The internet has created a revolution in how we consume content. Music was the first media form affected: Napster, then iTunes, unbundled music content and changed the economics of buying music. As network bandwidth and device capabilities improved, video content followed the same path. YouTube and Netflix have developed huge audiences by providing video content in a different way from the established incumbents of the broadcast and cable television industries.
These new entrants in the internet age share a common characteristic: they tapped into the basic human desire for communication, entertainment and information, and they succeeded by making content more accessible than it was before. They have done this in both technological ways (mobile devices, video codec advancements, video streaming technologies, and content delivery networks) and commercial ways (pay for a single song or video rather than a bundled package, or “freemium” business models allowing some content-watching for free).
The table below highlights total global media consumption and how much market share YouTube, Netflix and Facebook have managed to attract in just the last decade.
Interestingly, the quality of content in the early days of each service wasn’t as good as the existing services — Netflix didn’t have original content and had only a limited library, Napster’s audio quality was poor, and YouTube had a lot of homemade videos in low resolutions. But what they lacked in these areas they made up for with ease of access (and of course it was free). At the end of the day, most people would rather access content easily and cheaply than pay a premium for premium content.
Making content accessible and selling it to consumers around the world in small quantities sounds like a no-brainer for a Media business. Who wouldn’t want thousands or millions of people paying a small amount of money to access content that would otherwise just remain dormant and not create revenue?
One of the most difficult things about this model is that it relies on having the content in the first place. The good news for media businesses is that they own a lot of content. The challenge is therefore to monetize it. But how can you monetize your content if it is not easily accessible?
Do the industry’s new entrants have legacy infrastructure?
While subjects like digital rights and data security need to be addressed when selling and distributing content, a primary issue with making content accessible is the underlying technology. Traditional media businesses have legacy infrastructure that supports their primary revenue stream: linear broadcasting and VOD preparation. The systems that underpin this revenue have evolved over many years and are changed very, very carefully. Upgrading a Playout or Media Asset Management system is like a heart transplant for a broadcaster.
And underneath these operational systems is the infrastructure that physically holds and moves the video and audio: the servers, the transcoders, the storage devices, the networks. Embedded within these systems are the operational workflows and business rules that tie the various systems together and ensure that the right content reaches the consumers’ screens on time.
In this mature environment, how and where content is stored has evolved over many years. These storage environments don’t normally support the intense demand of the current era for highly accessible content. In fact, they even struggle to keep up with the demands of Media Operations teams that have to make content available on time for the linear broadcast systems and the video-on-demand services that have grown up rapidly in recent years. New entrants to the industry don’t have this problem.
For example, Netflix created its own purpose-built Content Delivery Network (CDN), called Open Connect, to store and deliver all content to its 100 million+ global customers. This network stores petabytes of content around the world, and is linked directly to dozens of Internet Service Providers to allow easy access. This CDN is powered by home-grown storage and video distribution systems, including Origin servers and Edge cache servers. Similarly, YouTube’s content, now watched for over 1 billion hours per day, is stored in enormous Google data-centers. Purpose-built servers and storage arrays hold two copies of all content for instant access, and a 3rd copy of the most important content is held for back-up on digital tape systems.
The monetization conundrum
“Build it and they will come.” This well-known phrase can send shivers down the spine of many modern business leaders. “Will they really?” is a natural and immediate response for most. That said, if you don’t build it and someone else does, will they get first-mover advantages and the lion’s share of the revenues?
In a media business, what needs to be built? Content and access.
The Media and Entertainment industry has long held that content is king, but as content methods have evolved and high-quality production tools have become accessible to the general public, the value of accessibility of content has caught up with the value of the content itself. High profile content, like sports and leading entertainment still attract the premium value in the market, but ease and cost of access is a primary value-driver for many consumers. Because of services from the likes of iTunes and YouTube, people have become accustomed to accessing content they want immediately. And the choice is so vast that if they can’t access the content now, they will probably look for other content that they can. Today’s younger generations have grown up this way, and it’s highly likely that this desire for immediate access will endure.
Content producers have content that has value. But what about access to that content? This is where legacy video infrastructure creates problems. In an ideal world, content would exist in an environment where it could be accessed easily by anyone who is allowed to consume it. For consumer access, a price may need to be paid in a subscription or in a pay-per-access model. For operational access within the business, the person will be authenticated and able to immediately access what they need. Legacy infrastructure in a media business is generally not suited to this paradigm, and is why it wouldn’t work for Netflix or YouTube.
Making access easier
Legacy infrastructure in media environments stores content away in places that are not easily accessible. Tapes in vaults, or tapes in tightly controlled tape robot libraries, cannot be made easily accessible. They are an intrinsic part of the linear broadcast revenue stream, and they aren’t designed to be accessed for on-demand content. In fact, they aren’t designed to be accessed at all for instantaneous video streaming or download by many, many users. They are best used for pure archive and back-up requirements, when content doesn’t need to be immediately accessible or when it will be rarely accessed.
Files on disks are much more accessible and enable both consumers and operational teams to access content quickly, although there is still a need to tightly control access to systems that support the linear broadcast operation. The problem with most disk-based storage today is that the legacy storage systems are file-based. There are design limitations for simultaneously scaling the storage capacity and performance, which means the systems can lose performance under heavy load, and the storage architecture has to be pre-defined according to expected future capacity requirements. Disk-based systems have also typically been much more expensive to own and operate than the tape-based systems. Consequently, the majority of a media business’s content remains in the tape library, while a small percentage is made available in the disk-based storage system. Content then has to be removed from the disk-based storage to make room for the new content. But what if someone wanted to get to the content that is now on the tape? It either won’t happen at all, or it will happen slowly as content is moved from tape to disk.
So, what can be done to make content accessible in a cost-effective way? Storage technologies have evolved rapidly in recent years to support the on-demand internet world. Open-source initiatives, like Ceph, are creating storage systems in a similar way as Linux has done for operating systems. Commodity hardware has become powerful enough to support all Media & Entertainment use cases, with spinning disk, solid state disk and memory-based storage enabling different price points for different business requirements. The underlying foundations of storage systems for media have moved into a new world where the hardware layer and the core “storage engine” are standardizing and achieving compelling price points. Intelligence is being abstracted into the storage software layer to manage specific storage transactions like managing capacity, managing access, and protecting data.
Object storage has arrived
These recent changes create a storage platform that can last well into the future. But perhaps most importantly, alongside these changes has emerged a new form of storage technology – object storage. Object storage fundamentally changes how data storage works, and has been designed to support key media business requirements, including very large file sizes, mass-metadata creation and protection, use of commodity hardware, and expanding capacity flexibly to extremely large volumes. Object storage software on disk-based hardware is what modern Media organizations should use to replace tape and make content easily accessible.
Modernize to monetize
Media & Entertainment companies already have lots of original content. The new entrants to the industry are playing catch-up and spending a huge amount of money on original-content creation and acquiring content rights. But most media companies’ content is generally locked away in inaccessible storage facilities, unable to generate revenue unless someone moves it to a place where it can be accessed. So, the business challenge is about how to make all that content more easily accessible. Accessibility is governed in significant part by the technology platform used for storing the content. Media businesses that want to follow the Netflix and iTunes models, making their content significantly easier to access, need to ensure their storage technology can support this model. Object storage overcomes the limitations of tape and file-based storage systems, helping you to modernize your operation and monetize your content.