Opinion

Truth and Dare

In recognition of its newest partnerships, Harris Morris, chairman and CEO of Wazee Digital hosted a casual Q&A session with Phil Lalonde, senior VP, ad sales, Viacom Media Networks during 2018 NAB Show

By Vinita Bhatia

At the 2018 NAB Show, Harris Morris, chairman and CEO, Wazee Digital and Phil Lalonde, senior VP, ad sales, operations, Viacom Media Networks had an informal chat about how the media and entertainment M&E asset management landscape is shaping up. During their discussion, the duo spoke about how the Wazee Digital and Viacom will leverage automated facial recognition and enriched metadata within Wazee Digital Core to identify the talent and provide data back to Viacom. Here are excerpts of their chat:
Harris Morris (HM): What is fascinating when you read the press is that linear advertising doesn’t matter, but that’s where of lot of the revenue comes from. But it’s also where complexity comes from.
Phil Lalonde (PH): It’s where the delivery comes from and how we deliver it. Our rating are like declining across the board, because people are finding different ways to consume.
But that’s great and we embrace that, because we make good content as an industry. Like there are no cats on skateboards; I hate that example, but it is the easiest one to use, and people want to advertise in that ship. Infact, they want to advertise in premium stuff.
So it is about what and where people want to watch. And, as a bunch of technology innovators, system integrators and people that work in operations, we have to figure out how to facilitate this best. After all, at the end of the day they are our clients and are spending the money, so we have to make it easier for them.

HM: You are teeing up my core pitch. While linear is still massively important, where a lot of profits come from, it’s under pressure, combined with all of the digital necessities. And the fact that folks really haven’t cracked how to serve this with efficacy and cost that they want is what’s finally pushing media organisations. We are not always the fastest to adopt, change or embrace things like cloud solutions or rights management. So how does your stuff fit into that?
PL: We are a labour-intensive business and one of our biggest corporate goals is to find efficiency; it doesn’t matter if it is Viacom or ESPN or Discovery. There is a lot of manual work that gets done and technology has advanced pretty far so if there is something that you are taking advantage. At the same time it is a hard thing, because people hold on things like the quality of television signal and they don’t want you to screw things up. But there are ways where it is pretty easy to avoiding screwing things up, while making good content.
HM: At the same time there is also this issue of rights management, where there is pressure on both lowering cost and becoming more efficient, which is increasing over the past few months?
PL: That’s a brilliant topic. When I talk about making good content, it’s a very simplistic statement – you make a good show, but then how do you monetise it, right? Some of the things that my team does is like getting smarter about your programme schedule. Whether it’s on linear or digital, they deliberate on what content works well where, which is a gigantic thing from a delivery and rating perspective for us, and everyone, in the industry.

HM: We talk about rightful audience at whatever price they are willing to pay. But then the delivery costs has to be under that, with some atop it – and you are trying to solve that problem dynamically. While this changes over time, it has some patterns and predictability. Has there been a rise in your clientele saying we have this asset; how can we find everybody on the platform?
PL: I would say, you make a good original shell, it’s going to sell, and it’s going to loop across the platform right. It’s the stuff that just fills the day, so you can optimise it the rest of the day as well. Or there are like seven content pieces, let them pick any of those.

HM: How do you feel about availability? You got this rest of the day you got to fill, and that’s going to be intrinsically some of your lower value content, you got high value content that’s probably more prime time or at least targeted at a very thoughtful part of the daily schedule. But, what if folks want to either save, return to that episode and it’s then chipping away at that lower value, rest of the day. Media comers used to be very scared by this and worry that they would cannibalize their content. So do you make higher value content available all the time on every platform?
PL: I think every media company, whether it’s Viacom or otherwise, is just trying to monetize their content as best they can, whether it is a movie or half-hour show or something we brought the third window of rights to after 14 other networks had it. And you do the best as you can.
We have to fill 24 hours a day, which is still a hard thing and I think we’re trying to figure out how to do that, because you either drive the revenue and also support your digital platforms. It’s a hard balance, because obviously you are not going to run a movie on your digital platform that you are running on VH1, at 2 o’clock on Tuesday. So again, it was actually like a regional content to drive people who want to go to your networks.

HM: Who is the most progressive – even if you had to call out somebody that you could be with –in trying to do the right thing for consumer availability?
PL: CBS has the best content ever.

HM: Just content? What about availability and reach?
PL: The broadcast network is really good at digital. And part of this is because they have eight hours programming a day. I think it’s easier for them to manage, as they don’t have as many originals like we have; 22 cable networks within our group.
And I also want to talk about this cool facial recognition software that you have. We have a large kid’s network that is concerned about content management, standard practices and selling somebody. They look at every commercial we receive, which is a very manual process.
So we ran a little facial recognition software proof-of-concept (POC) with some 100 commercials with you.

HM: Karen from my team will remember the number.
PL: Then we spread out a bunch of metadata about the actors, products, etc., and worked on the animation piece. In terms of automation efficiency and being accurate, if we mess this up, the government will fine us. But this POC works, so we are going to go live.

HM: And the real one would be at scale doing essentially all the ads coming in.
PL: We are just talking about doing ads now. In the future it might help our programming teams do metadata around everything and not just commercials. It is good way for us to grow and learn kind of how to make this intelligence work.

HM: Folks approach digital as a cost problem. All of our solutions, whether it is dynamic archive or digital distribution, are actually revenue-varying solutions. So it’s just how you talk about it. So if you want to think about it as cost, that is okay, but that’s not very customer-centric.
Instead, think about what are you willing to pay for that pixel on that platform delivered that way with that amount of quality. And then think what’s the right cost equation to make a margin, what you are willing to make for what you are invested in that content, or what you are reusing, repurposing what it should earn. And it’s just flipping the way you think about it.

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