We have used words like “disruption” a lot in recent years, describing how traditional content business models have been challenged (think: DVRs, streaming, and collapsing windows). Today, as the media and entertainment industry reels from an impact of unimaginable scale, earlier discussions about disruption seem rather small. Beyond merely clawing back to where we left off, all the indications are that the industry must emerge from the pandemic more svelte, smaller, and with an even greater focus on efficiency than before. Yet, the demand for fresh content has never been higher. Many already thought that we had pushed the content operations envelope as far as it could go – which means we must re-invent the mindsets and methodologies of the media world to re-build a successful business. Is it now time for a new approach to the content supply chain?
Between the time a creative team finishes a movie or TV show and the moment you start watching it (in your home, on your devices, or in a theater) quite a lot happens. At the very least, different versions will be created for each consumption channel/platform, in varying digital file formats, sizes, edits, etc. and with an assortment of metadata, though usually also with many different languages, localizations for culture or audience, and consideration for regional regulations (such as photosensitive epilepsy testing). Some combination of captions, subtitles, and audio description is also likely. Contracts will be signed, rights carefully tracked, and, of course, the media has to be delivered to a location or service where you can reach it. The importance of an efficient and agile content supply chain to manage and deliver all of these elements cannot be overstated.
Content-centric Strategy, Rather Than Process-centric Tactics
While clearly “digital” in almost all respects these days, the path that a film or TV show takes from the edit suite to our various devices is still defined by a series of hand-offs (dare we say silos?). This creates limits on efficiency, and has a definite impact to agility. A re-think of the vertical “disciplines” a piece of content passes through likely also means a re-think of the organization itself, breaking from (sometimes decades-old) process-centric ownership structures to define a new, content-centric approach. The fastest, and, in all probability, cheapest path for content preparation empowers end-to-end ownership and requires few hand-offs.
Align Operations to the Business, Rather Than to the Process
It is no surprise that financial considerations also impact the content supply chain, but sometimes in counterintuitive ways. “We’ll create that dub when there’s a territory willing to pay for it” certainly minimizes wasted money, but ignores the fact that the incremental cost for a dub while content is already in the preparation process can be markedly less than pushing the title through a new content prep cycle later. And just talk to the archivists and librarians at your studio – you might be surprised how often their business customers generate revenue from content versions that already exist, where they could not have borne the cost of creating that version otherwise. Make your financial metrics and incentives content-centric too.
Alongside a re-think of the process, and complementary to an organizational re-structure, will be the continued, even accelerated, shift to expert vendors who actually do the work (which isn’t, itself, particularly differentiating for the content owner). In-house studio operational leadership will make strategic decisions on standards, formats, etc.; plan schedules, workload, and deliveries; train content vendors, measuring their work, and holding them accountable; and, even (gasp), influence upstream creatives to deliver more nimbly and naturally into this process. Then the service providers themselves will fulfill the work, managing skills and capacity as needed.
There Has Never Been a Better Time to Reinvent
After years of quite successfully evolving the content supply chain by focusing on the “chain,” the model of incremental staff reductions and incremental process tweaks is running out of feasible runway. The next wave of modernization will not be easy. However, with an openness to change, maybe now is the time to re-imagine it with a focus on the “content!”