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Tele Vision: Media and entertainment industry leverages telecom for better operations

November 30, 2011
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The Indian media and entertainment industry has witnessed healthy growth over the past year. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, increasing investments by the private sector and by overseas media and entertainment majors have improved India’s entertainment infrastructure to a large extent. India today has over 500 television channels and is the largest producer of films in the world with over 1,000 films being made a year.

Given this trend, the media and entertainment industry in India is projected to deliver a compound annual growth rate of 14 per cent to touch $28 billion by 2015, according to a report by KPMG.

Aiming to tap the lucrative business opportunities such growth may entail, media and entertainment majors have invested heavily in a robust and flexible communications infrastructure.

The process of automation in the media industry started on a small scale in the mid-1970s with the introduction of facsimile editions of newspapers, printed simultaneously in production centres located in different parts of the country. Computer-based transmission of pages started much later, in 1990, and boosted production levels considerably. Over the years, telecom has come to play an important role and has moved up the value chain in almost all the core processes of media companies.

Today, several technologies are used extensively. On the networking side, almost all media houses have set up dedicated leased lines, virtual private network (VPN) tunnels, file transfer protocol, high speed internet and fibre optic networks for seamless connectivity. The companies have explored tie-ups with international news agencies, and given journalists remote uplinking facility and digital satellite news gathering (DSNG) kits to enhance news acquisition.

For outdoor broadcasting (OB), an integrated DSNG/OB van is used for uplinking live news from the field to the studio via satellite-based technology. These vehicles, stationed at multiple locations in different cities, have helped media companies achieve deeper penetration and better local coverage. Data cards are also popular. Using these, journalists directly uplink their articles, audio clips and footage.

Companies in the entertainment segment have similar requirements. Their operations mainly involve the production, processing and distribution of entertainment-related content.

With a large number of distributors and branch offices, these companies opt for converged networks and IP-based next-generation networks, which make services available to end-users across a range of access networks.

Entertainment majors also make extensive use of the corporate intranet facility for information sharing and collaboration across the organisation. Also, if linked to corporate databases, it helps in accessing all information on the corporate network through a simple web interface.

Network security is a key priority for media and entertainment companies. To this end, they have deployed various solutions, the most popular ones being firewalls, security audits, access logs and operating system security patches. Applications such as audio- and videoconferencing are also widely used for economical and effective connectivity. Similarly, voice over internet protocol (VOIP) solutions support voice, video and data on the same IP network.

Going forward, cloud computing is expected to catch on in this segment. This platform is expected to give several advantages to companies, including 24x7 access to data as well as an easily scalable infrastructure, through which companies can add or remove resources according to their requirement.

In order to assess the telecom requirements of media and entertainment companies, tele.net recently conducted a survey among a cross-section of companies in this space.

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 is the biggest concern with respect to telecom infrastructure?

•   What are some of the mobility and enterprise applications that the organisaton has implemented?

•   Which network security tools has the organisation implemented?

•   What redundancy tools are being used by the organisation?

•   Which new product or service holds the most interest or relevance for the organisation?

Key technology requirements

The results of the survey suggest that companies in the media and entertainment segment typically deploy a robust telecom system in order to remain agile and responsive. It also helps them increase efficiency, refine internal production processes and reduce unnecessary overheads.

The survey shows that most players in the media and entertainment segment use a mix of EPABX, leased lines, ISDN lines, IP-VPN, VSATs and MPLS to meet their communications requirements.

For example, Business Standard and the Indian Express have opted for an MPLS-based set-up as the basic backbone of their communications infrastructure. Says Sanjeeb Choudhury, senior manager, IT at the Indian Express, “MPLS is at the heart of our telecom set-up. We opted for this technology as it offers us a connectivity-oriented network, which is very reliable. Besides, an MPLS network provides room for dynamic bandwidth allocation and hence can be used to provide bandwidth on demand for a specific period. Further, this technology permits bandwidth to be dedicated for mission-critical applications.”

Apurba Kundu, DGM, systems at Business Standard, says: “Our MPLS set-up has a different bandwidth, for different locations, depending on our requirement. So, the bandwidth ranges from 14-16 Mbps at our major locations to 6 Mbps at our smaller offices.”

Companies like Deccan Chronicles Holdings Limited (DCHL) prefer to use an IP-VPN-based communications network. Mohammad Wasim, systems manager, explains: “Our IP-VPN network is of 1 Mbps and is available to all our offices across the country. This telecom set-up helps to ensure timely delivery of services, reduce overheads and make efficient use of our manpower.”

Entertainment majors typically make use of multi-tiered communications infrastructure. Priyadarshi Verma, chief technology officer at Whistling Woods International (WWI), for example, says the company’s communications set-up comprises leased line connectivity at 10 Mbps, provided by Tulip Telecom; and PRI telephone lines, provided by Reliance Communications (RCOM). Leased lines offer the company always-on connectivity, which supports bandwidth-hungry applications, especially audio- and videoconferencing. Moreover, the medium helps them trim overheads, as it is a cost-effective connectivity option. Also, point-to-point Ethernet is used, which provides high availability, high capacity and network security.

Apart from a standard wide area network, media and entertainment companies also use several last mile technologies to connect to the internet. The survey shows that at least three technologies are used in tandem for this purpose, the most popular being optic fibre, Wi-Max, a copper-based set-up, VPN and Wi-Fi.

The Indian Express uses a combination of an optic fibre network, a copper network and a Wi-Max set-up. Business Standard, too, makes use of a fibre network in conjunction with radio frequency and a copper network, while DCHL uses a leased line network combined with VPN.

