How mature is AI development throughout the broadcasting industry?

By Chem Assayag. Chem Assayag is VO’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. With a strong experience in the world of digital television and content services, and during his tenure at OpenTV, the worldwide leader in interactive television, he managed operations in Europe and the Middle East, growing revenues in the company’s largest business region.


IBC recently ran a feature looking at AI in the broadcast industry and came across real world projects as diverse as using AI to automatically generate metadata, generate intermediate frames and thus super slo-mo from regular camera feeds; analyze audience behaviour patterns, provide speech to text, refine complex workflows, and much more.

Much of it is to do with automation in the value chain and currently it is mostly this that is driving the broadcast industry uptake. Broadcast is a very process-oriented business and many of these processes — think of Quality Control, monitoring channels for rights purposes, conforming, closed caption generation, ingest… the list is a long one —  map well into automation. The use of technology to increase speed and efficiency while at the same time cutting costs, is an attractive proposition.

Where is AI in Broadcast in 2019?

First off, it has to be said that, at time of writing, there is a lot of hyperbole regarding AI technologies and their impact in the value chain. A lot of what is being talked about is either projection, prototypes, or concerns projects that have a so far rather limited scope. The hype machine is in full flow as companies looking to leverage AI technologies look to raise funding and maximize interest.

This is not helped by a media that is fully buying into the more fanciful elements of the AI story. Sometimes these showcase legitimate concerns as well as rattling the funding tip jar, such as the story headlined ‘New AI fake text generator may be too dangerous to release, say creators’, which highlighted the problems of text-based deep fakes. On the whole though, there is a depressing willingness to buy into the trope of the inanimate becoming animate and leading to disaster, which is a cultural artefact you can trace from Talmudic stories of golems, through Frankenstein, and on to the Terminator movies and SkyNet; a point which the same newspaper as the previous link adroitly made a few months earlier in a piece titled ‘The discourse is unhinged’: how the media gets AI alarmingly wrong’.

Indeed, in its introduction to a gated reportexamining the hype cycle in relation to AI, analyst Gartner wrote: “AI is almost a definition of hype. Yet, it is still early: New ideas will surface and some current ideas will not live up to expectations.” Away from there alarmist mainstream headlines the AI-based technologies it sees as currently sliding into the Trough of Disillusionment (see here for an explanation of the Hype Cycle phases) include such high-profile cases as Computer Vision, Autonomous Vehicles, Commercial Drones, and Augmented Reality.

So, where are we in broadcast? Gartner has also produced a useful AI Maturity Model (see below) where companies and industries can measure their progress along a line that illustrates the growing deployment and impact of the technology.

ai in broadcasting diagram

As a whole, at this stage early in 2019 the broadcast industry is probably strung out in a line somewhere between the start of Level 2 and the early stages of Level 3. Level 2 is Active, and defined as AI appearing in proofs of concept and pilot projects, with meetings about AI focusing on knowledge sharing and the beginnings of standardization.

The Level 3 Operational stage sees at least one AI project having moved to production and best practices, while experts and technology are increasingly accessible to the enterprise. AI also has an executive sponsor within the organisation and a dedicated budget.

Things are moving swiftly though. IBC2017 was, after all, only eighteen months ago. But one of the accelerants for the introduction of technology is that the broadcast industry has been moving into the cloud at the same time. Companies no longer need to invest in their own infrastructure, hardware and software to implement AI in the value chain; they can outsource it via the cloud.

This is becoming easier to do than ever as well. As an illustration of what is available, AWS has a Free Tier that it bills as offering ‘Free offers and services you need to build, deploy, and run machine learning applications in the cloud’. The cloud-based machine learning services organizations and individuals can hook up to for no cost include:

  • Text to speech: 5 million characters per month
  • Speech to text: 60 minutes per month
  • Image recognition: Analyze 5000 images and store 1000 face metadata per month
  • Natural language processing: 5 million characters per month

Even the full costed versions can make a compelling argument. The Amazon Transcribe API is billed monthly at a rate of $0.0004 per second, for instance, meaning a transcript of a 60-minute show would cost $1.44. And, of course, though it is enormous and has a global reach, AWS is only one of a growing number of cloud-based companies offering AIaaS.

AI is Augmentation over Automation

One key point to make about AI in 2019 is that the industry is still largely working out the use cases. Automation is only the start of it, and indeed only looking at the places in a broadcast workflow where AI can automate processes is to underestimate the potential of the technology. AI holds out the promise of augmenting human actions, of being able to analyze information and make predictions based on those results faster than humans can.

That means when examining loci in a workflow where the technology can help, there are a few key considerations:

  • Does expert knowledge add value?
  • Is there a large amount of data to be processed?
  • Is the organization looking to affect an outcome included in that data?

If the answer to all those three questions is yes, then that is a business point that can be further augmented by AI.

