The Covid-19 pandemic is shaking the Media & Entertainment industry, triggering a rapid acceleration of changes in technology, viewer behaviour and business models. With OTT rapidly becoming the predominant way of content distribution, all kinds of new players are entering the scene. Content comes in the most diverse formats from the most diverse sources and is published on the most diverse platforms, rendering rights management an extremely complex matter. We called a man with 25 years of experience in consulting media companies worldwide, and bounced off a few ideas about the ways in which rights management systems need to evolve if they are to help media companies stay relevant.
Gijsbert, in your experience, what to you is a major challenge for rights management systems today?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “The requirements for today’s rights management systems are plenty and huge, especially when you consider that many rights management systems and solutions were born from a broadcast workflow. What I have seen happening over the past years, for instance, is that artists or actors join forces with television makers to form a collective, often because they feel neglected by the major players. Some produce very nice shows or series that are very relevant locally. But these creatives don’t necessarily have the proper business systems in place. So if you want to pull their content into a traditional broadcast management system, it’s a bit of a pain because you need to impose a corporate procedure on these creatives, which they don’t like, and it will take a lot of time to get them to do that.
Funneling these rights through the rights management mothership won’t work. So what is happening at some broadcasters is that the local teams find a workaround, with parallel processes. And that’s where you see a gap growing with the corporate business. Before you know it you don’t see where all the resources are going. Another thing to consider is that these shows tend to be co-productions where a lot of parties are involved, with a lot of underlying rights. And very often, legislation adds to the complexity.”
“Funneling these rights through the rights management mothership won’t work.”
You need to capture the multifaceted complexity of rights, obligations and restrictions right from the start?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Nowadays the vital need to stay relevant implies that you need to broaden your engagement. You have a show, for instance, and you open up a website where people can interact around the show. Do you own the property or title? Do you own the rights to the music on that website? And have you asked consent from the people that interact on the website to engage them afterwards? All of a sudden you are also a web publisher, or an event organizer, all around that same piece of intellectual property. And what if after two months the streaming rights go back to an actor or artist, and you first have to talk to them before you can publish the show again? You need to think about all this in advance. Having insight into the additional rights, the complete rights picture other than your primarily intended purpose is indeed very important.”
Should such a rights management system also be more generic and flexible in also capturing assets such as pieces of merchandise, e-book, hardbacks, or short clips?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “You need to think: What is the minimum rights set I want to capture, so I can keep track? And, yes, that includes the rights on books and e-books, and the rights around scripts. Interestingly, these are the kind of things the big studios have been capturing for years. But they do that with a thousand people. Now it’s being done everywhere, by just a few people who don’t have lawyers, a legal department, content management systems, Adobe Sign, … So how do you support them in capturing all that?”
You are saying rights management systems today fail to cater for these use cases?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “I’ve been working with some news organisations to get them to properly record rights. Nobody remembers what was agreed for a three-minute item in a news show. And to send a lot of paperwork out afterwards, isn’t productive. That is why one of those companies actually decided to have one person in the studio verbally capturing what is being agreed while they are collecting the news. This way they have at least a rudimentary rights management database.”
How would you feed this into an ecosystem to keep track of everything?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “If you have an ecosystem various apps can tap into, that person capturing rights information on the news floor would have a simple app that ties into your rights management platform. And maybe it is connected to the Chambre of Commerce where the cameraman’s business is registered, for instance. We still ask people too many times to populate a database of vendors or licensors, where we might just as well go to a public source and have it entered for them. Then you only need to ask people for the relevant information they are unique to.”
“By facilitating these different use cases with your platform approach you make life easier for every user, while you can leverage the strength of the whole ecosystem.”
So you can have various apps capturing data and translating it to the central rights management platform.
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “And that is happening in the background so you don’t burden the end user with it. Let’s say you had an interview with a farmer who is protesting against the government. The cameraman’s data is already populated in the system. Somebody else might have access to a different app for exploiting the rights, which is a completely different user experience. By facilitating these different use cases with your platform approach you make life easier for every user, while you can leverage the strength of the whole ecosystem, which can continue to grow.”
