Dead Air is Not an Option

If you’re in the business of keeping eyes glued to screens, you are responsible for delivering to a lot more devices than just the living room television. That said, not every piece of content, live or otherwise, can be delivered everywhere. The rights to distribute and display a piece of content are very specific instructions on where, when, and how a program can be legally used; and those rights don’t always line up perfectly with a provider’s entire base of consumers. When one program needs to be swapped out for another in order to maintain compliance, how does a provider provide an alternative, sometimes in short order, and still maintain engagement? At this years National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas, I’ll be talking about metadata management, the SCTE 224 metadata standard, and how we manage the complex traffic challenges of today’s delivery ecosystem. 

Alternate content feeds – not just for sports anymore.

In the past, time changes were generally associated with the linear content delivery of live sports, because sports programming need the most consistent strategy to address issues such as extra innings or rain delays. Now, technology has made live programming a diverse, daily event that goes well beyond sports. Live-streamed niche industry events are more prevalent every year, and rarely finish “right on time.” News-as-entertainment channels thrive on real-time, unscripted content. And concerts? No one is going to tell the hottest band that they can’t do a third encore because the live feed ends at the top of the hour. 

Live or not, a piece of content may only have rights to be delivered within certain regions or destinations – it’s what broadcasters traditionally referred to as a “blackout,” but in a multi-platform video delivery model, it doesn’t quite mean what it used to. The FCC had a different set of sports blackout rules from 1975 to 2014 that required cable and satellite operators to obey the same blackouts followed by local broadcast stations. Those rules no longer apply; today, alternate content switching stems from contractual agreements between content owners and distributors. The net result is the same: MVPDs are contractually obligated to follow the rules associated with each piece of content.

When events are delivered over IP to consumers who are on the move, the rules surrounding alternate content take on a whole new level of specificity. For instance: should content be switched to an alternate feed out based on a viewer’s billing address, or his/her physical location at that moment? What strategies provide the most engaging content experience when an alternate content event occurs? 

SCTE 224: Modern metadata management

The rules around how a piece of content can be utilized are found as a subset of its metadata. In other words, metadata not only describes a program’s history and enables search discoverability, but it also describes where it can go. Providers can access this information through a web-based Event Scheduling and Notification Interface (ESNI) which provides a way for them to communicate across distribution end-points about content delivery schedules and policies. In 2015 the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) approved today’s ESNI standard with SCTE 224, which expands on previous standards and enables content distribution based on attributes that are now critical to our mobile world, such as device type and geographic location. Audience-facing electronic programming guides (EPGs) are also created with this communication in order to set accurate expectations with viewers as to what’s going to be available and when. 

SCTE 224 provides a robust framework of extensible markup language (XML) messages. It details descriptions of audience characteristics, and viewing policies associated with each audience, it also allows for channels (Media) and individual events (MediaPoints) to describe start and end times (MatchTime) or in-band signaling (MatchSignal) information. Once you have the event trigger and audiences for events, you can provide the appropriate metadata for the applicable situation. Although the framework is robust, it’s a meticulous and complicated set of processes to bring all your content into one standard format, maintain visibility across a diverse delivery ecosystem, ensure that content is only being delivered where it should be, and communicate clearly to every distribution point.

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