the business edge

I walk along a thin line darling
Dark shadows follow me
Here’s where life’s dream lies disillusioned
The edge of reality

Over the past decade or so, ever since the cost of streaming from a video server became just as, or more affordable than, playing content from tape, asset management has come to the fore.

I’ve covered asset management before in a few posts, most notably in digital asset management, but I sense two new paradigms emerging.

Indulge me.

Paradigm shift #1 – archive everything – and worry about it later… this is problematic, simply delaying the inevitable. A problem awaiting solution.

One of the first directives in moving to a digital world, is the management of ingest – the digitization of content and capturing its metadata. The emphasis is on transformation. Very quickly follows the stewardship and protection of the content and metadata, followed by utilization and transformation to other formats.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to a proliferation of content. And correspondingly, the need to develop efficient usage strategies employing the disciplines of IT economics as encompassed by the time, space, bandwidth tradeoff. Just like analog magnetic signals need rusty ribbon, bits require spinning rust, or rusty ribbon. But bits can be compressed…

Now comes the paradox. What do you keep, what do you toss? What has value today, what could have value tomorrow? How do you know?

Because the answers are not clear – the future never is – most is archived, just in case.

Paradigm shift #2 – manufacture and scaling – because content is digital I can provide my customers with whatever format they want… the computer does the work anyway.

Not quite. There comes a time when the cost of the infrastructure to create and maintain the content needs to be considered as a manufacturing process – creativity not withstanding. You see, once the creative process has developed the ‘master’, just as in a good design, the process hands over to the replication for monetization.

Correspondingly, one needs to start looking at the manufacturing plant, the place where the masters are stored, where the grid is located, its capabilities and how it is utilized, where the distribution points are located and the size of the transports leaving the factory etc. This starts to look very much like a process optimization and inventory management exercise, further complicated by consumer demand cycles and on-demand manufacturing and distribution.

Here’s the contention. Asset management used to be the nexus between business systems and the technical/operations infrastructure, because the currency was ‘digital content’. We’ve moved beyond asset management into a world where the currency is on-demand manufacture and delivery of content, and so the new tool is process orchestration and flexible infrastructure integration. What is that tool? Middleware. Media-enabled of course.

The edge of business influence in media operations has shifted closer to operations.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

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March 25, 2010 at 1:00 am 1 comment

taking a break

Somebody’s after me, I can’t pretend to be
Something I know I’m not
And when they come for me – I’ll just let them be
‘Cause all that I need today, I need today

In the linearly scheduled TV world, in addition to pitching products and services, commercial breaks provided viewers time for a nature break, or other quick activities.

Recently, at a partner conference in Paris, it became painfully clear to me that mobile phones are the next really big target for advertising. Yes, I had intellectualized the acquisitions of AdMob etc. but what I heard, really internalized for me the importance of this very substantial media transition.

Media research has shown that though more new media platforms are created, there seems to be more time devoted to all of them. In fact, at this conference several things clicked:

  1. Integrated backoffice applications are evolving to integrate the distribution infrastructure with the revenue generating and management  aspects of the business.
  2. These applications have a very IT-centric approach, agnostic to medium underpinning, and they treat both content and transactional metadata as – data. All measurable, scalable and manageable over an IP network.
  3. The mobile device is a very personal, and personalizable appliance. It is with the user on average about 14 hours per day. A very captive, targetable audience.

So, do we need scheduled breaks from media? Or, are we destined to be personally targeted for interruption whenever nature, or the advertiser calls.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

March 18, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

who’s getting it?

Someone who gets me
Someone who lets me be who I am, not who I’m not
And never gonna be
Who won’t misdirect me
Someone who gets me

Who in the world would ever have thought that one day Google would give the keynote address at Mobile World Congress?

It’s not just about apps.

Recently it has become very clear to me that the core of the Telco’s SDP infrastructure is becoming very IT-centric. It is also being integrated very effectively into the business and marketing functions of the enterprise. This is a radical departure from the days where internal communication was via job-tickets etc. It is almost getting to the point where Telco’s are becoming very large IT-network infrastructures that are exposing their capabilities for other organizations to use. Telco’s have embraced IP and IT and are searching for ways to increase their value. They’re doing it with an integrated business infrastructure that increasingly controls the underlying network core. And their business models are moving to realtime bandwidth and topology arbitrage. As I have long said, it’s not just about the cornflakes, but it’s about getting them to the customer in the cheapest manner possible. It would appear that retail distribution is coming to telco in more ways than originally expected.

Now Google is trying to create an industry wide infrastructure, which is almost the next generation of abstraction beyond the efforts of the telcos.

And as the cost of IP content delivery approaches parity with multicast RF distribution schemes – game over.

