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Telecom Imprint: Media and entertainment houses deploy new technologies to augment business

November 29, 2013
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Valued at Rs 830 billion, the Indian media and entertainment segment has witnessed significant growth over the past year. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), India, rapid digitisation and continued growth of regional media and the film industry have contributed to a year-on-year expansion of 20 per cent in the market size, from Rs 805 billion in 2011 to Rs 965 billion in 2012.

According to India Entertainment & Media Outlook 2013, a joint report by the Confederation of Indian Industry and PwC, the television and print segments have dominated the media and entertainment industry, with about 40 per cent and 22 per cent revenue contribution in 2012. On the other hand, internet-based content and films accounted for about 18 per cent and 12 per cent of the industry revenues respectively for the same period.

Going forward, the Indian media and entertainment industry is likely to be valued at Rs 2.25 trillion by 2017, witnessing a compound annual growth rate of 18 per cent from 2012.

To drive further growth in the media and entertainment segment, companies are increasingly deploying telecom tools such as digital platforms to provide content to customers. Several leading broadcasters have already launched or partnered with mobile video delivery providers like Apalya, Geodesic, ZengaTV, DigiVive and iStream. Google is also reported to be licensing entertainment and sports content for its YouTube website. Further, there is an increased demand for online content such as music, videos and live streaming with over 227 million customers accessing these applications through their smartphones, computers or tablets. Moreover, according to ComScore, online video consumption in India has doubled to 3.7 billion videos per month over the past two years. Globally, India ranks third in terms of viewing videos online through personal computers or laptops, and fourth with regard to watching videos on handsets.

The efficient delivery of live and on-demand content on multiple platforms is achieved through robust communication networks. This requires a multi-tiered network, which includes VPNs, VSATs and synchronous transport module links.

Although the print segment witnessed slow adoption of telecom and IT systems, these systems have now permeated every level of business operations. The process of automation in this segment started on a small scale in the mid-1970s with the introduction of facsimile editions of newspapers, printed simultaneously in production centres located across the country. The transmission of pages through IT systems started much later in 1990 and registered a considerable increase in production levels.

Today, several print media houses have made a shift to online channels. However, industry analysts point out that these players are usually slow to monetise their content effectively and the success stories are few and far between. Among the leading players, HT Media’s digital segment witnessed an 18 per cent increase in revenues to Rs 138 million in the third quarter of 2013-14 from Rs 117 million in the same period in 2012-13. HT Mobile registered 40 per cent growth during the third quarter of 2012-13 while both HTCampus.com and Shine.com witnessed a revenue growth of 30 per cent. Similarly, Times Internet Limited (part of The Times Group) has established 24 domains across categories such as online news, e-commerce, music and video applications, and has achieved a viewership of over 30 million per month. Apart from leveraging online mediums, print media houses deploy MPLS technologies, leased lines, ISDN lines, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, business intelligence tools, etc. to deliver content efficiently.

The film industry has also shifted from releasing physical prints of films to digital distribution. The digital format’s share in distribution increased from about 50 per cent in 2010 to 80-90 per cent in 2012. This has also enabled production houses to expand their market reach significantly. Distributors are now able to earn revenues in a shorter time frame through same-day releases across theatres and pre-sale of screening rights. Moreover, promotional activities for films are leveraging social media platforms, portals and search engines. In fact, some players have also developed mobile applications for promoting films. Basic telecom tools such as Wi-Fi and DSL connectivity, optic fibre and copper networks, VPNs, leased lines and point-to-point Ethernet networks are also being used for day-to-day operations.

Going forward, media and entertainment companies are likely to continue with their focus on deploying new technologies while upgrading or enhancing their existing set-up. According to industry analysts, technologies such as cloud computing, big data, embedded devices, augmented reality and mobility, and social media-based solutions are expected to witness high uptake in the coming years.

tele.net surveyed various companies in the media and entertainment segment to assess their telecom requirements and solutions, the challenges faced by them and likely future plans. The following questions were asked in the survey:

•   What are the organisation’s key technology requirements?

•   What mix of service providers and vendors is used?

•   What are the biggest concerns with respect to telecom infrastructure?

•   What are some of the mobility and enterprise applications implemented by the organisation?

•   Which network security tools are used?

•   Which redundancy tools are being used?

•   Which new product or service is of relevance for the company?

 Key technology requirements

The results of the survey highlight that key technology priorities for companies in this segment are optimising their existing voice telephony infrastructure, transferring data to a secure platform, deploying network security policies and keeping abreast of the latest developments in technology. Over the past year, most of the respondents took steps to optimise their existing voice infrastructure. This process included expanding the scope of their centralised infrastructure management system, deploying various internet-based conferencing systems and addressing the demand for cloud-based offerings from new markets and customers.

For example, R.S. Kandari, systems head, The Asian Age, says that the company enhanced its voice communications set-up to incorporate various internet-based conference systems for face-to-face meetings, webinars and videoconferencing. This included the Cisco WebEx web conferencing facility, the GoToMeeting service and the Google Hangout platform. Similarly, Spice Global has deployed videoconferencing equipment, audio bridges and various messaging platforms for internal and external communication.

For their data requirements, the respondents have deployed a multi-tiered communications infrastructure, comprising a mix of standard telecom and IT tools. Business Standard Limited (BSL), for instance, has established a robust telecom set-up. According to Apurba K. Kundu, deputy general manager, systems, BSL, the company has  deployed a telecom set-up comprising a mix of MPLS and leased line links with varying bandwidth of 256 kbps to 6 Mbps based on the company’s requirement, which ensures intranet connectivity among its various locations across the country. The MPLS links were supplied by Sify Technologies and Tata Communications Limited (TCL), while the leased lines were sourced from Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). BSL has also opted for internet connectivity from Sify Technologies and TCL.

