How the Content Planner / Scheduler tackles the multidimensional challenge
Setting up a VOD release plan seems simple enough: you check what’s available and you put it in your offer. But that is not how you will get the most out of your investment. It’s up to you to map out its journey over platforms in a way that maximizes its potential for profits in successive steps that each time generate less revenue. Because you have one certainty to work with: that your content devalues over time. If crafting a release plan isn’t as straightforward as it might appear to be, what then to say about scheduling content on TV channels, an extremely complex and time-consuming task if ever there was one.
SUPPORTING THE ART OF CRAFTING RELEASE PLANS AND LINEAR SCHEDULES
Right at the beginning of this circle of life, the acquisition executive of any media company with decent rights management and a real-time avails inventory in place should know which content needs to be produced or acquired by when. And as long as a sound return on investment is to be achieved, they need to do that with a data-based strategy. Thanks to the massive quantities of available data about viewer behaviour, acquisition executives can now get insight into how new content acquisitions will perform with specific audiences and how these acquisitions will help achieve specific targets, such as attracting new subscribers or reducing subscriber churn. If the strategy and stock forecasts indicate that they need to acquire more sports rights, for instance, they will evaluate specific content for each channel or service, group it into a package, apply budgets, expected costs and desired rights to it, and send it through an internal approval process. More often than not this involves a series of separate systems or Excel sheets, while this could be coordinated by one central platform that directly interacts with the rest of the media operation ecosystem. Acquisition executives can enter information specifying what they want, such as titles, exploitation windows, and number of runs. At this early stage, they may also describe the required material, such as video, script, press kit, and soundtracks, together with the expected deadline.
VOD release plans
If there ever was a single approach for drawing up the optimal release plant, there certainly isn’t one now. You might want to draw up a yearlong release plan, build up a hype around big titles, and conceive a strategy to keep attracting and retaining viewers in the long run. And what with series? Do you have the rights to release all episodes of a season at once, Netflix-style, or will you wait for each episode to be broadcasted on your linear channel first? Or will you apply some other kind of staggered release plan that maximizes return on investment?
Anyway, you always need to know exactly what rights you have in what time frames, for which territories and which platforms; which parts of the content cannot be shown where; for which embedded content extra clearances are required; whether there are holdbacks on certain episodes. And do you always know what your sales department has been up to, and what rights have been sold? In this context, we are not even talking about how you help your viewers find relevant content and deal with the paradox of choice, nor how you know all the required materials will be ready in time for all the localized and platform-conform versions.
Yes, It’s a challenge with multiple dimensions.
Some say linear scheduling is more an art than a science. It is handled by experienced planning managers that have deep knowledge of how to attract and retain viewers by scheduling the content that is available to them in a way that is in line with their company’s mission — and in the case of commercial broadcasters — generates the kind of ratings they promised their advertisers.
What makes a schedule a good schedule? First of all, there are a lot of financial considerations to keep in mind. Staying within budgets and controlling the cost of the broadcasted content is very challenging because of the complex nature of content rights. Rights often include free reruns during off-peak hours, the content has license windows during which it needs to be scheduled, the costs of a series are amortized over the different runs of the different episodes according to very specific rules, …
And often, multiple simulations of the schedule need to be made with stock, budget and quota forecasts. Content volumes and durations are measured, monitored and reported on to comply with legal and regulatory criteria, such as quota.
The business benefit for the company resides in the fact that planners and schedulers can act on targets rather than react on error reporting, and as they can predict the final values, they needn’t ‘overshoot’ just to be sure. Planners and schedulers need to work creatively within rights and restrictions, obligations and commitments, editorial targets, quotas, parental ratings, business rules and all kinds of regulations and legal boundaries.
