SVG Europe Sit-Down: Arqiva’s Piers Godden on ‘Pop-Up Playout’ and IP opportunities
Piers Godden, head of sales, occasional use at Arqiva believes that more needs to be made of the opportunities offered by IP, and that the future will see more one-stop-shops that will provide a full suite of services.
In the half year to 31 December 2016, Arqiva, the UK’s largest independent towers company and communications infrastructure group, enjoyed record revenues and EBITDA (Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation). The figures include revenue up 10% at £466 million, a 13% increase from continuing operations, EBITDA up 11% at £231 million and an order book of £5.6 billion. During that same six-month period, Arqiva increased the capacity of its two main DVB-T Multiplexes to 31 streams, all of which are utilised. According to Godden, this ongoing full utilisation of these Multiplexes and a strong period of sales with high quality customers demonstrate the on-going attractiveness to broadcasters of the Freeview DTT platform. So, with a great deal going on, he had a lot to discuss in this wide-ranging interview…
Last year you launched the new cloud-orchestrated Pop-Up Playout service. What exactly is this service – and what has been the take up?
Pop-Up Playout enables wholesale channel generation tailored for the short term or event or themed based channel market. Adopting a ‘best fit’ for application model, Pop-Up Playout is agnostic to on-prem (On-premises software) or public cloud-based playout technologies, utilising best-of-breed systems and bespoke workflows to enable true flexibility. It enables broadcasters, for the first time, to adopt PAYG pricing and contracting models with no long-term commitments. Applications have varied from Christmas themed specials through to the ability for broadcasters to monetise specific brands, shows or series.
What are the key issues facing a multi-solution service provider such as Arqiva in 2017?
The crucial issue for us is to provide a range of products and services that enable flexibility for sport and events customers to monetise and distribute their valuable rights, while at the same time continuing to deliver high levels of service excellence.
The industry and market in which both we and our customers operate are changing at a pace we have never seen before, and ‘one-size-fits-all’ traditional solutions are no longer sufficient.
As a result, Arqiva is investing significant resources in innovation and developing new capabilities, such as virtualised media management and playout; over-the-top content monetisation; IP distribution; and High Throughput Satellite (HTS) for point-to-point distribution services. We are launching alongside our more traditional sport and Occasional Use service offerings, and giving customers a real choice when solving the business issues they face.
Are broadcasters making full use of IP Technology – and if not, what do you think is holding them back?
Most broadcasters today are not yet operating all-IP infrastructure workflows and taking advantage of its numerous benefits. Without the luxury of a greenfield broadcast facility, and wholesale switchover from a legacy broadcast environment, they have to integrate islands of IP and virtualised functions.
In addition to the business justification, guarantees of service availability, technical performance and resistance to security threats are high on the agenda. There is a wider concern about finding IT professionals that understand the traditional broadcast environment, as systems move into IT-centric environments. Many are cautious about the stability of software, and IP network-based real-time functions, and are waiting for products to mature, both technically and commercially.
Remote production is gaining momentum. What can you offer your customers? And do broadcasters and OB providers really grasp what is involved?
We have not seen much of a shift towards remote production as yet, although much of the industry is talking about this as being the way forward. For Arqiva, as this develops further, we will naturally be required to provide an ever increasing service package from site in terms of increased numbers of feeds and, therefore, bandwidth.
There will also be a need to provide even more of a one-stop-shop by providing a full suite of services including video, audio, comms, IP network connectivity, return feeds, etc. In fact, everything that will allow remote production of a full blown sports event. For OB providers, it’s still a watching brief until such time as remote production takes off, even if indeed it does take off to the degree being currently predicted.
Thinking about sports production, have the demands of broadcasters and OB providers changed over recent years when it comes to the services you offer?
To us the demands remain constant – great content delivered without interruption or fuss. The main difference is the volume of content in terms of feeds, data and reverse communications.
Methods are constantly changing but that is where we add value by staying ahead of the curve and ensuring we offer a diverse range of solutions to fit our customers’ budget.
Is Arqiva involved with ‘pay-lite’ services? How does this work and what are the benefits?
‘Pay-lite’ services for us are freemium services – in other words, services with content that could be monetised, as opposed to free content that can’t be monetised.
Therefore, we see a freemium service as a paid service where the revenue comes in less tangible forms – perhaps the ticket prices are subsidised by sponsorship, or the content is free to access as part of a marketing or subscriber growth objective. Maybe the content is monetised via targeted advertising, using data captured during the sign-up process. This is the benefit of freemium – it allows for creative pricing approaches, but without undermining the value of the content, which would be the result of simply giving content away for free.
Because of this, we see little difference between ‘pay-lite’ and paid services – consumers see the content in the same way and have the same service expectations: good picture quality, a slick UI, good customer care etc. We see a strong market for the direct-to-consumer delivery of sports content, and have developed a single managed service proposition to enable rights holders to monetise both freemium and paid content.
Finally, do you have a case study that illustrates what you can do for a sports broadcaster?
Considered to be the greatest football league in the world, the Premier League is broadcast to 900 million households in over 200 territories – a colossal feat that is reliant on Arqiva’s satellite distribution services. The close working partnership enjoyed by Arqiva and IMG’s Premier League Productions (PLP) has allowed for the consistent global delivery of high-quality football content during the past nine seasons. This includes coverage of all 380 Premier League matches each season, a catalogue of supplementary programming and the Premier League Content Service and a 24/7/365 High Definition ‘Channel’ for international licensees outside Europe.
The advanced ‘roll-off’ filtering technology allows the transmission of a higher bit-rate without any need for additional satellite bandwidth – providing the equivalent of a 15 per cent improvement in efficiency. Arqiva’s innovative use of statistical multiplexing has also had a significant impact, improving efficiency within each three-channel Main Match-Mux – consisting of World Feed, Wide Shot/In-Match ISOs and Interview Line/Tactical Camera. This increased flexibility has allowed PLP to maximise its available bandwidth and enhance the amount of content that is made available to the licensees as part of its ‘Core’ offering.
The Premier League continues to innovate and raise production values for its international licensees in-keeping with its status as the world’s leading football league. Since Arqiva and IMG’s partnership started, broadcast quality standards have already shifted from SD to HD, with Ultra High Definition (UHD) now the inevitable next step. Arqiva has effectively managed the evolution to this point by implementing new technologies such as statistical multiplexing and NS3 modulation, and conversations about the future are ongoing. In a constantly changing technical landscape there will be a number of next-generation technologies that will have the potential to offer further improved efficiency and/or performance in seasons to come.