While the arcane details of post-production management of content assets may seem far removed from the trends that are shaping the consumer entertainment business, the truth is technological advances are freeing media companies to orchestrate content flows into TV, OTT and mobile distribution streams in ways that give them far greater leverage to monetize assets than ever before. The market impact will be seen in the emergence of new niche channels, new advertising models and the reshaping of storytelling and other facets of the content itself through use of interactivity, socialization and expanded exposure enabled by the Internet.
Many functions and relationships in the supply chain factor into all this, of course, but the linchpin to this new level of empowerment for content suppliers is the ability to get over the hump of inefficiencies in asset management at the core. One example of how this is happening can be seen in content suppliers’ use of tools supplied by Digital Rapids to integrate high-volume media transformation and all the other processes required for serving multiple outlets under management of a unified workflow system.
As previously reported, the vendor’s Kayak workflow management platform is designed to enable this level of comprehensive integration. Now, with general availability of version 2.0 of Digital Rapids’ Transcode Manager, Kayak has been made an integral part of a specific product release, with more such Kayak-influenced product updates to follow, according to company officials.
The new mode of integrated operations enabled by Kayak has already been put into play by a variety of the firm’s customers, including multiple content owners, broadcast stations groups and one cable MSO, in what amounts to a pre-release beta phase of Transcode Manager 2.0 implementation, says Mike Nann, marketing communications director at Digital Rapids. “We also have a major OTT entertainment provider ramping up with Kayak and Transcode Manager 2.0,” Nann says.
In many of these early applications Digital Rapids’ customers are using Kayak as a master workflow template that allows multiple technology and back-office workflows to run in harmony across on-premises and cloud-based resources, he notes. In this role Kayak allows entities to draw on multiple processing components as elements in a catalog, which is to say, as elements that can be activated on servers and assigned specific policies for how they are applied by simply implementing commands on the Kayak interface.
In one case in point that the company can discuss publicly, Turner Broadcasting System, a long-time user of Digital Rapids’ StreamZHD multi-format encoding system and the Transcode Manager, over the past several months has been exploiting the benefits of Kayak in conjunction with Transcode Manager 2.0 to streamline multi-platform distribution across its multiple TV channels. And, Turner, like some other big customers has been leveraging Kayak in other ways as well.
“This platform allows us to efficiently process and deliver content from our news and entertainment services across a wide array of consumer platforms,” comments Keith Chandler, vice president of media and multi-platform operations at Turner. By using Kayak to support everything from multi-stage image processing and transcoding to packaging the media into the multiple formats required by varying viewing devices, Turner is able to address the challenges of processing a vast back-catalog of content with widely varying technical characteristics
As Turner officials note, the modular, component-based Kayak architecture also makes it possible for them to integrate other systems directly into the workflow. “We have developed our own custom Kayak components, enabling seamless integration with Turner’s existing business systems,” says Brooks Tobey, senior vice president of sales solutions and multiscreen development and delivery at Turner.
Turner’s new operating environment puts into play a way of handling content that has not been available to media companies in the past. The logic-driven automation provided by Kayak allows Turner to adapt the workflows of disparate systems to the source content, minimizing manual effort while maximizing processing efficiency and eliminating unnecessary steps. Functionalities such as metadata tagging leverage the platform’s continuous analysis of media on a frame-by-frame and sample-by-sample basis, officials note.
While some customers like Turner have moved forward aggressively with use of the Kayak workflow platform, others have been waiting for general availability of a specific Digital Rapids product upgrade that brings Kayak into play as an intrinsic part of the upgrade. “Transcode Manager 2.0 is the first widespread availability of a solution that brings our Kayak workflow platform into the implementation of a specific product line,” Nann says. “Many customers wanted it in a packaged form they can work with.”
For such customers the aspects of Kayak they’re interested in may only apply to processes related to Transcode Manager, Nann explains. “There are a lot of functionalities in Kayak they may not need beyond this,” he says. On the other hand, he adds, “As they see the benefits of using Kayak with transcoding they may see the potential for using it in other areas, such as image processing or even document-based workflows.”
The scope of Transcode Manager 2.0 has reached the point where a better term for describing the role played by the platform is media transformation, Nann notes. That’s because the processes go beyond typical file-based format conversion to execution of multiple functions based on frame-by-frame analysis of what’s required for each usage scenario, whether it be the initial shift from master to mezzanine or from mezzanine to distribution locations.
For example, Nann says, leveraging Digital Rapids’ partnership with Dolby, the workflow bakes in audio loudness management for regulatory compliance. The platform also makes adjustments in encoding based on intelligent analysis of the video segments that might have been compiled into the final product so that if there’s a letter box segment that needs to be bumped to HD the system will do that. Or if there’s a film segment the aspect ratio will be adjusted for HD.
“Rather than starting with a set of encoding priorities, we can be actively modifying encoding as the file goes through the Transcode Manager,” he says. This applies to “transwrapping” as well. “We’re able to change the file container without touching the actual compression,” he adds.
Such flexibility greatly streamlines the creative processes applied to bringing together various content elements in post-production, he says. By reducing the manual work that has to be done to create a seamless master from various components, content suppliers can do a lot more with a lot less.
Digital Rapids’ live and multiscreen encoding will soon be added to the product lines that bring Kayak into play for workflow management related specifically to those functions. “This will the first migration of our family of live encoding products onto the Kayak platform,” Nann says.