Blog | Gregg Brown
February 23, 2021

Navigating Content Rights for Operators

There is no denying that Operators — MVPDs and virtual MVPDs (vMVPDs) — are in a complex place in the video value chain. The requirement to manage rights across all content providers can be overwhelming, time consuming, and expensive. The need to streamline this function is critical so Operators can focus on delivering quality content at the right time to the right place for their customers.

No matter what the size, location or whether virtual or not, every Operator has to determine how they handle content restrictions, on the fly changes, and regionalization requirements from their programmer partners. In the past Operators would receive content pre-switched, and the content was delivered directly to that region via satellite to the IRD. This is a relatively hands-off approach but costly. Today, with the transition from satellite to terrestrial distribution and increasing capabilities of higher bandwidth video (4K/UHD, 8K etc.), responsibility for that control and switching is transitioning to Operators. This creates tremendous opportunities for cost savings and efficiency through leveraging technology that automates the process through machine-to-machine communication.



For Operators, this transition enables some key benefits with the right technology and partner choice. First, by enabling this switching environment internally, they are centralizing the solution and then using their own infrastructure to distribute it to their regions. This applies to either vMVPDs or regular MVPDs since both need a central system to manage the content switching. For the MVPDs this offers them the ability to shutdown legacy facilities, remove the reliance on hundreds of IRDs, and scale faster with their IP modernization. In addition to these massive cost savings, by making this transition, Operators can scale their infrastructure faster, enable improved auditing capabilities, increase up time from their old infrastructure, and reduce operational costs by not having to manually manage their content switching system. Lastly, there are some unique linear addressable ad insertion use cases that with implementing the right solution the Operator can easily take advantage of and put into use.



With all these benefits, there are still some risks to take into account. What are the risks you ask? Let’s start with the most significant one – delivering the wrong program to the wrong audience at the wrong time. Not only can it damage a brand through negative PR but it also creates tension between the Operator and content providers, and can ultimately lead to significant legal actions and carriage disputes. There are numerous examples of this happening today and blackout management is getting more prevalent in today’s complicated video distribution world that includes different device types and potential for global distribution. Because content rights are becoming more valuable and exclusive, especially for live programming, regionalization/personalization more critical, and Operator/Programmer relationships more of a differentiator, the need for automated system to manage these rights scenarios is crucial. Essentially the system operates as an insurance policy against the potential devastating risk of showing the wrong programming to the wrong audience.  Additionally, the manpower required to manually manage the increasing complexity increases exponentially if an automated system is not in place.  

The other key risk to consider is technology choice. Once an Operator decides to implement the centralized switching solution, it’s critical that they go down a path that’s scalable at every level – channel count, decisioning, ease of use etc. If not, they will find themselves wasting resources across the board. The SCTE 224 standard has become the best standardized language to manage the automated machine-to-machine communication for controlling rights, web embargos, program substitution and is growing in acceptance for managing ad insertion. It’s critical for Operators to use a standardized approach to help manage metadata and rights communication with programmer partners. SCTE 224 is ideal in this environment. In addition to providing clearly defined a messaging and communications protocol, it enables Operators to layer on a linear rights management to manage all of the nuances of implementing the defined actions carried by the SCTE 224 data. This is critical to making decisioning work at scale.

To successfully implement an automated rights management solution, it’s important that the solution lets the user build a metadata ingest platform that scales at a level that can handle complex SCTE 224 ingest scenarios. It should support a variety of source types and formats and not have to create or rebuild each ingest adapter/parser that is unique for each programming partner. While SCTE 224 offers a great standard way to communicate, there can be significant variations in the way it’s implemented. One content provider could use the 2015 version of the standard, another the 2020 standard and yet another could use the same year standard but have different metadata fields being communicated.

It is important to avoid compatibility issues, or Operators will always be playing a costly game of catch up with their development teams. For example, if a system accepts a variety of sources and data structure (easy in), manages everything with strict rules and structure internally, then it will have reliable and consistent behavior when working with a range of data sources from various content providers. However, if a system is built such that each ingest point to the lowest common denominator through rigid hardcoded solution for each partner, Operators greatly limit their flexibility as content partners make changes over time.



It is common to have 100s to 1000s of different policies, audiences, and rules coming in from various content providers that each require automated decisioning made for them to determine which content should be played or not and where it should be played. Therefore, for the system to work correctly, a decisioning system must be implemented that can scale to support millions of decisions daily. This is essentially the brains of the operation – executing video switching decisions based on the metadata rules, policies, and audiences being received from the content programmers. Implementing this functionality requires seamless integration with the adapter/parser as the metadata comes into the system and then integration with your video infrastructure at the encoder, vIRD, packager, or manifest manipulator level to facilitate video changes based on the audience and policy rules in the metadata. The decision manager notifies the Operator’s video supply chain whether or not a program should be played as well as where and who can see it automagically based on the rules defined in the SCTE-224 data stream. If necessary, the decision manager can also “talk” to the Operator’s Ad Decision System to help facilitate unique programmer by programmer ad rules and insertion instructions.

Comcast Technology Solutions (CTS) is uniquely positioned to enable the Operator content switching requirements by leveraging our Linear Rights Management (LRM) solution. It is provided as a SaaS (Software as a Service), running in the public cloud, minimizing the need for physical hardware, and making it quick to start implementing and using. We normalize all sources that will drive our customers systems to a standard SCTE 224 format and then leverage a backend rules engine and decision manager to enable the switching of video content from a centralized control system. It is designed with an easy-to-use web-based UI that enables operations personnel to track, audit, and make changes as necessary. We integrate seamlessly with your video stitching infrastructure or can provide that functionality as a service ourselves. As your needs change over time, it is simple to make changes and roll them out immediately across your whole network.