Do you think that for the next 10 years new cloud technologies will drive the move to systems that are ever easier to scale, integrate, configure and use?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “First of all, it doesn’t matter that much whether your system is in the cloud or on-prem. It is really about time to market and how your system helps your clients meet their business goals. Say your client wants to start exploiting a new type of rights. A project team is deployed and analysts start writing the specs. They then engage with the vendor and after several months, when the vendor finally comes up with something, they need to verify and test it. This is where executives ask themselves: who on earth is going to do that?”
And the business may have changed by then, so that they need to adapt it again …
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “So what you need to offer is a quick turnaround. If a vendor can say to the executive: OK, I hear you. Let me come back with a quick prototype. If you can offer them this kind of quick delivery instead of handing them a piece of paper that they need to give to a senior programmer to sign off on the investment, and so on, then the executives won’t care whether it is deployed in the cloud or on-prem. If you have a perfectly working local system that is very easy to configure, upgrade and use, your client might not have such a pressing need to move to the cloud, anyway. The need more often comes from not having sufficient resources on site.
What I have seen and what we can learn from cloud-native companies is that sometimes they publish just a small subset of the capabilities of their product as an app, and all of a sudden it becomes something people can quite quickly download. Because these apps are readily available from App Store, Android, SAP or Oracle they are also picked up by companies the makers hadn’t thought of initially.”
“It is a way of entering early in the process, and catering to other user groups than you are used to.”
You might say this is about creating that MLP, that Minimum Lovable Product that people can integrate very quickly, that talks to the other systems and produces quick wins. People start using it, they want more features and it becomes an MVP, a Minimum Viable Product …
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “And then you can grow it into a proper product. If you do that with rights management, it is a way of entering early in the process, and catering to other user groups than you are used to. With such apps a programmer or sales or marketing person can get early insight in what rights they have available and gain easy access to the specific rights management capabilities they need. This way you get the data set in place early in the content supply chain. It beats doing the whole planning first and three weeks before broadcast or publication day making a start with clearing the rights and chasing people to enter the needed data.”
Content has become an extremely expensive asset in the struggle to stay relevant, so management wants hard data that gives them strong reasons to invest in it.
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Previously you knew what a certain series did on the channels, so if you bought such a series you knew you would get about so many viewers. Now with all these platforms, you have to know your audience and what they are looking for. And you also have to ask yourself: What is important to us? What are our values? What does it stand for? Are we about live sports and team performance? About exploring? Are we a family brand? These considerations increasingly carry weight in investment decisions.”
If viewer data is the new gold, then with OTT and DTC anyone can hit the mother lode?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Yes and no. The feedback you get from streaming data has its limitations, too. Often it’s the number of streams, viewers, and thumbs up, that is about it. On the other hand, on social platforms such as TV Time, people interact about the shows they are watching. Some large vendors started buying or at least interacting with these platforms because they give you unbiassed feedback and really qualitative insights at an early stage into what your viewer base is looking for. So that is what you want to pull in somehow and bring that data into your dashboard.”
“Data often turns out to be pretty useless because it lacks consistency.”
Broadcasters at least finally get access to richer viewer data?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Broadcasters tended to think that the cable operators were sitting on a pile of really useful data, but when they got their hands on it, the data often turned out to be pretty useless because it lacked consistency. That is the challenge with any information set you are building: how do you keep it consistent and useful over long life spans? Major studios have deep catalogues going back 50 years or more. Data was built around the box office success of those titles. It drove the value of assets and payments. But now that data doesn’t mean that much anymore, certainly now that Covid-19 has shut down the theatres and new movies are premièred on streaming platforms. Another example. If 20 years ago, a title sold 40 million CDs that was a big achievement. But we know that kind of figures belongs to the past as far as CD sales is concerned. And what with linear ratings? Arguably, you have to wait for the 7-day catch-up window to finish before you can present a useful set. And now as a streamer you have your data and that’s useful to your business, but to make strategic decisions, you need to relate the data to other sources, companies, platforms. Today companies like Nielsen provide that kind of information and I believe there should be a next iteration of that towards more meaningful and granular data.”
But you can get actionable insights by running algorithms on your own rights data.
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Executives hear all day about big data, BI, AI and then they remember they have a database, too. So, yes, if you can try algorithms at some use cases that are typical for the industry or for your client and provide insights, patterns on their data, you will get their attention. All of a sudden they see they have interesting data and they start interacting more with it.
