Google's Anil Jain: How Media Companies Can Navigate the New Norm with Cloud Technology (Guest Blog)

From the explosion of new programming to the launch of high-profile streaming services, 2020 was on track to be a transformational year in media and entertainment. 

But at the same time, the industry fully expected many of its foundational elements—windowing strategies, live events, production standards—to remain unchanged.

All that shifted with COVID-19. Suddenly, the future came early, with many media companies facing difficult challenges like accelerating and evolving direct-to-consumer business models while at the same time keeping workers and productions physically distanced.

(Image credit: Google)

As companies transition from short-term response to long-term planning, many are contemplating how differently the industry might look in the months and years to come. To navigate this change, organizations must keep new audience behaviors top of mind as well as embrace cloud computing to drive changes in three key areas:

1. Scale new monetization channels and engage audiences through data 

As audiences remained stuck at home during the pandemic’s early stages, linear viewing saw a temporary increase in consumption—driven by specific formats such as news. But that consumption returned to pre-lockdown levels as restrictions were lifted in certain regions.

By contrast, many streaming subscription services saw consistent increased adoption. In fact, nine percent of U.S. households took up a new SVOD service in Q2 2020. The surge in streaming consumption seems to be more resilient than its linear counterpart, as U.S. time spent with streaming services in June 2020 was roughly 50 percent above its 2019 level

In contrast to the Pay TV bundle, today’s streaming audiences have access to much more choice and freedom in their entertainment options. These viewers have shown both a preference to stack multiple services—and a higher propensity to churn. As the pandemic affects discretionary spending across the world, audiences will look to save on entertainment costs, making SVOD services more attractive than traditional Pay TV bundles, as well as driving an increased adoption of AVOD services. 

As a result, media organizations must reassess how to streamline existing broadcast operations and costs. They must invest in building technology platforms that can handle unpredictable streaming demand seamlessly, while also deriving deeper audience insights from their data in order to drive audience engagement, retention, and monetization. For example, leading British broadcaster ITV  built a video analytics solution on cloud infrastructure to better monitor events on their VOD service, ITV Hub.

2. Produce new content remotely and maximize the value of library content

While distribution channels may change, content still remains the industry’s crown jewel. Content breadth, exclusivity, and original content are some of the top reasons that audiences adopt streaming services. That’s why maximizing the value of both library and new content has never been more critical.

Content production has also been disrupted by the pandemic. Physical productions have paused across the world, only slowly starting to resume once again. And for content that has made it through the complex post-production process, the global shuttering of theatrical exhibition has forced many blockbuster titles to debut on streaming services—radically altering windowing strategies and the economic models that come with it. 

Media companies have resorted to boundless creative strategies to keep content production lines open. Formats that can be created remotely such as animation are experiencing a boom, and live events such as news and sports have established new remote working processes in record time.

Content production has been on the rise for years, but the temporary halt in production has been a silver lining for media companies; this pause has presented an opportunity to step back and implement more digital, collaborative, streamlined, and global production and management processes, supported by the cloud. Whether it’s streaming old sports games or enticing new users with hundreds of hours of free programming, the pandemic has accelerated the digitization and enrichment of extensive back catalogs and archives, to help fill the content gap. 

3. Reimagine the workplace for the future of productivity

Finally, the biggest challenge many companies and industries face has been the shift to remote work. Yahoo Finance utilized video conferencing solutions to keep its broadcast team’s content flowing and audiences engaged. 150 of Yahoo Finance’s editors, reporters, and anchors used Google Meet to deliver news and video streams on air from locations across the U.S. and London to tens of millions of viewers live, transitioning to a 100 percent remote broadcast model overnight.

As the industry navigates a new working norm, many media company offices will require thoughtful consideration of which tasks can be automated or done remotely, and exactly how much real estate is required to maintain operations.

Decisions are likely to be different by functions. Post-production staff, visual effects artists, and video editors can utilize virtual workstations and editing applications to complete their work remotely, while central teams such as finance, sales, and marketing can utilize video conferencing services to stay connected no matter where they are. But some essential personnel—lightweight studio production teams and on- prem playout teams—will need to still come into the office.

Continued innovation in the face of unprecedented change

This year has been one of unexpected and accelerated change for all, but the ingenuity, innovation, and determination of media companies to continue delivering critical news, information, and entertainment to audiences across the world has been extraordinary. Cloud technologies can help the media industry continue to innovate in the face of unprecedented challenges.