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Going All In on Automating the Rights Stuff

As traditional pay TV providers reach more types of screens, and as more over-the-top video players enter the fray, managing and accounting for massive amounts of content — with respect to tricky distribution rights — has become increasingly complex and fragmented. Given the intricacies of those rights, which include the kinds of devices content can be offered on and when (and for how much), rights management systems have been pivoting away from tedious, manual processes to more automated (and accurate) systems powered by the proverbial cloud.

This trend has played into the hands of digital rights management companies such as Mediamorph, which now works with the world’s top 10 content studios, traditional pay TV providers such as Liberty Global, digitally focused distributors such as Cinedigm, and an array of OTT video specialists such as Ellation, a company tied to Otter Media, the AT&T-The Chernin Group joint venture.

Related: Ellation Taps Mediamorph to Manage Content Rights, Contracts

Multichannel News recently caught up with Mediamorph CEO Rob Gardos to discuss how rights management systems have evolved to meet the challenges of multiscreen video and OTT delivery. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: What are your top priorities this year?
Rob Gardos:
I think one of the biggest areas that we’ve been trying to focus on is making the supply chain around publishing as seamless and reliable as the playout experience. You’ve got this mess in the middle, starting from when content providers say, “Get us content that you’re allowed to exploit,” to ultimately that content being made available.

Mediamorph for the past few years has been building — and it has been an uphill battle, I’ll tell you — a lot of the pieces to facilitate the seamless exchange of information: What kind of content is available and when it’s available and how it’s available and what are the financial terms related to its availability. This is the year where that full cycle of content is going upstream seamlessly and money is going downstream seamlessly.

MCN: What’s been the greatest change in rights management in recent years? Is it all now about automation and cloud-powered systems and a move away from more difficult manual processes?
This is not a challenge around rights. This is a challenge around an operational workflow. And it’s something that the industry, I think, is getting a lot better at recognizing as something that is of huge importance.

When I think of the operational workflow, it’s akin to a physical fulfillment workflow — I want a product, I order it, FedEx picks it up, they scan it and it gets delivered. The rights and rules that make up that package all happen beforehand.

What we have found is the need to grab information from all of these different systems to actually execute on that properly. You need to get information rights systems. You need to get information from traditional financial systems, traditional operational fulfillment systems that are internal. Some of the big customers we integrate to [involve] no fewer than 10 systems. And that’s the low number.

The hardest part is … how to normalize [that information] so, essentially, you’re speaking some common language.

MCN: So how do you drive that commonality?
Part of it is this: The more we can embrace standards, the better. We don’t want to recreate the wheel. But the hard part is getting all of this information in and getting it to conform to the standard.

MCN: How has the emergence of over-the-top and multiscreen distribution affected your business? Has that accelerated things?
It’s accelerating things materially. There’s a bunch of new distribution players.

We support specific players that deliver their content over-the-top, including SVOD [subscription video-on-demand] and pure AVOD [ad-based VOD].

But even more so, the traditional MSOs are extending and providing new ways for their customers to consume content. This has happened a lot internationally. You’ve got a variety of legacy platforms that they now have to support — they have set-top box platforms, they have mobile platforms, they have an over-the-top platform.

All of that needs to be centralized. That’s been a huge driver. It increases complexity, and the last thing that these folks want is another set of manual processes and manual profiles and more Excel [spreadsheets] and other things that they use right now. With nearly every implementation … we’re always integrating with a legacy system and some newfangled OTT system.

MCN: Where are you seeing the most growth coming from these days? Is it coming by way of traditional programmers and content suppliers that are pursuing OTT now, or is it from new, pure-play OTTs?
It’s a mix. Some of the traditional players are using it as a vehicle to protect their subscriber-recurring revenue, and some of them — even a few of the traditional players — are looking at ways to increase ARPU [average revenue per user], recognizing full well that they are losing traditional customers who are cutting the cord.

A good [OTT] example is Crunchyroll and Ellation. [Crunchyroll is the anime-focused SVOD service that’s owned by Ellation.] That’s very indicative of new opportunities we have where a provider is reaching critical mass and they need to keep up with all of the content. The ones that are sort of hitting their stride, they quickly realize that the manual processes they have currently are not sustainable. And that’s driving a lot of growth for us.