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special report quality control

Today’s broadcast industry works within a very different business environment than that of 10 years ago. Gone is the monopoly of a passive linear viewing process dictated by programme schedules to be replaced by many viewing devices enabling consumers to access content on demand in different resolutions, at a time and place to suit themselves. In this brave new world, progressive media organisations see a host of new revenue generating opportunities where existing content can create significant new revenue streams across a range of channels to market. Before launching into relatively uncharted waters, these progressive players will look at the challenge from an enterprise perspective (rather than jumping into the technical detail immediately). They will identify the critical success factors in these new business models and they will identify the importance of quality control - making sure that across all their operations, every form of the media file that they offer consumers is high quality, resilient and fit for purpose. Bruce Devlin, CTO at AmberFin, reports.

Furthermore, it is not just a matter of applying standards conversion, but also of implementing it well - which will greatly increase the value of the content on international markets. Whether the content is destined for the North American, Asian or European market, to be watched at home on an HDTV or on the move via a smartphone, the media files need to be transformed into an appropriate form for that application and market. With the evolution of file-based

QC in file-based workflows O

ften, the market for content will be international, which means that there is an implicit need for standards conversion.

Bruce Devlin, CTO at AmberFin.

Underlying all these operations are two mission critical requirements: efficiency and quality. The panacea that modern media

workflows this transformation, or transcoding process, has become more accessible. However, there remains the important issue of quality control - being certain that the quality of each media form is consistent and at a level that the content owner requires. Quality control (QC) is an important

part of bringing content into broadcasters’ workflows and archives. Broadcasters industry-wide spend a large proportion of their revenue on acquiring content, but this content cannot be monetised by a broadcaster until it has successfully made it into the business’ workflow. The central purpose of any media

facility (or media factory as they have become today with industrialised workflow processes) is to capture and store content, repurpose it according to market demand and then to distribute it across a range of platforms and channels to market.

Quality control is a business process that costs money. In today’s multi-format file-based workflows QC is an essential pre-requisite of efficient business operations. The $64 million question is what is the right amount of money to invest and where should it be invested?

factories strive for is to harness automation in ways that increase efficiency and profitability throughout the operation, and reduce pressure on staff to implement QC procedures whilst still enabling an appropriate human touch to ensure absolutely that the required quality is being achieved consistently across all forms of media output. Automating QC lowers the cost of

bringing content into the business. The challenge is to strike the right balance between QC automation and QC reliability so that whether ingesting content from tape or transcoding a file, a good QC methodology gives the opportunity to identify problems with files and the processes that made them in a timely manner, thereby saving money. Modern media facilities want their

transcode farm to run reliably and hands-free, but they also need to make sure that upstream changes affecting the input to the farm do not impact its stability. The commercial efficiency of a media facility is a peculiar mix of the type of content that flows through it, the technical quality of the output, the capital cost of equipment, the throughput of the software, the cost of rejects, reworks and mistakes and the cost of the operators. QC can impact many of these costs. Implemented strategically, QC can

reduce reject rates, improve technical quality, generate metadata for more

78 l ibe l september/october 2012 l

intelligent workflows and improve the effectiveness of operational staff. All of these have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Real world economics - it’s not just about quality

Performing QC costs money - so just how much money should a business seek to spend on it? Quality control is similar to an insurance policy in that you do it to prevent bigger problems occurring in the future. In today’s fluid environment,

consumers are still getting used to new delivery platforms and a bad experience can put them off using a new device. Often, that bad experience can be attributed to problems in the media file rather than in the hardware device. For this reason, QC assumes a new and critical importance - making sure that the media content offers reliable playback in all its forms. As a general rule, the cost of

implementing QC should be less than the cost of the problems that it will be fixing (otherwise what's the point). In a world where there is only a restricted number of file variants this is straightforward, but today we see a growing proliferation of new distribution platforms, requiring a wide range of file types, all of which need analysis and verification before they leave the media facility. Whereas each distribution platform

offers revenue generating possibilities, there is a situation where some applications will offer far more value than others and these media types

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