Turner International cuts costs and reduces edit times with Sony Media Backbone
By taking an agile approach to software-based systems development, Sony is helping Turner EMEA to automate its content and asset management workflows at a period of rapid change at the company. The cooperation – which has been ongoing for three years – has enabled Turner to achieve significant returns on its technology investment and ultimately bring its content to audiences more quickly and across a range of platforms.
Committed to innovation and development, Turner, a Time Warner company, brings its brands to audiences across the EMEA region via linear channels as well as the web, VOD, DVD, gaming, mobile, merchandising, publishing or emerging platforms. Its portfolio of kids, entertainment, sports and news brands includes Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Cartoonito, Boing, adult swim, Toonami, Warner TV, TCM and TNT, CNN, Great Big Story, Bleacher Report and e-league, as well as new ventures Toonix, in partnership with HBO Nordic, and movie streaming service FilmStruck. In the EMEA region, Turner currently operates 69 channels in 20 languages in 125 countries.
To enable Turner to deliver its growing portfolio, each week its various operational teams prepare hundreds of hours of content in readiness for distribution, starting with finished programmes, usually in the English language, and then reversioning these shows to make them suitable for broadcast in different regions, and in different languages, on a myriad of platforms.
This process involves, among other things, legal compliance, editing, dubbing, subtitling and packaging, the foundation for which is Turner EMEA’s file-based workflow and asset management system based on Sony’s orchestration and integration platform Media Backbone Conductor (MBC).
Installed across its various European offices, MBC coordinates different systems and services, including some from third parties, as part of the end-to-end workflow: receiving, preparing, packaging and delivering content, tracking it along the way. Importantly, it has also helped to increase automation, freeing teams up for the growing volume of content that it needs to process.
Within Turner, this asset management set-up is known as the Turner Media Centre (TMC). The benefits of the TMC are manifold, explains Turner’s Rob Cranfield, director, media supply chain for its EMEA Tech & Ops group: “By enabling a file-based workflow for the compliance teams, TMC has reduced edit time at Turner by 70%, saving money and allowing content to be aired quicker than before. At the same time, by integrating existing and legacy media archives into TMC, users across EMEA are now able to search, view, edit and distribute to content providers over 500,000 media assets, 93,000 hours of SD content and 24,600 hours of HD content. The improved time to market, coupled with the cost and time benefits that allow us to focus more on processing the greater volumes of content we are now handling, are great benefits to us as we continue to grow our portfolio of services.”
Among other advantages, this also allows Turner to deliver its content across many different genres to multiple markets in multiple languages at the same time.
The TMC has increased efficiency, too, upping the number of transcodes completed each year by 56% and making it possible to create 48% more VOD/Mobile/Online deliverables, in line with Turner EMEA’s expansion into more multi-platform propositions.
Unlike some software development projects, TMC was not implemented in the traditional way of specify-design-build-deliver. Instead, to allow Turner additional flexibility and to ensure that it can quickly react to change and realise any business benefits, an agile approach has been adopted to serve Turner’s evolving needs.
The agile agreement gives Turner a set number of available ‘ideal developer days’. This allows it to decide on the required functionality for the TMC and then receive new code from Sony’s team each month. This code is then deployed into the live system where the features can be shown to users and tested. Once users are happy, the project moves onto the next stage.
This approach allows Sony to pinpoint what can be automated in an incremental fashion, saving time and reducing manual costs with each tweak rather than waiting months for finished features, fixes and updates.
From Turner’s perspective, it allows it to test the internal market. A feature can be added to the TMC without huge amounts of time and money being spent on development. The users then quickly get the chance to check that the delivered functionality is what they asked for in the first place.
The alternative, and the way that many software systems are traditionally developed, is that programmers spend many months developing something that may not turn out exactly as the user wanted.
Of course, delivering continual change to a live software-based system that is in constant use presents certain challenges.
To address this, Sony has devised working practices to minimise the risks. These include: delivering changes in small, incremental chunks; testing in the customer environment; offering regular opportunities for expert users to review and share feedback before going live; and daily communication between teams.
Live system additions
In 2017, a number of new features were successfully added to the live system in this way including the ability to mix, match and manipulate assets and permissions for third parties to automatically request missing material.
Among the features due to be added next is an integrated promo workflow, a remote editing workflow allowing near instance access to content and automatic correction of some content. This allows Turner’s operations to be location-independent and also responsive to changing work patterns as employees can work both onsite or remotely.
Matt Bowers, head of the Professional Solutions team at Sony European Professional Engineering, believes that the agile approach has “put control of the project back into the customer’s hands,” allowing Turner to also stay in control of costs. “Turner knows that it is going to get new and working functionality at the of each five-week cycle and they know that it is going to be the tools, workflows, benefits and functionality that they have asked for,” he explains.
“If Turner needs to change direction because their business priorities have changed, they can do so without going through a lengthy change control process or contract renegotiation. Similarly, working in an agile way there is no need to commit to huge development costs up front that have an unpredictable return. Instead, they can show incrementally the cost and benefit to their business, reporting back to their stakeholders each month and showing the new value that has been added.”
Sony and Turner have committed to working together like this for an extended period so that both parties can follow the process through and readily adapt as required depending on future needs.