Contrast this to the newsprint, cable, satellite and broadcasters. What many call the ‘traditional’ mediums. Many are still debating the fine line which separates IT from the ‘content’ side of the business. Their obsession with control seems to be inhibiting the innate desire for bits to flow seamlessly through the business. Why the difference? More importantly, how are these entities going to compete in a world where the primary game in town is a mobile-oriented, increasingly cash-rich generation of audience. Of the media-types previously listed, it would appear as though the print industry may have just been given a reprieve – a gateway into that mobile audience.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

March 11, 2010 at 9:13 am Leave a comment

the value of experience

Downsized I guess I shouldn’t be surprised
Two faced the time has come to be replaced
Betrayal, tiny minds
Something sinister’s going on behind

Before economic rationalism took a stranglehold on the global economy, and the labor market started becoming deregulated, there was a time that management experts did not write textbooks for dummies. In fact, although businesses were generally less efficient, they were inextricably linked to the overall well-being of a country’s economy, and the prosperity of its citizenry.

When up-, down-, right- and optimal-sizing became the vogue for  business narrative, they came with their alter-ego of poorer service, lower quality goods, stakeholder marginalisation and shareholder intrusion. Somehow, balance was lost. In fact, much knowledge and equity in each individual was also lost.

The Media Business was not immune against this backdrop of free-market fundamentalism.

In fact, the corporatization of media has manifest itself as:

  1. Bland, formulaic content production. Safe investments in block-busters, special effects and ‘easy-listening’ radio stations. All under the seemingly prudent guise of giving the audience what it wants while preserving cash flow… what would have happened if the audience had been ‘trained’ differently by the media? Not possible? Then I guess you’re telling me that advertising and promotion don’t work (!)
  2. Ruthless focus on the bottom line. An essential factor in successful businesses. However, this has not only stifled self-motivated innovation, but has mortgaged the future to preserve the present cash-flow. What would have happened if the print media had actively embraced the web and truly found ways for people to pay? What would have happened if local TV stations didn’t ‘give away’ web advertising as part of a bundle in order to maintain broadcast margins? Not possible? Essential. By not actively engaging in change, that change has been thrust upon those very same businesses in a very ruthless fashion.
  3. Devaluing the core value proposition of media... Huh? Media is in the news and entertainment business. The medium is the message for dissemination of information, entertainment and experiential pathos, with clear deference to Marshall McLuhan. Moving away from this precept has affected the core equity of media, the medium is “not the message” when it comes to business.

So, where are the experienced executives leading us through this change? My guess is that many are securing their bonuses, before the next re-structure kicks-in. Till then status quo.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

March 4, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

history repeats itself

History repeats itself
I didn’t learn, I wouldn’t listen
I couldn’t see the books were on the shelf
For my good sense, I never missed ’em

In the early 1800s newspaper production was extremely slow. They received news by post. Some were reports from correspondents, but most stories were copied from other newspapers as part of an exchange system.

In may of 1845, James Gordon Bennett, the editor of the New York Herald predicted with some gloom, that the telegraph would put many newspapers out of business. “In regard to the newspaper press, it will experience to a degree, that must in a vast number of cases be fatal, the effects of the new mode of circulating intelligence.”

While entrepreneurs and commerce at large created the demand for ‘fast news’, prompting Bennet to pay one of his sources $500 for every hour by which he beat other papers in getting news from Europe, he also once declared that “speculators should not have the advantage of earlier news than the public at large.”

Then along comes the telegraph… with its promise of instant information.

The following dreaded scenario was painted among the publishing Technorati of the day…

Raw news and market information arrived first at the telegraph office. Newspapers, along with merchants and everyone else, queued for it. Telegraph firms established a monopoly over news delivery, selling early news access to the highest bidder.

In this environment, papers would be unable to compete. Circulation would decline and advertisers would flee. Benett’s democratisation of news would be undone.

There was hope. Bennett believed that those few papers which provided commentary and analysis would survive. The proverbial ‘value-add’.

The telegraph did reshape newspapers and the outcome was different to the prognostications. It was a simple result of the technology itself. Although the telegraph could deliver news more rapidly than ever across the backbone, they had a “last mile” problem. Messages were point to point – unicast as it were. The telegraph was not a broadcast medium, it could not disseminate news quickly to thousands of ‘subscribers’. Instead  of putting papers out of business, the telegraph actually made them more attractive and increased their sales. The role of newspapers became focused on delivering the latest news.

As the speed of information increased, there were growing concerns that the freshness of news, and its abundance from far away places, was saturating column inches and decreasing it’s relevance to the consumer.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891, W.J. Stillman lamented the changes in his profession. “America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence,” he moaned. “The frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition.”

Add about 160 years to these dates, replace the names of the characters and technologies; except for the money part, the story and the apprehensions remain the same. But let us be very careful. While we may see the demise of printed media, we will not see the decline of the ‘news business’. We may be simply seeing the transfer of information from ink and pulp to another medium.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

February 25, 2010 at 1:00 am 1 comment

digital asset management

Talent is an asset
You’ve got to understand that
Talent is an asset
And little Albert has it
Talent is an asset
And Albert surely has it

In my wanderings across the media landscape I have encountered, “Digital Asset Management”, “Media Asset Management”, “Content Management”, “Asset Management” etc. All terms which each of you have similarly faced. But, why so many terms for the inflection from tape to digital?

