With Azure available in 24 regions worldwide, Microsoft is growing its cloud capacity enabling broadcasters to stay ahead of the curve
Tony Emerson outlines how Microsoft is helping broadcasters to meet the needs of a new generation of audience
A report in The Independent recently covered a 2015 Microsoft consumer study on the impact of digital lifestyles on attention span. “In 2000, the average attention span was 12 seconds, but this has now fallen to just 8. The goldfish is believed to be able to maintain a solid 9,” it said.
It’s worth bearing this in mind when thinking about the future of broadcasting. What’s for sure is that the future isn’t about primetime viewers watching TV from 8-11pm daily. It’s not about a family viewing together in the lounge. It’s not about a season of new programmes released in September. And it’s not about advertisers creating blanket campaigns for a broad general market, or even about them creating creepy targeted advertising.
In my opinion, the future of broadcasting revolves around a number of key trends that we are witnessing as a result of working with some of the biggest companies in the industry.
The first of these trends is the ability to reach totally new audiences. Take Fuji TV, for example. The company has selected Microsoft’s Azure Cloud to deliver cloud-based live streaming securely and globally. The results have been impressive. It has achieved availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and has found that it can reach a much wider audience by delivering content on a number of devices.
NBC is another example. It has found that millennials typically spend 34% of TV time online – triple the rate of non-millennials. With this in mind it is leveraging the cloud to provision new digital channels and reach new audiences.
Another trend we’re seeing is the ability for broadcasters to better capitalize on existing rights. The Sochi Winter Olympics is a case in point here. It is working with five broadcasters across 22 counties to ensure it gets a proper return on its investment in rights for broadcasting sport. The numbers are tremendous. At the US vs Canada semi-final hockey game, for example, it achieved 2.1 million viewers.
Unlocking new niche markets is also important – and this has been exemplified by the Next Generation Sports Network (NGSN). Recently the company acquired the broadcasting rights for seven European and South American soccer leagues. NGSN plans to deliver the games live and on-demand through its website and expand worldwide. Using Microsoft Azure as its platform, NGSN built a scalable solution that can not only serve millions of subscribers when it’s game time, but also supports the entire video workflow from end to end – essentially a broadcast and production facility in the cloud, including live ingestion and commentary, live encoding, live and on-demand broadcasting, and user apps for iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Xbox and more.
Getting closer to the audience is a further trend – and as simple as this may sound, it’s a challenge for broadcasters who historically have served a largely anonymous audience and did not know much about that audience. At the same time, broadcasters will find themselves competing against popular entertainment and sports ‘brands’ like actors, bands, athletes, and sports clubs, who set up their own online video offerings which sometimes attract more viewers than the broadcasters’ entertainment and sports coverage. A good example for this is Real Madrid. The world’s biggest sports franchise owns a wealth of content – recording of their past games and club events – and set up a website to make this available to fans. It also analyzed social media data and discovered a surprising truth – just 5% of its followers were based in Spain! To meet the needs of its global fan base it has since created an app to connect to its fans, and provide them with relevant content.
Austrian broadcaster ORF and the European Broadcasting Union, meanwhile were able to stand up the entire infrastructure for the vastly popular Eurovision Song Contest, which is broadcast across 45 networks and reaches 200 million people worldwide, using the Microsoft Cloud. Using Office 365, Yammer and Microsoft Azure for the back-end infrastructure, ORF and EBU delivered apps for audience voting online, supported more than 1,700 journalists covering the event, and connected hundreds of volunteers along with countless TV stations and other partners.
Using social sentiment to get better insight is another area where we’re witnessing rapid uptake. Sky, for example, is analyzing social network activity to decide when to switch out of a programme for an advert. We’re increasingly seeing solutions such as that from IMGROUP, a Hitachi Consulting company, which can leverage data from social networks to analyze viewership and determine which audiences – age groups, genders, income brackets – have been watching a certain programme, and what kind of social media resonance that programme is creating. During a political debate, for example, IMGROUP is able to analyze spikes in activity on Facebook and Twitter around certain keywords and perform sentiment analysis on those comments.
With all this in mind, there’s no question that innovation in broadcasting is happening right now, and that the way we consume media content is changing too. Microsoft is working hard to enable broadcasters to stay ahead of the curve. We’re spending between US$4 billion and US$4.5 billion a year on growing our cloud capacity and today Azure is available in 24 regions around the world – that’s more than Amazon and Google combined.
Broadcasters historically have taken years or months to create and instrument new live digital channels. Azure Media Services Live Streaming makes this happen in weeks or days and gives content owners the opportunity to scale or add capabilities in minutes to meet market demands.
Tony Emerson is managing director of the worldwide media and cable industry at Microsoft