Even when their state-of-the-art scheduling system automates rights validation and monitors all of the requirements just mentioned, they need to be creative, while they cannot for a second neglect technical perfection. There must never be any overlap or gap between transmissions. Viewers also expect a certain rhythm in the schedule. They expect episodes of the same series to be broadcasted in the same timeslot each day or week. The flow in the schedule is also important. Consecutive transmissions should not be targeted at a totally different target audience. If you broadcast a cooking show after a football match, for instance, people will switch channels. And one schedule is not enough. Often you need to prepare alternative schedules to deal with contingencies or to keep your options open.
And what about catch-up? Can you automatically plan programmes for your catch-up service straight from the linear schedule, with the certainty that all rights are validated? For all this and more, a multidimensional, versatile and rights-driven scheduling system proves to be an essential tool.
Live broadcastingThe complexity and unpredictability of live broadcasting is another thing. As last-minute changes are inherent in sports, you need to be able to quickly adapt the short-time schedule and steer Playout accordingly. If this seems stressful, what to say about the pandemic, when nearly all live events came to a screeching halt?
Repurposing and repackaging
As Covid-19 also brought non-live productions down to a trickle, the sudden shortage of new scripted content sent media companies back to the proverbial cellar to dust off their archives and rummage through them looking for quality content they could re-purpose or repackage in any way. They had to speedily reuse product extracts on multiple platforms, without taking any risk of dropping the ball when verifying all rights and restrictions involved.
That emphasized the need for segmentation on the product, with restrictions and metadata inherited or directly added on the level of the constituent extracts. Having such a segmentation ensures that whenever extracts are reused separately or as part of a new programme, all applicable rights and restrictions are verified. Besides, metadata on extracts helps to enhance the viewing experience and enables viewers to swiftly navigate within an on-demand programme to the topic they want to see. The extracts can, for instance, carry their own press descriptions, cast information, copyright sheets and images. Additional metadata on extracts can also be used for reports on ratings and costs.
Flexible content model
To offer the viewer a new angle on existing content, media companies also want to reorder episodes of a series, combine content of different seasons or even make new series by compiling unrelated content around a chosen theme or purpose. They can, for instance, assemble a best-of series, or a series of superhero films. This requires a flexible content model which allows schedulers to define and package new lists of elements and their order. When management gathers to explore ideas like that, or to make decisions for the long term, on company level, on medium-term plans, even on the programming for the coming weeks. they could use a web app that keeps them ‘au-dessus de la mêlée’ by giving them an easy-to-interpret, graphical overview of the planning on any level.
We have just discussed how there is a large variety of dimensions that make or break a release plan or linear schedule. Recent years have seen this complexity increase considerably as media companies try to reach and engage viewers with ever more content on an ever-widening array of channels and platforms. At the same time, both viewers and advertisers have come to expect ever-higher levels of, respectively, addressability and personalization. As a result, the list of dimensions that make a schedule successful has never been so wide and varied.
A handle on content intelligence
The relative importance of these dimensions differs from company to company, even from channel to channel, but if there is one constant, it is that only granular and multidimensional data provides the much needed handle on the intelligence of content. To start with, long- and short-term schedulers need a clear, granular view on what content or extract is available for planning when and where. This real-time overview of avails should immediately adjust to any changes anyone makes in the planning, or any acquisition or sales of rights. By opening the overview from the schedule and specifying criteria such as title, product category or duration, it should be easy to find what you need for the period you are working on. You then just fill in the gaps with a simple drag-and-drop.
This kind of real-time catalogue will also help to meet a fast-growing need to automate time-consuming manual processes on the one hand and leverage augmented intelligence on the experts’ input, on the other. The former frees up time to make informed decisions, the latter improves the decision-making process.
The two combined result in optimum use of available content. MEDIAGENIX is already applying Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for rating predictions, scheduling recommendations and automated off-peak scheduling, all tapping into the Available Rights Catalogue and business insights. Admittedly, primetime scheduling will basically remain a human craft, whether or not assisted by augmented intelligence. The new-generation tools we described will eventually lift the entire content supply chain to new levels of operational and strategic excellence.