Every piece of content tells two stories. There’s the story that’s told when a viewer presses the “play” button, and there’s the story that each piece of content tells about where it can be played. That second story is told within its metadata – and it’s a tale full of twists and turns. This paper takes a look at the myriad of factors that must be addressed to deliver the right programing with associated information from machine to machine, and a mature content delivery strategy to account for each component. It’s a critical, increasingly complex function, and today there are more elements to consider than ever before. Content providers must perform a flawless balancing act to optimize content monetization in an ocean of mobile screens, contractual limitations, live events, and targeted regional programming.
Dead Air is Not an Option: the Evolution and Management of Video Metadata
Comcast Technology Solutions
Every piece of content tells two stories. There’s the story that’s told when a viewer presses the “play” button, and there’s the story that each piece of content tells about where it can be played. That second story is told within its metadata – and it’s a tale full of twists and turns. This paper takes a look at the myriad of factors that must be addressed to deliver the right programing with associated information from machine to machine, and a mature content delivery strategy to account for each component. It’s a critical, increasingly complex function, and today there are more elements to consider than ever before. Content providers must perform a flawless balancing act to optimize content monetization in an ocean of mobile screens, contractual limitations, live events, and targeted regional programming. Content providers must perform a flawless balancing act to optimize delivery quality and content monetization in an ocean of mobile screens, contractual limitations, live events, and targeted regional programming. Consider the questions a programmer must to address for just one mobile customer who’s getting ready to watch something: • Does the viewer have permissions to watch the original linear programming, the time-shifted video on demand version, or both? • Where is the viewing taking place? Does the content have rules that block it from being shown in (or outside of) certain regions, in the home or outside the home? • If it’s a live program, what happens if it doesn’t start on time, runs late, or ends early? • Is the customer using a supported device or a restricted device? If the distributor does not have the rights to deliver a piece of content to either destination or device, then programmers need to provide an acceptable option to take its place. More than just “plugging a hole with a show or slate,” content substitution needs to be done as seamlessly and proactively as possible so that electronic program guides (EPGs) can set appropriate expectations with the audience, and alternatives can be chosen that will appeal to the viewer, maintaining a positive user experience. Programmers are now faced with managing linear content distribution, using new technologies such as UDP encapsulation, direct content fiber runs, or by taking advantage of content delivery networks that span across multiple vendors. The possibilities of how content can be delivered are seemingly endless, which makes validating the accuracy of delivery to the right devices and geolocations a tall order. Nevertheless, it’s something that companies must get right the first time, every time, in order to build a fruitful long-term audience relationship. Restrictions at the satellite level, set top box level, or even the distributor level are a thing of the past. Now, each distributor in each zip code may have a unique device restriction. This can no longer be managed with spreadsheets or emails based on human consumption. This is especially true with OTT and Digital MVPDs broadcasting terrestrial delivered content globally. Additionally, it is not a challenge we can throw more people at. We have to solve it systematically and at scale, to facilitate the machine-to-machine consumption that simplifies and accelerates delivery. Alternate Content Feeds – Not Just For Sports Anymore Time changes with live sports are generally well-understood in linear content delivery, because sports programming needed 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. Additionally, it’s important to note that unique delivery limitations may apply. Certain content, for instance – such as many old black and white programs – may not have viewing rights on phones or tablets. 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 follow 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 based on a viewer’s billing address, or his/her physical location at that moment? • What if a viewer starts in the home and then moves to a mobile connection? • What strategies provide the most engaging content experience when an alternate content event occurs? • How accurate can I keep the Electronic Program Guide(EPG) to keep the user updated with what they can view based on above? VIDEO PLATFORM DEAD AIR IS NOT AN OPTION COMCASTTECHNOLOGYSOLUTIONS.COM/LRM | 800.844.1776 | © 2018 COMCAST TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS 4 Solving For Satellites and Web Embargoes Satellite delivery used to be the only game in town. Although terrestrial IP delivery is certainly the direction where most online and broadcast content will come from, programming