I believe the confusion arises out of workflow, product functionality and the need for vendor differentiation. Obfuscation is a remarkable sales tool, and perhaps this taxonomic confusion exemplifies the case of “those who cannot do – sell.”

On a much kinder note, perhaps the confusion is a natural response to a nascent technology, one born out of digital abstraction of a physical entity. You see, when you can touch something, as a human, your perception is that it has some innate value. When you cannot touch it, the value is diminished. Unless we actually have equity in the content, we lose the connection between perceived financial value and the invisible bits which ultimately express the value. In fact, we ascribe value to the infrastructure which enables those bits to be expressed i.e. network, PC, iPod, Plasma TV, STB etc. My theory for why even seemingly upstanding citizens engage in dubious ‘pirate’ activities. I also encountered this mindset in China in the mid 90’s when the value of a CD was in the medium i.e. the plastic, more so that what was on it. Similarly when couriering software and data mag-tapes across continents, customs officials always wanted to know the value of the tapes, not really understanding the value of their contents.

For the record, I gravitate to the term digital asset management. The core of understanding lies in understanding Assets themselves. First a little definition.

Assets have three essential characteristics:

  • The probable present benefit involves a capacity, singly or in combination with other assets, in the case of profit oriented enterprises, to contribute directly or indirectly to future net cash flows, and, in the case of not-for-profit organizations, to provide services;
  • The entity can control access to the benefit;
  • The transaction or event giving rise to the entity’s right to, or control of, the benefit has already occurred.

In normal speak, this is an ability to

  • make money or provide services
  • maintain control or access
  • leverage transactions

This seems intuitively complete for our understanding of the things we need to do to digital content regardless of type. Yet how many digital asset management systems have financial interfaces? Furthermore, how many effectively enable their content with the aforementioned characteristics? How many are just plain digital ‘libraries’ or ‘content management’ repositories?

In the financial accounting sense of the term, it is not necessary to be able to legally enforce the asset’s benefit for qualifying a resource as being an asset, provided the entity can control its use by other means.

This raises another interesting encounter with a recent customer. As a very large content creator, they were not so much interested in protecting their content with DRM as their main customers were Service Providers like broadcasters, cable companies and telcos. They distributed their content via the web, in most cases with FTP, and fully expected their business partner to abide by contractual usage provisions. In fact, if the content were ‘over-utilized’, then in a sense, that is fine by my customer – more exposure. However, their prime concern was ‘editing’ of the content, i.e. changing the creative content, or the storyline, or the brand. As long as the content was edited in compliance with regulations that was OK, but if it was edited to allow more commercial content, then that was not OK.

By extension, media asset management expands my definition of digital asset management, to include the tracking of physical copies of the content i.e. tapes, CDs, manuscripts etc. Hence the usage of the word media, implying all manifestations of content instantiation.

So, when you use the phrase ‘asset’, it is important to understand that the digital content has a ‘value’, and that this value needs to be wrapped with rights to ensure that the maximum equity is extracted for the minimum liability, financial or otherwise.  Failure to do so, in my mind implies that you are only addressing one part of the business, the technical operations.

Without an appreciation of the valuation of their digital inventory, how is a business ever going to evolve to a new digital business model?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

February 18, 2010 at 1:00 am 2 comments

the user

No praise or crowd
No sound of thunder
No hero’s tale
No sign or wonder
With all I’ve known
And left behind
I find my place
In serving You

Remember the IT user? Those people who the IT department initially served? Those subject matter experts within the business. Those people who usually know best what is needed to make their daily job, business functions and therefore, by extension, the business?

Whatever happened to them? Does anyone actually listen to them anymore?

Remember the constant tussle between in-house development and packaged software? I have no intention of re-litigating that debate, but I do think, that of late, the industry has increasingly paid more attention to ‘new trends’ and ‘new products’ than on the fundamentals.

We’ve gone top down. Big picture will ultimately solve the business problems? The focus is now on the company and shareholders, rather than the stakeholders whose knowledge and effort is the driving engine of the company. Is not a balanced approach far more sensible?

This is dangerously similar to the transformation of the accounting profession. Their constant focus on moving up the corporate food chain and becoming Financial Advisors, instead of Accountants. On telling the business how to grow beans, instead of counting the beans of the business.

And so it is with IT professionals. As we look across the business landscape with our ‘Technology Focus’ we are starting to move beyond advising the CEO how to leverage technology for better business, but have promoted the notion that good technology = good business. This might be true in a technology-centric business like media, or the technology business itself, but not in general.

The ‘Financial Advisors’ ran wild with growing beans and precipitated the global economic disaster… will our love affair with all things technical, promoting technology above business interests result in tears? I think it is time to get back to serving the business…

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

PS. How many IT shops out there are cost-centers vs the profit centers to which you would seem to aspire?

February 12, 2010 at 6:58 am Leave a comment

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