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How tech is solving the problem of ‘nothing to watch’

Even the most niche audiences are catered for by technology, writes Dan Goman, founder and CEO, OWNZONES Entertainment Technologies

A well-worn joke in the heyday of pay-TV was that there were a thousand channels, and nothing worth watching was on — a trope so popular Bruce Springsteen sang a song about it (57 Channels and Nothin’ On).

This quip — that consumers have ever increasing options yet still crave more — still applies today, even as traditional television takes the backseat to over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and others. Despite these streaming giants cranking out original content at a record pace, and new players like Apple and Disney entering the fray, the modern media consumer will always demand more. 

But as these services look to offer the most diverse, broad set of programming, an emerging market has taken the opposite tactic, focusing on very niche offerings instead. These new options aim to super-serve smaller and more specialised audiences, many of whom have been starving for an outlet that meets their viewing needs. And this strategy seems to be here to stay — some analysts predict the giants like Netflix and Hulu will account for just 15 per cent of the pay-TV/pay-OTT market by 2022. 

BET, for example, has invested big in OTT with BET+, a service anchored with original programming from Tyler Perry and offering thousands of hours of exclusive content geared toward an African American audience that for years has been underserved by traditional media providers. Similar offerings serving specific audiences can be found in BritBox or Acorn for superfans of content from the UK, or Crunchyroll for anime enthusiasts. 

While seemingly diverse and different, these small to mid-sized OTT streaming services face a two-fold challenge. First, the streaming services themselves must grapple with a variety of technical challenges when organising and distributing content for users. And second, the production houses that create this niche content are operating under tight budgets and resource limitations that, without improved technology, make it difficult for them to turn around quality programming quickly. 

Thankfully, solutions are emerging that are tailor-made to address these growing pressures, both for the small to mid-sized streaming service providers that lack the resources of larger players as well as production houses that feed them content. By investing in technology that allows for greater collaboration and streamlined processes, both can answer this increasing call for more niche content. 

Cloud-native technology helps production houses answer the call for more niche content

Catering to a niche audience is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is a hyper-focused subset of viewers that show incredible passion for the specialised content being produced for them. On the other hand, because viewership isn’t as large as it is for a general service like Netflix, budgets for new content may be smaller.

Production houses that want to succeed in an environment where niche content is produced quicker and at lower price points need to invest in Cloud-based solutions that streamline post production across a decentralised system. Resource-heavy tasks like colour grading, editing and mixing can all be done as soon as footage is shot, and in some cases, can be completed concurrently. Further, Cloud-based platforms make packaging of final products for distribution much faster, streamlining processes like region-specific versioning and subtitling. This creates significantly lower server costs, improves upload/download speeds and ultimately reduces a timeline to global distribution. 

A deeper look at the benefits of Cloud-native solutions proves niche content creators and distributors can bring original content to market quickly and with a smaller budget if they have the right tools. 

Seamless global collaboration

Studios based in the Cloud eliminate the need for local editing bays. Cloud platforms can make footage available from the set to post production professionals around the globe in an instant, allowing real-time collaboration and reducing or eliminating the need for pricey and complicated on-premise servers. These systems also make the transfer of in-progress footage more seamless between teams, giving the entire operation peace of mind that they all have access to the most current content and eliminating the risk of duplicate or conflicting workflows.

Significant reductions in cost

The massive amount of footage that is required to produce a modern TV series can cost a significant amount just to store and manage. But by migrating footage and workflows to a Cloud-based system, production houses can eliminate significant technical costs involved in on-prem solutions, including server maintenance, licensing, staff, utilities and IT support. Moreover, a Cloud-based workflow has the benefit of scalability, so you pay for the amount of storage you need, when you need it, scaling up and down as you see fit. Additionally, as these costs decrease, the talent pool grows. Professionals all over the world can now become part of the team without being on set at a much lower cost. 

Automation helps niche streaming services stand out

Niche streaming services can’t always afford to offer exclusively original programming. Moreover, the appetite of modern audiences for a binge means all providers are looking to add to their content libraries. Often, this happens when a provider acquires or licenses a large quantity of content from a different region, or that may be outdated. The quality control and organisation required to get this content ready for distribution is a highly complex process that is extremely time consuming when done manually. However, niche providers can take advantage of solutions that automate processes to help them get content on more screens much faster. These solutions do this by ensuring content can be optimised for multiple devices, regions and user accessibility needs — all of which can be challenging to do manually.

For example, while niche providers may have a smaller audience, it is likely much more global. Because of this, they will need to offer a variety of subtitles, audio dubs and credits in a variety of languages. Automated solutions can solve for this by allowing providers to package the content more easily and categorise all the necessary files more efficiently. Another challenge is performing quality control for a large chunk of new content. With automation, a programme can rapidly crawl the content library and help tag file properties and flag inconsistencies. Automating these processes ultimately means saving time and money that can be reinvested in original content — which can help these niche platforms differentiate themselves and help them hold on to their audience. 

Not only can automation make processes more efficient, it can also create a more loyal viewer. Audiences — particularly superfans of niche content — notice quality. So, if subtitles don’t match the audio, or the picture isn’t in the right aspect ratio, viewers might stop watching. What’s more, they might take their grievances public on social media, further damaging the service’s reputation to an already narrow audience. 

Making these improvements doesn’t just improve a streaming provider or content producer’s ability to compete today, but also helps future-proof their strategies. Competing in the future means investing in technology that can create and distribute HDR, immersive sound and even virtual reality programming. Producing and distributing complex content like this will be much easier for giants like Netflix and Apple, so automation and Cloud-based applications that help make operations more efficient are critical for niche providers to stay ahead of the game. 

By rethinking the post production process and taking workflows to the Cloud, small to medium-sized niche providers and the production houses they partner with can meet the growing demands of an audience of superfans. Quicker, more cost-effective and higher-quality content is possible, and so is a future where audiences never struggle with a thousand channels with nothing to watch.