Sri Adhikari Brothers Television Network (SABTN) has opted for DSL and Wi-Fi. Apart from standard telecom tools, the respondents also use several IT tools and platforms. Business Standard, for example, uses an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform to balance the load on the telecom infrastructure and evenly distribute various tasks across the system. ERP delivers a single, unified database that contains data for various software modules pertaining to functions such as project management, customer relationship management and financials. Also, the package contains several modules, which simplifies the company’s production processes and makes the supply chain more transparent.

That apart, the company uses other software tools that are developed in-house by a dedicated team. Other tools include Quark Express and Adobe Photoshop.

WWI, too, uses ERP, apart from a host of other software applications developed in-house. While ERP delivers a unified database for different functions, the company also makes use of group-specific applications that cater to every business group within the company.

DCHL uses the computer-to-plate application for printing its pages. This, according to the company respondent, helps in saving time, man-hours and overall expenses.

Over the years, the internet has played a critical role in meeting the communication needs of media and entertainment companies. Business Standard’s website, for instance, provides access to the latest news, opinion pieces and features. In fact, the media major also provides RSS feeds and a WAP portal to provide news links and updates on handsets.

Service providers and vendors

Media and entertainment companies use a combination of IT and telecom service providers such as Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL), BSNL, MTNL, IBM, Calix, RCOM, Tata Communications, Bharti Airtel, RCOM and Tulip Telecom.

Issues and concerns

While six of the 10 respondents say that they have no major issues with respect to their telecom infrastructure, the remaining feel that downtime, increasing cost of technology, timely upgradation of technology and poor service are areas that need attention.

According to the respondent from the Pioneer, for instance, the increasing cost of technology is a major concern. “Technology should be available to all companies, big or small, to meet their needs and not just to a select few,” he says.

WWI, too, feels that expensive equipment and rapid technology obsolescence are major challenges. “While an important aim is to keep pace with technology advancements to beat competition, cost is a prohibiting factor as the availability of most cutting-edge mediums is very limited,” says Verma.

While keeping pace with technology is a concern for Business Standard too, the respondent says that it has not affected the company’s overall technology map, as upgradations are done very selectively and on a need-only basis.

Choudhury from the Indian Express says downtime is a major issue for the company. He says: “We want to ensure that our regular work routine is not disrupted and that, unfortunately, is where we face problems. Sometimes, our servers go down for several hours at a stretch and our work suffers.”

Mobile and enterprise applications

A host of mobile and enterprise applications are being used. The most popular enterprise applications include web hosting, VOIP, web- and audioconferencing, instant messaging and email.

SABTN uses web hosting, audio- and webconferencing, and email and instant messaging. Audio- and webconferencing not only help save travel costs, but also help senior officials collaborate and take major business-related decisions in real time, and exchange and share information and data.

With regard to mobility applications, mobile email, conferencing, mobile data connectivity and corporate intranet are the most widely used in companies. Apart from these, SABTN also uses personal information management, push alerts and location-based services.

That apart, most media majors, like The Indian Express and Business Standard provide laptops and data cards to their reporters in the field.

Says Choudhury, “Reporters are given BlackBerry handsets, laptops and data cards for constant connectivity. The data cards are provided by TTSL and RCOM.” Business Standard makes use of laptops and data cards (Photon Plus cards) to ensure its reporters remain constantly connected.

A corporate intranet facility for remote connectivity is also a popular option. The respondents say that this medium facilitates information sharing and collaboration across the organisation.

Network security

Network security is a priority for most media and entertainment majors. The survey shows that firewalls, antivirus packages and email security systems are the most popular security mediums used by companies in this space.

The Indian Express, for instance, uses SonicWALL firewalls, McAfee and Symantec antivirus packages, as well as security audits. Business Standard uses Fortinet-manufactured firewall platforms, a McAfee antivirus package and the IronPort email security system.

SABTN makes use of only firewalls.

Redundancy options

While redundancy is very important for these organisations as communication is the mainstay of their business, the majority of the respondents have simple backup options. The most widely used are leased lines, UPSs, tape drive backup and server backup. Other mediums include mirror servers, disaster recovery set-ups and service provider diversity.

The way forward

Some of these companies have chalked out plans for upgrading their telecom infrastructure. For instance, Wasim from DCHL says the company plans to enhance the scope of its ERP set-up for a more holistic range of functions. “This,” he says, “is aimed at streamlining operations and making communications across the organisation simpler, thereby increasing productivity.”

Similarly, the Indian Express intends to experiment with hardware, software, security-related applications and technologies in the near future. “Through a systematic process of elimination, we will deploy those which suit our requirements,” says the respondent. Besides, it has expressed interest in enhancing the functions of its MPLS infrastructure. Says Choudhury, “We intend to base our internet set-up on the MPLS network, thereby enhancing the capacity of the network to carry more data information. For this, we need to implement a data pipe at our corporate office.”

WWI expresses interest in cloud computing. The company respondent says: “Cloud technology seems interesting as it provides access to a host of applications and technologies on a single platform. Besides, it is expected to result in several benefits, like easy manageability, quick returns on investments and trimming overhead expenditures.”

The respondent from Business Standard, on the other hand, says the company’s future technology road map is need based. “Our network, bandwidth and telecom equipment will be enhanced or expanded strictly on a need-only basis,” he states.

All in all, players in the media and entertainment segment have recognised the importance of a robust telecom network to stay connected, and provide news and entertainment 24x7, and are pulling out all the stops to implement the best in the business.

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