The Big Broadcast Dilemma

Managing Geographical Content Rights – Learn how Amagi’s STORM platform enabled the TV channel Colors to extend their services in Africa without any violation of content right obligations.

Before we actively explore solutions to this twenty first century broadcast paradox, we must first aim to understand what content rights, or acquired programming rights refer to.

When you watch your favorite reality TV show in the comfort of your living room, you unknowingly consume the end result of an extremely detailed process, which begins at content conceptualization in a studio in one part of the world, and ends on your television screen. What transpires between these two references in time, is a very interesting workflow.

The process begins when an Executive Producer or a Screenwriter for a television production firm develops a pilot script (in case of a sitcom or a televised series) or a format (if it’s a reality show). For better insights into our study, let’s take a closer look at the popular reality show format developed by Jon De Mol in the Netherlands, in 1997. Jon’s production firm Endemol created the Big Brother television format and sold its local broadcast rights to a TV channel called Veronica.

Post the initial viewership frenzy of the show, the producers decided to branch out into an international television franchise. This was possible due to the incredibly diverse acquired programming rights model. Jon’s firm tied in with subsidiary production firms & external agencies to sell geographically exclusive broadcast rights of this format to various television channels & TV networks around the globe, who would then collaborate with production units to come up with their own, local versions of the show.

The result? Within almost no time, the format managed to spread out to popular commercial television demographics, including lucrative south-asian audiences and those in Europe and North America. In almost every country where the format was recreated, local audiences were selected to participate. And thus, every country had their own version of the reality show.

In 2006, an Indian format of the show, christened Bigg Boss began airing on Sony Entertainment Television, before the content rights for the show were acquired by the Viacom18-operated channel Colors. In an agreement between the people who developed the show and the channel, it was decided that Viacom18 would retain the broadcast rights for this show in the Indian Subcontinent. The channel did considerably well in gaining their share of viewership in the Indian television space, and soon contemplated expansion of their broadcast umbrella to cover the African continent. For this, they invested in a satellite feed which would allow them to broadcast to resident audiences in that region.

So far, so good – everything was running as per process. The first hiccup surfaced when Viacom18 realized that they did not own broadcasting rights for the extremely popular (yet seasonal) show – Bigg Boss in the African continent. In fact, Africa had its own localized version of the Big Brother format, called Big Brother Africa. Undoubtedly, airing the same broadcast feed as India would place the network executives in a state of contract breach, as well as a possible conflict of interest with the creators of the original format.

Overwhelming as it may seem, this specific situation is not very rare in the broadcast industry. The Colors-Bigg-Boss dilemma is just one fish in a rather big pool. With the categorical expansion of creative agencies & production firms, and with an increasingly large number of channels moving away from the in-house content creation model, it is very easy to spot a similar situation, where content right obligations can create large-scale setbacks for broadcasters.

Now that we’ve begun to understand the problem, let’s try and look at the traditional solution. I’ll give you a hint – it begins with an ’S’, ends with an ‘E’, and goes around our adorable planet in elliptical orbits. As per conventional playout norms, it is imperative to invest in a secondary satellite feed to replace content for a geographical region with conflicting content rights. This is as good as paying to setup another channel. The conventional alternative is blacking out the regular feed for the duration of content which isn’t licensed in that specific region. Needless to say, both these options have limited-to-zero ROI and for any major broadcaster, could become the cause for localized audience impact, and loss of viewer loyalty. Besides, investing in a second satellite feed to cover a one-hour seasonal show (running for three months in a year) is an extremely expensive proposition, even if we overlook the obvious deterrents, like licensing delays.

If only, there was a way to utilize a secondary medium and channel an alternative content stream to the headends at a specific region, without investing in the modification of the original feed, or the terrifying prospect of a new satellite feed?

If only, there was a way to utilize the trickle bandwidth from the existing feed to push packets of data, and stream it as replacement content during concerned airtime?

Fortunately for Viacom18, Amagi’s STORM regionalization platform was able to deliver exactly that. With our patented content watermarking technology, we were able to provide a custom tailored solution where their flagship entertainment channel Colors was able to replicate the exact feed as the Indian Subcontinent, to their audiences in Africa – with the exception of Bigg Boss.

How did that happen?

We added an inaudible & invisible watermark to the Bigg Boss content and Colors continued to play this in their regular (Indian) feed. Subsequently, we installed IRD devices at operator headends in Africa (which are responsible for relaying the channel to viewers) with the capability to identify this watermark, and consequently identify the content as Bigg Boss. Once the content was identified accurately, our devices were pre-instructed to replace this feed with a different playlist, for the same duration as Bigg Boss.

The African audiences were able to watch Colors seamlessly, without Bigg Boss in the playlist.

The Amagi watermark is nothing short of a breakthrough as we move forward into a more independent, connected era of television production. As a completely inaudible and invisible signature, it blends into the regular feed & replacement content without any audience impact whatsoever. Insertion servers at the broadcaster’s end allow them to stream watermarked content directly to the Amagi cloud, which is then intercepted at headends by our IRD devices, which recognize the content to be flagged & replaced by decoding the original watermark. The entire process occurs seamlessly without any disruption to playout.

In addition to the Amagi watermark, STORM devices also support the traditional DTMF and SCTE 35 – based tones, to blend in with existing satellite transmission standards without any large-scale infrastructure overhaul. The trickle bandwidth utilization option has been enabled in geographic regions with limited/slow internet connectivity. While STORM’s abilities are heavily reliant on a business internet connection, it is also possible for a channel to play local content via a redundant, low-speed data stream on their existing satellite feed, and Amagi’s playout servers can identify the watermarked content at headend and replace it as necessary.

What’s more, we offer an easy-to-use Graphical User Interface for broadcasters to monitor the content replacement as it happens, and to make urgent changes to their scheduled playlist too. In other words, with zero investment in expensive feeds, STORM enables you to seize control of your channel’s playlist in an entirely new geographical region, allowing you to be compliant with broadcast guidelines at the same time as entertaining your viewers.

In addition to being at the pinnacle of broadcast innovation, STORM also ensures the continuity of the aforementioned acquired programming rights model, thereby enabling better monetization prospects for television broadcasters around the world. To learn more about how you or your firm can benefit from it, please feel free to write in to cloudandme@amagi.com and we’ll be in touch.

 

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