delivered via satellite isn’t going away any time soon. Global operators and programmers need a way to blend both, and apply the right policies to ensure that programs are reaching the right audience. Even if the delivery mechanism from content provider to distributor changes from satellite to IP, the rest of the distribution from the MVPD to set top box (STB) is not changing. IP needs to look like a satellite to the MVPD. Additionally, the content provider cannot relinquish switching/blackout control to the global operator, they want to retain the knowledge and control like they have today with satellite. Web embargoes are meant to cover content that a programmer has cleared for distribution for one delivery platform (e.g., IP video on demand), but not another (e.g., IP linear). This isn’t always channel-specific, but could instead apply to a particular program that the content owner either doesn’t want, or is contractually bound to not make available via multiscreen apps. This creates situations where MVPDs need to be able to support the insertion of an alternate program on one platform while regularly scheduled programming runs normally on another. They also need to know this in advance, so that the EPG reflects accurately what the viewer can see and it can be automated, machine-to-machine. 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 and 100s of other characteristics. Audience-facing EPGs are also created with this communication in order to set accurate expectations with viewers as to what’s going to be available, when, and to whom. 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. Normalizing and Automating the 224 Standard Every player in a delivery workflow is looking for better ways to simplify and accelerate processes, while always keeping one eye on the quality of experience. Today, much of this information is manually entered into spreadsheets and APIs, which are distributed via multiple channels. Programmers are reliant on operators to acknowledge that data has been received, and then it’s up to operators to ingest data from multiple sources and formats before it is delivered. Comcast Technology Solutions has created a solution for our own programming that bridges the creation, management and distribution process of SCTE 224 events for both broadcast and digital environments. The service automates the manual processes and takes full advantage of the SCTE 224 specification – not just by standardizing the formatting of metadata, but also by providing a software-based service that gives both programmers and operators unprecedented control of – and visibility into – their respective workflows. As more variables are introduced into the content delivery mix, whether they be new content types or new policies, there will always be a need for a flexible strategy that can deliver extraordinary experience across every screen. Providers can free up resources by simplifying processes and utilizing better content management tools, and then apply them to what matters most: creating an experience that turns viewers into ardent and vocal fans. VIDEO PLATFORM DEAD AIR IS NOT AN OPTION COMCASTTECHNOLOGYSOLUTIONS.COM/LRM | 800.844.1776 | © 2018 COMCAST TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS 5 Auditing and Validating Using SCTE 224 One of the valuable benefits of the SCTE 224 standard lies in how the Event Scheduling and Notification Interface (ESNI) can illuminate the entire journey of each piece of content. The ESNI is a web interface that facilitates the transmission of event and policy information, and it serves as the foundation for the tools we’ve created to not only simplify delivery, but also to replace older, manual distribution processes seamlessly. The approach provides more control than ever over a distribution ecosystem that is increasingly fragmented across device types, services, and geographies. Operations can now easily validate and audit: • Fundamentals of SCTE 224, checking format and references • Program schedules: validated for gaps as well as to duplicate MediaPoint for automation systems that may be consolidating this data for the first time • Event logic and policy matching across areas and devices • Historical data to understand previous decisions Metadata Use Case: Major U.S. Broadcaster One of our clients has a presence in both broadcast and digital that consists of more than 250 channels, from dedicated news and sports outlets to affiliated local networks. This broadcaster required a common platform to create, manage and distribute SCTE 224 events to their vast ecosystem of digital distribution partners. By implementing a tailored, automated SCTE 224 solution, the company can now convey their full linear schedule, along with blackout restrictions, audience definitions, and device profiles to a multitude of distribution partners. Viewing rights have become an increasing focus for companies like this. No matter what the specific rights are for a program, whether they pertain to regional networks, league- or match-specific arrangements, geography or user permissions, it’s crucial that providers are precisely conveying the policies necessary to allow for authorized playback. Digital distribution partners require these rights in order to distribute the client’s content outside the home viewing territory to their clients. The SCTE 224 standard stands out as the optimal way to deliver this information. The new metadata management approach is now an