Integrated and automating marketing campaign production


James Gilbert TV-Bay Magazine
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ITV, as an integrated producer broadcaster, creates, owns and distributes high-quality content on multiple platforms. It operates the largest commercial family of channels in the UK and delivers its content through traditional television broadcasting as well as on demand via the ITV Hub. ITV has the largest share of the UK television advertising market and its family of channels attracted a total share of viewing of 21.4% in 2016, the largest audience of any UK commercial broadcaster. ITV's main channel is the largest commercial channel in the UK, delivering 99% of all commercial audiences over five million. *

Given the large number of channels and variants, creating marketing campaigns for programmes across the networks involved processing a large number of versions. Skilled editors were spending less time being creative, and more time changing details in graphics: each trailer might have versions for "coming soon", "next week", "next Thursday", "tomorrow" and "later tonight", as well as different durations and cross-channel promotions.

There was clearly scope for more seamless, more efficient ways of working.

As well as considering how best to introduce automation where practical, ITV also wanted to streamline the mechanisms by which media planners and producers created and realised the promotional process from the very outset.

ITV generates more than 1,000 promo versions a month, delivered to its broadcast and digital channels. This was a highly manual technical process fraught with production challenges - and a process ITV wanted to transform into a marketing driven self-service model.

The system needed to work for everyone and become a single source of truth, so getting the marketing teams, creatives and media planners involved at prototype stage meant they were able to influence the design of the user interface and really make it their own. Technically the challenge was to integrate multiple systems and design and build the bespoke user interface so everything would work together seamlessly and enable automation of the versioning process. This is how it works:

Once the video, audio and data is assembled, the versions should be generated automatically, replacing details of branding and transmission times as required. Finally, the complete batch of versioned promos should be made available for checking by the marketing and compliance teams, whenever and wherever is convenient for them. Typically there is time pressure on promo production, and this process is designed to ease these pressures.

The automated versioning is handled by Factory from Pixel Power, an application on the Gallium workflow orchestration platform, with a software-defined graphics foundation based on the highly-acclaimed Clarity platform. Factory accepts the master edit created in Avid, draws any additional material it needs from the broadcaster's asset management system, and generates each version, very quickly and without any operator intervention.

Critical to the practical success of Factory, though, is ensuring that accurate information is made available to its automation layer. While Pixel Power does supply a simple user interface, it is much more powerful when closely integrated into the overarching campaign workflow.

ITV has done a considerable amount of work developing a bespoke campaign management system, called ITV Phoenix. Its aim is to create an overarching single interface that works for everyone.

ITV worked with media systems integrators NMR and software partners Cantemo, Vidispine and Codemill to develop ITV Phoenix. The system manages the end-to-end process of media planning, marketing, production, compliance, versioning (through the integration with Pixel Factory) and delivery. It has turned time consuming technology-heavy and office-based processes into a one click, self-service experience.

Users were heavily involved in the design phase. User interface specialist 100 Shapes was called in to the project to design a highly intuitive user interface that is simple to use and has kept training requirements to a minimum.

Today, a media planner creating a suite of promos enters the information into the system, and instantly gets a JPEG of the endboard of the trailer. This allows the operator to check that all the elements are correct: not just spellings and transmission times but other campaign details like social media calls to action. Accepting this JPEG then creates the work order for the original creative edit, and for the automated versioning.

"The Pixel Power solution means all the teams involved get immediate visual feedback through endboards in our bespoke campaign management process," said Nick Haworth, head of technology, studios, at ITV. "It is this level of system integration that removes the opportunity for errors. Now the marketing and creative production teams know what the campaign will look like right away, and that all the data is correct at the start of the process."

Factory packages the trailers and sends them, complete with appropriate metadata, back into ITV's campaign management system. There they can be viewed and approved by the marketing and compliance teams and, once checked, can be sent to ITV's broadcast playout centres.

The original edit is sent to an automated quality control system (and to manual QC if necessary), then checked by the commissioning campaign manager. The system can deliver this online, so the commissioner can check it on a phone or tablet if they are not at a desk. They then have the opportunity to skip the QC stage for all the versions, which will essentially be technically the same, just with different text in the graphics.

"The solution eliminates repetitive work, allowing our creative staff to focus on what they do best," said Matt Scarff, Director of ITV Creative & ITV Events. "Together with our campaign management system, ITV Phoenix, it will help us achieve our ambition of becoming the UK's best in-house creative agency."

James Gilbert, CEO of Pixel Power, added "To be efficient and agile, broadcasters have to work smart. "That is precisely the thinking behind our automation products like Factory. We let editors concentrate on creating great promos; we let campaign managers concentrate on building audiences. Factory takes away the repetitive tasks and the risk of error, delivering automated content quickly, accurately and to the highest quality."


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Contributing Author James Gilbert

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