“Glass to glass” is an elegant phrase which describes the process by which a piece of content goes from the first screen (the camera lens) to the last (the screen on which a viewer watches a piece a clip, TV show or movie). This description, however, masks a world of complexity in the number of steps it takes for content to move from creation to consumption.

By my calculation, there are around thirty links in that chain including ingest, encoding / transcoding, editorial and technical metadata provision, asset management, DRM, workflow, CMS, CRM, security and watermarking, storage, video player and content discovery and recommendation.

And then there’s content distribution. Naively, I’d thought that this was a relatively settled process. After all, we know the major OTT device families (computers, games consoles, phones, set-top boxes, tablets and TVs), we’re familiar with the big platforms (Amazon, Apple, Hulu, Netflix, Roku, Sky etc.) and we know their working practices.

But in practice, content distribution is getting more, not less complicated. A friend of mine, who then worked for one of the biggest broadcasters and content producers in the world, described it thus (paraphrasing):

Take a piece of content that you created. You sell it to the BBC. But you don’t really sell it to the BBC. You sell it FIRST to the BBC because that’s your local market. And you sell it based on its scheduled broadcast. You sell the catch-up VOD rights for iPlayer separately (albeit that the BBC now insists on this). And if it’s going to BritBox, for SVOD, you sell that segment too. And if it’s going to UKTV, for AVOD, that’s another sliver. And then there’s a potential DVD release. And then the question for each of these slices is “for how long?”. How long does your content appear on each of these platforms, on which devices? And what happens after those rights expire? Do you sell the content to Amazon or to Netflix or to another player?

Now you go to Switzerland or Romania or Mexico or Germany. For every calculation you’ve already made, now you need to do it again. AGAIN. But what if your preferred linear broadcaster in that country is commercial and not a PSB? Now you’re not just straight-selling but maybe based on a cut of the advertising revenue. What if they want the VOD rights not just for catch-up but for five years? After that, what if Roku wants first dibs and then Netflix takes over? What if the cable operator wants rights in perpetuity (not that that would happen)?”

Now factor in delivering in content, at the right times, with the right technical and editorial metadata, and DRM and rights management, in the right languages, to all of those broadcasters, services and platforms...

 And then there’s Alexa and “Hey, Google” and the whole voice discovery thing. Let’s not talk about AR / VR, right now.”

We didn’t but this is a topic that I’m going to write more about this year. 

About the author : Kauser Kanji

I've been working in online video since 2005 and have held senior roles at NBC Universal, ITN and Virgin Media. I've also completed VOD projects for the BBC, Netflix, Sony Pictures and a host of broadcasters and service-providers all over the world. Catch me on our weekly debate show, OTT Question Time, or drop me a line on LinkedIn.

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