Other respondents such as entertainment majors Reliance Broadcast Network Limited (RBNL) and Eros International have a relatively simple communications set-up. RBNL currently uses VSATs, leased lines and ISDN lines for the transmission of audio broadcasts from its studio to the transmitter (called the studio transmitter link). Meanwhile, Eros International has deployed leased lines, IPLCs, ISDNs, ATM/frame relays, the internet and MPLS.

Notably, mobile and web-based television service provider ZengaTV uses the cloud platform extensively along with other telecom tools. According to Shabir Momin, managing director, ZengaTV, the cloud platform was an obvious choice due to its “pay-as-you-go” model, which involves no capital investment. Moreover, the set-up is flexible and allows the company to scale up its infrastructure depending on the requirement.

Apart from a cloud-based backbone, the company uses VPNs, synchronous transport module (STM) links and VSATs. VSATs have been deployed for downlinking the satellite feeds used for streaming content for live channels. Once the feeds are downlinked, the company uplinks it to its private cloud infrastructure. Thereafter, procedures such as encoding and transcoding, and making additions or insertions to the content and streaming it live take place on the cloud. A 155 Mbps STM link to connect to the VSAT is also used.

To enhance overall functionality, the respondents have also leveraged several IT tools as part of their communications set-up. For instance, BSL has deployed an ERP system, which is supported by several software platforms that are developed in-house. The company also has the IBM Lotus Domino platform in place for providing a mailing and messaging solution. The platform also supports the company’s intranet along with workflow applications such as online leave and travel.

Spice Global has been using the SAP ECC version 6.0 platform since 2010. This includes modules such as financial accounting and controlling, materials management, sales and distribution, payroll, enterprise portal and business intelligence. The company has also deployed IBM’s BladeCenter with an HA configuration.

A few respondents have established data centres as well. BSL uses Netmagic’s data centre to co-locate the company’s website in Mumbai. Its in-house data centres are located in Delhi and Mumbai, and the one in Mumbai is used to ensure disaster recovery for some of its applications. This internal data centre is equipped with high-end blade servers and advanced storage technologies.

Similarly, Spice Global’s data centre is located at its mobility arm S Mobility’s head office in Noida, and is hosted on an IBM BladeCenter. On the other hand, ZengaTV’s data centre is used to downlink content and manage various services offered by the company. The entertainment major runs 150 channels that are connected to seven satellite dishes, and the data centre downloads the satellite frequency and converts it into digital format before pushing the content to the cloud. It also contains the company’s own propriety encoders, which run encoding functions and push it to the cloud.

 Service providers and vendors

The media and entertainment majors included in the survey have opted for the services of multiple operators and IT vendors. These include Sify Technologies, TCL, MTNL, BSNL, Cisco, Google, SAP, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Amazon, Hughes Communications India Limited, Wipro, IBM, Oracle, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent.

Issues and concerns

The high cost of bandwidth, adoption of new technologies by employees, increasing cost of technology and lack of qualified IT staff are the major issues faced by media and entertainment players.

Kandari says, “While our telecommunications infrastructure is functioning at optimal levels, the high cost of bandwidth in India is a key challenge.”

For Spice Global, convincing its employees to deploy new technologies was challenging. “For every change in telecom infrastructure, there is an initial challenge of adoption. However, in course of time, the new set-up is accepted by the employees,” reveals the respondent.

 Mobile and enterprise applications

Every respondent emphasised the importance of using mobility solutions, given that several employees are out in the field. Hence, ensuring streamlined and quick connectivity to the head office is crucial.

To that end, mobility applications such as the Lotus Traveller System, mobile email, data cards, corporate intranet and vehicle tracking are used.

For example, BSL has deployed the Lotus Traveller System, which enables employees in the field to access their official email accounts on their smartphones.

Similarly, Spice Global provides access to information about the company’s sale records, etc. on employees’ handsets.

The most widely used enterprise applications include videoconferencing, business intelligence, web hosting, VoIP and IP telephony.

Spice Global uses dashboards based on the business intelligence tool, which help the company’s top management personnel in decision-making.

Network redundancy

In order to collect and disseminate content rapidly, ensuring adequate network backup is a top priority for these players.

For example, ZengaTV has established several redundancy tools at the regional level, which ensures server backup in case of network latency.

At the regional level, if the company’s servers in Singapore experience high latency or fail to work, the GSLV (a global load balancer) identifies the latency and routes the traffic to Hong Kong or the UK.

 Network security

To secure their network, media and entertainment players have deployed several mediums. For instance, BSL uses a unified threat management medium at all its locations.

ZengaTV has a two-layered security system in place. The company’s infrastructure provider Amazon has implemented firewalls and intrusion detection systems to protect it against external threats. ZengaTV has also created isolation circuits and various other circuits to create its own VPN.

 The road ahead

Modernising and upgrading their telecom networks is a key consideration for all the respondents. Spice Global, for instance, plans to explore the potential of cloud technology in the near future. Meanwhile, ZengaTV is looking at reducing overheads and enhancing the customer experience. To ensure this, the company plans to develop new technologies in the video streaming space.

BSL has a two-pronged strategy in mind for upgrading its IT and telecom set-up. It plans to add a few network links to the existing infrastructure based on requirements. With regard to its IT systems, the company plans to upgrade the software and applications currently being used and purchase new software as well. Currently, it is in the process of replacing dated desktops, laptops and servers, besides upgrading its website. However, the system upgrade will be carried out within budgetary restrictions given the challenging market conditions.

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