What if you log in as a rights administrator and the system tells you half of your inventory runs out six months from now. Those are important insights that otherwise might elude you.”
“Executives want to compare scenarios, make a decision and then feed that back into the rights management system.”
With the sharpened focus on business results, any data on rights or viewers should in the first place help reduce costs, optimize monetization and explore new revenue streams?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Obviously, any rights management system needs to very accurately reflect the contract in the first place. These are very transactional, factional things you need to be able to capture at source. It’s your basis for getting payment terms and amortizations right. It is also about ensuring proper reporting to the authorities. That’s the finance control side of things. On the business control side there is more room to manoeuvre. Here is where executives want to have tools with smart analytics, to be agile and be able to steer how rights are exploited.
A business controller typically builds scenarios to find the most efficient use of the assets. They ask themselves: What if we extend the series with another year, but in that case there is an uplift of 3% in the contract? What if we delay the series for 3 months? What is the impact on finance? How to exploit the overlap with the new series then? Executives want to compare scenarios, make a decision and then feed that back into the rights management system, because the actual exploitation of rights leaves space to manoeuvre and while the deal continues initial assumptions may be adjusted.”
To what extent does globalization present new opportunities to exploit rights to the full and stay relevant?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “Traditionally, rights management was a top down business. The volumes were limited but a lot of money was spent on big deals. But now with proper rights management systems and procedures in place you can reverse this back up the tree, from the local to the global level. That is one way you can stay relevant. You can say: if we co-produce a show I get the local rights, you get the worldwide rights, because you are best placed to take care of global distribution and sales. Anyway, if I produce a show I am the originator of the Intellectual Property, so by definition I have the worldwide rights. But I might only have the budget to exploit that in my territory because that is what it was intended for and how the business case was built.
Some of the big streaming services are now actually carrying wat the Americans call ‘locally produced’ content, because it is produced in France or Canada, for instance. As a big American studio or network, you can publish your content around the globe. That is one way of playing the game. The other way is that you allow local presence in terms of scheduling, marketing and sales, through the affiliates and the ad agencies. You let them engage with the commercial opportunities in the local market. Product placement, co-sponsoring, co-producing, … all that benefits from local presence if you agree on what value it has and on appropriate rights sets. That is where the interaction with your rights management system comes into play.”
When we think about how new technologies will drive the further evolution of rights, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing spring to mind as the DNA of content, making sense of massive and granular data sets about content and exploitation rights on the one hand and audiences and their viewing behaviour on the other. What comes to your mind?
Gijsbert Voorneveld: “I have been studying blockchain technology over the past few years. DJs were the first to use it to get their content out there and there are many other initiatives around blockchain in the music industry. If you combine blockchain with fingerprinting technology, which has been around for 15 years, you can quite easily deduce what has been published where and who has the rights. I actually have done some projects about reporting this information back to the central system and collecting the money, among other things. It’s a promising technology and I could talk all day about it. For instance, one blockchain could provide ratings information, and another rights information. They could speak to each other and based on events in these blockchains, smart contracts could execute themselves.
As a general rule I say to my clients: keep your most important day-to-day business in a legacy system and start experimenting with the new technologies for specific workflows. You will learn from it and maybe it will pay off for specific use cases.”
Thank you, Gijsbert.
About Gijsbert Voorneveld
Gijsbert Voorneveld is a seasoned Management Consultant in the Telecom Media and Entertainment (TME) space. He has been working with local and global TME companies for 25 years. Initially in various roles as Managing Consultant at one of the leading global consulting firms but since 2007 as an independent management consulting professional.
Gijsbert serves his clients across the globe from his office in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Pre-Covid-19 he would personally visit most of his clients onsite to then work on projects for/with them from his office in Amsterdam, currently this is all remote.
As an independent Management Consultant Gijsbert is often asked to be the ‘trusted advisor’ regarding major decisions about an organisation’s business model and the way supporting departments, processes and technology are implemented.
Gijsbert is associated with the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes which guarantees he adheres to the highest international professional standards when delivering his advice.
- maximize revenues optimizing the complete life cycle of your content as it moves across platforms and exploitation windows?
- effortlessly deal with restrictions, holdbacks, obligations, royalties, participations and revenue shares?
- have your schedules and release plans automatically validated and optimized?
- keep a real-time view on what is available for planning or selling?