Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, a major player in post-production distribution for film studios and TV programmers, has launched a hosted on-demand content catalog service that improves prospects for ROI by providing operators access to over 40,000 titles that have been encoded for stream-ready distribution to a wide range of connected devices as well as for delivery to traditional set-tops. “Our service-based approach ensures that our customers with content rights have immediate access to the largest library of high quality pre-encoded and pre-packaged video assets with the flexibility to choose which titles they want to deliver to which devices,” says Kevin Corbett, president of the Deluxe Digital Distribution business group, which oversees the new Deluxe On Demand service.
There are already well-established on-demand content aggregators for the VOD market that have reduced many operators’ costs of building internal infrastructures and processes, and in some cases they provide a turnkey TV Everywhere streaming service as well. But Deluxe believes there’s a need for a robust, high-quality service built specifically to address the unique requirements of the next-generation multiscreen premium service market, says Chris Rittler, senior vice president of sales, business development and marketing at Deluxe.
“We’re targeting all tiers in the MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor) market,” Rittler says. “Different providers have different needs, but they’re all up against big challenges when it comes to expanding their on-demand content as they’re expanding the reach of their TV Everywhere services.”
Deluxe On Demand cuts operators’ time to market as well as costs of adding content for all on-demand service models and delivers a big improvement in quality of multiscreen content as well, he says. The service provides a framework for comprehensive support of the core components of operators’ service strategies, including a storefront that allows administrators to access licensing updates and usage reports; support for merchandising content through subscriber-facing storefronts, and back-office support for managing digital lockers and subscriber entitlements.
The Deluxe Digital Distribution team has been quietly working with operators for the better part of two years to forge a studio-caliber support service with a simple cost-effective business model designed to take the pain out of ongoing service expansion. “Our customers made clear they wanted a straight-forward approach based on a monthly service fee proportional to the size of the library they access from the Deluxe catalog,” Rittler says. “There are no charges based on the number of subscribers or share of revenue.”
His group built the Deluxe On Demand catalog from the reservoir of assets the company encodes and stores for distribution into DVD and Blu-ray disc production and from additional titles licensed by the early MVPD customers. Now growing by thousands of titles per month, the catalog provides customers assurance they will be able to expand their own offerings as they gain licenses to ever more content at far lower costs than they would incur were they to continually grow their own infrastructures to accommodate these needs, Rittler says.
This means newcomers to the VOD and TVE spaces can start at a high level of content volume while MVPDs with existing VOD and TVE infrastructure can expand without incurring major new expenses, he notes. Because files are encoded and encrypted for distribution to MVPD customers in over 50 device formats, operators can readily expand their TVE device ecosystem in sync with new licensing and distribution strategies while using the same file base to expand VOD content for access from legacy set-tops, he adds. “As new device or streaming formats come along we take care of the file management at no additional cost to our customers,” he says.
“In some cases operators are coming to us primarily because they want more titles, and we can speed their time to market,” Rittler says. “In the case of one distributor, we had them up and running on the catalog in less than three weeks.”
Sometimes operators with an established VOD content base and a TVE service in play are interested in Deluxe primarily as a way to quickly add more devices to their multiscreen service reach. In all cases, he adds, whatever titles the customer wants to make available to subscribers from the Deluxe catalog and whatever devices it wants to add to the TVE portfolio, the files delivered from Deluxe are seamlessly accessed via the operator’s subscriber interfaces with no distinction in the user experience.
Another big motivation behind engagement with Deluxe for service providers with an established TVE operation is their need to compete more effectively against OTT sources when it comes to video quality. “In most cases operators implemented streaming to smartphones and tablets from files that have been transcoded from supply chains where content has already been encoded at reduced bit rates, such as HD at 15 megabits per second,” Rittler notes.
“They assumed that because they were targeting smaller screens they didn’t need to stream at high resolutions,” he continues. “But now with content going out over the Internet at HD quality they’re finding there’s a real gap between what people get from the premium service provider compared to OTT sources.”
Rittler says operators are able to meet this challenge as they shift to the Deluxe platform because Deluxe transcodes files for each device format from source files encoded at 50 mbps,. “The combination of much higher quality and much lower costs is a major incentive,” he adds.
The move into the MVPD on-demand market was a natural step for Deluxe Entertainment, given the range of services it now provides to content owners for other distribution markets. Services provided to studios, TV networks and other content sources include EFILM and
Company 3 digital intermediates (the final digital finishing process prior to theatrical distribution); post production and subtitling services; titles design and digital VFX; Blu-ray and DVD compression, encoding and authoring; advertising distribution and syndication services; digital cinema services, motion picture film processing and printing; and 2D to 3D conversions.
“The expertise we’ve developed in managing workflows and rapid processing on high volumes of content really puts us in a unique position to serve the new requirements in the MVPD market,” Rittler says. The company maintains a high-capacity datacenter with backup facilities in multiple locations to support ongoing expansion of the catalog master files and employs its own CDN facilities on the East and West Coasts and third-party CDNs elsewhere to position the DRM-wrapped encoded files for instant access and metafile updates all over the world.
This infrastructure allows customers to tap regional caches for daily refreshment of their own libraries in accord with whatever ratio of new to old titles they want to maintain. Customers also have the option to use the Deluxe CDNs as origin servers for making their long-tail content available to subscribers on an as-needed basis, Rittler notes.
There are a lot of ways MVPDs can use the Deluxe service, starting with executing on the TVE requirements with all files immediately available for distribution to Android, Apple iOS and other types of smartphones and tablets as well as PCs, Macs, gaming consoles, smart TVs and IP set-top boxes. All titles are pre-encrypted and packaged to match the content protection parameters of the leading DRM providers, Rittler says.
From the traditional VOD perspective, he adds, operators can leverage the option to draw content from the catalog in the clear for distribution to set-top boxes using legacy conditional access systems, thereby greatly lowering costs of VOD catalog expansion and content management. This includes support for time-shifted TV shows offered in free VOD along with support for such capabilities on the TVE side.
“We meet the SLAs (service level agreements) that have been set for new advertising models on time-shifted content,” Rittler says. This means that immediately after airing TV programs are encoded and stored in all formats as assets for multiscreen distribution with advertising in place to capture viewing within the Nielsen C3 window. “When C3 expires we create a whole new asset in all the formats with whatever new advertising has been inserted,” he says.
Rapid management of assets for different needs across all profiles also taps Deluxe’s experience with maintaining metadata updates for stored content and adding special features such as closed captioning and multilingual translations. “We already do these things for most of the content industry today, so we’re simply porting those skills into the Deluxe On Demand service space,” Rittler notes. “In this case every feature has to be sized for each format, and in some cases pulled out as a separate file to play on a specific device, depending on the type of streaming mode that device supports.”
Deluxe is equipped to respond to new developments in the market as well, he adds. For example, it will support dynamic ad placements by marking assets for on-the-fly placements in tandem with interactions with operators’ advertising platforms. It also supports operators’ needs to bring local broadcast and other locally produced content into the multiscreen domain.
“We have the capability to upload files locally,” Rittler says. “The local service provider team creates the assets and uploads them to our system. We perform the encoding and formatting for distribution just like we do on any other assets and tag them for whatever region they’re meant for.”