New Tools Address Demands

Apr 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

As broadcast and cable networks build their online video offerings, they also are quickly installing new technology tools to meet the increasing demands of the new, digital-based distribution models.

The details are critical because networks can’t just make an announcement to offer broadband video, a la Disney-ABC Television Group’s news last week that it will offer ad-supported series episodes online, and poof-it appears. They must translate video into various forms, such as QuickTime or Flash, that are appropriate for iTunes, broadband or mobile video.

For starters, Scripps Networks announced earlier this month that it’s using additional capabilities from software provider Anystream to format video for its new broadband channels, as well as for its Web sites and video-on-demand. The software can do that by turning tape automatically into up to 12 different file formats at once.

Depending on how the software is used, some content providers have been able to cut time to transfer video to about 10 percent of what it would have previously taken, an Anystream spokesman said.

This type of software makes it possible to bring a lot of content to market efficiently, said Bryan Fails, VP of operations technology, research and development for Scripps.

That’s a big change from when Scripps relied on the old-fashioned means of ingesting videotape and encoding it separately for various formats. The time saved with automation has allowed Scripps to reclaim an entire edit bay that was previously tied up with transferring tape to each new format.

“We were using mallets and dowels to build a barn, and we need power tools,” Mr. Fails said.

Production tools help companies effectively monetize the cost for the various distribution outlets, said Fady Lamaa, VP of product marketing for Anystream.

And plenty of companies are competing to provide those tools. Anystream’s competitors include companies such as thePlatform.

“Partly because the industry is still in its nascent stages, our mission is to help them maximize their opportunities,” Mr. Lamaa said.

New Digital Tools

In addition to using new technologies to distribute content, networks also are starting to use new digital tools in the production process.

Lifetime recently installed a new digital operations center in New York to automate its workflow. As part of the move, Lifetime tweaked the production process to make it easier to simultaneously create additional content for its new broadband video division.

As a result, when Lifetime created promos for the June premiere of “Love Spring,” some of the footage was shot on a green screen enabling the broadband group to silhouette out the characters to lie on top of a Web page, said Sibyl Goldman, executive producer for LifetimeTV.com.

“When a show is greenlit, now we talk about our needs and are able to go on set and shoot our content,” she said. “There was a time when we had to dig around for leftovers. Now we sit down and figure out what’s in there and what we need.”

SoapNet is also building into production schedules the needs of its new broadband site Soapnetic and its Web site. For instance, the network will cover the Daytime Emmys later this month for its three platforms-the flagship television network SoapNet, SoapNet.com and Soapnetic-sharing material when appropriate.

In addition, when SoapNet ordered the second season of the series “Soapography,” which started last month, the network contracted with the producer to also create three-minute broadband versions of the show, said SoapNet General Manager Deborah Blackwell, while at the National Show.

Similarly, ABC News recently ran a three-minute interview with actress Bernadette Peters on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” and then offered the full 15-minute interview in its entirety on ABCNewsNow.com.

Michael Clemente, executive producer for ABC news digital media, found from that experience that the new opportunities for distributing content require not only new technology but new ways of thinking.

“I tell our staff to think the whole thing will air,” he said at the National Show. “You’re sort of on all the time.”