As head of content operations at global distributor Banijay Rights, Richard Clarke knows the importance of effective media operations management.
As head of content operations at global distributor Banijay Rights, Richard Clarke knows the importance of effective media operations management and the challenges arising from the industry’s ongoing migration to the cloud.
Banijay Rights is a company that it requires little in the way of introduction. One of the leaders in international digital distribution, the company’s catalogue of more than 146,000 hours includes a host of top titles from Banijay’s 120+ in-house labels as well as third-party producers, encompassing drama, comedy, entertainment, factual, reality and more.
Overseeing content operations for the entire Banijay Rights business is Richard Clarke and, as Clarke indicates, it’s a remit that has become increasingly challenging in light of both business-oriented changes – notably the incorporation of Endemol Shine International in 2020 – and the need for optimum flexibility of content delivery.
“As a distribution company, we need to ensure that the asset can be repurposed to service any deal,” he says. “That means it needs to be the best version and of the highest quality, which inevitably results in large file sizes as well as significant storage requirements and transfer costs. How to do that efficiently and cost-effectively is always at the top of our list of priorities.”
Content Transfer Challenges
Like any distribution operation, the operational model has inevitably evolved dramatically during the past decade. When Clarke came into the business, “we were still making and sending out DVDs for localisation services.” At Banijay, one of the next major steps comprised “starting to use a transfer software like Aspera, buying a Gigabit internet line, and starting to accept delivery from production departments into storage.” From that point onwards, “we started getting more and more into digital content and the development of processes” to enable and support it.
But it soon became apparent that a major obstacle was looming – the lack of standardisation in content transfer and management. “So, we made a few steps along the way with different formats, and we also kept on buying more storage, which proved expensive,” recalls Clarke. “Finally, with the huge growth in metadata requirements, we started to think about consolidating everything into a central asset management and archiving system.”
With Banijay also growing rapidly, and around 415 000 assets in total, the choice of system could hardly be more critical. Clarke elected to invest in Blue Lucy’s BLAM system, which combined media management, workflow orchestration and task management arranged as a hybrid on-premise/cloud operation. “We are now firmly planted in a hybrid approach,” confirms Clarke. “With the first iteration of BLAM, we were very much working on-premise for all of our operations. The latest version is cloud-oriented, and consequently our backup and disaster recovery functions are now based in the cloud. We have also evolved to the point where our distribution and serving of content to other vendors is largely cloud-based, too.”
But there is one primary area of workload where Banijay Rights has yet to move away from an on-premise ethos – editing. It is here, implies Clarke, that the drawbacks of cloud are most clearly observed. “The problem with cloud is that we were all sold the dream that it’s cheaper – and the fact is that it’s not cheaper, whichever way you look at it. In particular, it’s really easy to lose control of how much you are paying for egress fees. Having a degree in maths is certainly an advantage in terms of how to plan for, and allocate, egress costs on a granular level!”
So, whilst cloud-based editing is “one of the big issues we are still grappling with”, Banijay has managed to curb these expenses for backup and DR by using cheap cloud storage for related workflows. “If we egress, we do it only once and we don’t incur repeat fees,” explains Clarke.
SaaS and the Need for ‘ease of integration’
Clarke does not hide his reservations about the industry’s steady march away from software licensing towards the SaaS (Software as a Service) model. “It can be a real pain,” he admits. “There is a business sense to buying software and owning it, then finding the most cost-effective solution at that point. Now there has to be a much greater focus on adapting and budgeting for what you might require in the future.”
Consequently, media companies must ensure that they invest in solutions which offer ease of integration on a continual basis. “It’s definitely advantageous to us that Blue Lucy has ongoing conversations with all of the software vendors we are using,” says Clarke. In Banijay Rights’ case, the company benefits from the integration of Blue Lucy with Signiant and Aspera, which they use for file transfer, with Amazon Web Services. “Historically, when implementing asset management and storage, we have tended to spend the most time on integrating different bits of software to make our lives easier,” says Clarke. “The biggest one for us is our rights management system, and whether you are talking about metadata or coding, you need to have one source of truth where content can be recognised. With our evolving use of BLAM, we have been able to ensure that our hierarchy in asset management is the same as our rights management system, which is also our billing system. If you can have all of that working seamlessly together, then you are going to have a much more efficient and effective workflow experience.”
‘Trickled up into the Cloud’
With BLAM 3 as the foundation of its ever-growing content asset management infrastructure, Clarke is able to look ahead with confidence – including to the probable migration of more workflows, including editing, to the cloud. “It is very difficult to pick up everything and put it in the cloud, so the approach we’ve taken is that we have trickled up into the cloud,” he says, with a chuckle. “I would imagine the next step will be editing. We have already implemented PC over IP at the office, and I suspect that if we replaced on-premise with cloud editing our editors wouldn’t actually notice.”
A pragmatic philosophy of incremental change shaped by doing what is right for Banijay and its clients has served the company well to date. The sheer volume of data that Banijay is managing – and “the bandwidth and time involved in getting that to and from the cloud” – will inevitably determine the nature of its future cloud migration. Moreover, the adoption of any new technologies has “to be in line with our policies regarding sustainability and support. It can’t be emphasised enough that decisions about software are always informed heavily by the availability of support.”
More generally, Clarke has plenty to occupy his thoughts – from “new formats” to the possibilities for dubbing and localisation heralded by AI and ML. “Because of the way that we operate, it’s essential that I keep up to date with new technologies and consider how these can be applied to our business,” he says. And whilst he is yet to be fully converted to SaaS, he does admit that “the ongoing relationship it brings with vendors means that we can develop things more closely as partners moving forward.”
This article first appeared in TVB Europe – February 2023 (95 Page 53) https://issuu.com/futurepublishing/docs/tvb95.digitalesellersh/52