integral part of the company’s operational workflow, and is managed by their internal operations team. The solution supports both MatchTime-based event rules and MatchSignal-based event rules. This broadcaster has adapted SCTE 35 segmentation UPID’s, or signal ID’s, at the ProgramStart and ProgramEnd boundaries of a mediaPoint, and is able to map the SCTE 35 ID to the MatchSignal ID in the SCTE 224 event. A clean transition is ensured when alternate content rules are applied to the linear feed. When an event window runs beyond the scheduled airing time, the alternate content execution is based on the segmentation UPID identified in the video feed matching the UPID that is in the SCTE 224 event. This allows for precision control from the provider while maintaining a positive user experience for the viewer. Linear rights data can now be distributed in advance. Some providers may complete their distribution up to 14 days ahead of the airing of an event. One benefit of real-time distribution is that solves for event changes, such as a baseball game that goes into extra innings. This broadcaster distributes 200 regional sports networks that have to be managed at a national level when being distributed by digital distribution partners or OTT services. Using a push model, linear programming events are distributed to the metadata management tool. Operations teams now have visibility into the program schedule for all channels, as that data is normalized into SCTE 224 and then distributed to all digital distribution partners. Through a desktop console, the team can: • Make real-time changes to linear events • View programming schedules • Edit and create audience definitions • Perform policy updates • Validate decision logic and audit activity Following the SCTE 224 standard, all events are distributed using XML messages over HTTP to designated URL endpoints. These messages have an option to be signed using an assigned key value and have a configurable frequency as well as a retry rate. The messages can also be individually targeted to each distribution partner and filtered, so each partner gets only what they need. As an early adopter of SCTE 224, this top-tier broadcaster is at the forefront of the industry and has set the standard for how linear rights metadata should be delivered. European Cross-Border Portibility and SCTE 224 In May of 2017, the European Union and European Parliament released the regulation on cross-border portability of online content services in the international market. In short, this regulation has been put in place to enforce that consumers of online content services must be able to gain access to their Member State of Residence content when temporarily present in another Member State. This regulation will be enforced with the start of 2018. For providers of content, this means that the boundary instructions defining who is authorized and where they are authorized must be conveyed to the online distribution partners, along with the instructions for blacked out access. For the distribution partners, it means that they must safely honor the boundaries and rules provided by the content providers as their consumers access the content. SCTE 224 is the optimum vehicle to convey and execute against this regulation. SCTE 224 can ensure the degree of legal certainty which is necessary in order to enable consumers to fully benefit from cross-border portability across the Union. The Future of Metadata’s Evolution Although we are already seeing the benefits of improved metadata and management, the future holds a multitude of interesting possibilities. Now that providers and distributors have the ability to individually identify audiences and events, they can automate and simplify live-to-VOD capability, dictate startover and lookback rights, and offer content that resonates more at the audience level. The ability to link all provider metadata in a unified format gives operating teams with a single source of truth, allows for fine-grained delivery, and enables a “clearinghouse” capability where providers can manage all aspects of metadata for all partners, across MVPDs and across delivery mechanisms. • Programmers could receive enough detailed event information to enable the creation of event-based programming, or even linear channels that could be tailored to user preferences. • Providers and operators could stitch together content based on rights and restrictions in order to build custom, addressable, user-unique channels. • For advertising, C3 and C7 restriction rules can potentially be dictated with more precision, detailing local break avails and describing adjoining ads in more detail. This will enable the Ad Decision Service (ADS) to easily honor ad exclusions and ad linking. Conclusion Content may be king, but metadata provides the keys to the kingdom, as well as the rules that each piece of video content needs to play by (and be played by). As the linear content distribution outlets continue to grow, managing linear rights management becomes increasingly important. At the same time, the relationship between consumer and content is evolving as well, as audiences become more discerning about where they spend their video dollars. Improvements such as the SCTE 224 metadata standard, and the subsequent improvements to content delivery and management, enable content providers, global operators and advertisers to do a better job serving customers across an increasingly complex media landscape.