AI in Broadcasting: All About Context

As we’ve said, there are lots of use cases and projects involving AI currently underway across the industry, but we’ll end by highlighting one example of what can be achieved in the field, the UK’s Channel 4 and its trials of Contextual Moments. This is an AI-driven technology that uses image recognition and natural language processing to analyze scenes in pre-recorded content, producing a list of positive moments that can then be matched to a brand.

Low scoring moments are discarded, whilst all candidate moments are checked by humans to ensure brand safety. After that, to use C4’s example, a baking brand might previously have contextually advertised around a show such as ‘The Great British Bake-Off’, now it can be presented with a list of programs where baking happens in a positive light, from dramas to reality shows.

Channel 4’s initial testing with 2000 people showed that this AI-driven contextual version of targeted advertising, boosted brand awareness and doubled ad recall to 64%. It will be interesting to see how those results are mirrored in real world data.

As yet, the Level 3 ideal of AI having a dedicated budget within an organization is largely fanciful; we are at too early a stage for ROI data to be reliably collated. The tendency for it to be applied mainly for automation purposes limits its impact, even though cost reductions can be impressive. More complex projects and thus more strategic impacts are on the way, though.

Gartner’s Level 4 of AI implementation sees all new digital projects at least consider AI; new products and services have embedded AI, and AI-powered applications interacting productively (and, presumably, with a degree of autonomy) within the broadcast organization. Given the speed of the timescales so far, you wouldn’t want to bet against some of the companies at the forefront of AI development starting to push into that territory towards the end of the year.

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AI in Media and Entertainment: IBC2018 in Review

By Chem Assayag

Wherever you talk to broadcasters nowadays, it’s never long before the name Netflix is either dropped into the conversation or you can sense its lurking presence. The opening IBC Conference keynote was no exception either, the SVOD giant’s influence looming large as BBC Studios chief executive, Tim Davie, revealed that the ITV and BBC Worldwide SVOD service, BritBox, which launched in March in the US has just passed 400,000 subscribers.

It’s intriguing to see rival national broadcasters that compete fiercely in their own territory combine to target viewers in another country. This is the sort of distortion that Netflix is bringing to the market and Davie admitted that the same sort of collaboration might be necessary in the UK as well to scale up a SVOD service to compete against it in the future.

Another UK broadcaster, Channel 4’s COO, Keith Underwood, meanwhile argued that scale was not the be all and end all.

“Scale alone is not sufficient for success. David didn’t beat Goliath by piling on the pounds. The victory came by being agile, nimble and deploying smart technology.”

Against a backdrop of industry mega-mergers, Underwood maintained that there were huge opportunities for niche operators as long as they acted quickly to the way that the industry is being reshaped by the FAANG companies in particular.

“Distinctiveness can defeat scale,” he said.

This theme was picked up numerous times during the conference in more than one session, with possibly the most memorable metaphor for the situation being coined by Walter Iuzzolino, founder and curator of AVOD niche drama service Walter Presents.

“They [Amazon & Netflix] are in a different complementary market,” he said. “They lavish enormous amounts of money and offer everything like a supermarket, whereas we are more like a delicatessen, where you go to get something distinctive and special.”

Artificial Intelligence and Media at the Fore

The Cloud has been a big theme of past IBCs, but this year was so pervasive, so ubiquitous that you almost failed to notice it. Indeed it has become to mainstream so quickly that you only really register it when it’s not there and a rare new product on the Exhibition show floor doesn’t include it when by rights it should.

Similarly, the transition towards IP seems to have an unstoppable momentum. There are details still to be ironed out in terms of the exact migration path and network bandwidths, but with even the show’s own IBC TV channel moving to an IP production workflow these probably won’t slow the increasing speed of adoption down.

The big story this year though was Artificial Intelligence and media, which was pretty much everywhere in Amsterdam, as the benefits — or at least the potential benefits — of AI technology were pointed out at all levels of the industry.

Some of this was a bit forward-looking perhaps, such as AI predictions regarding how popular characters and plots will be with audiences feeding into a show’s development. Even one of the co-authors of BBC Research & Development’s paper ‘AI in Production’, the winner of IBC’s Best Paper Award 2018, admitted some of this was fanciful and that AI production systems would never match the quality of skilled craftspeople.

Nevertheless, as the IBC Daily reported, to date the BBC’s system, called Ed, has been used with some success to create automated footage from sports events and studio-based panel shows using simple locked off camera setups.

In fact, AI is having an increasing impact in the here and now. Endemol Shine Creative Networks chief executive, Lisa Perrin, said her group is employing AI techniques to log scenes on one of its flagship formats, Big Brother; work previously undertaken by “banks of people typing in scene descriptions and time codes.

“This technological revolution of AI is opening huge possibilities for places we couldn’t go to before and things we couldn’t see on budgets that are increasingly challenged,” she continued.

Here at VO we were contributing to the buzz surrounding the technology too, as this snippet from IBC365’s show review proves.

“Viaccess-Orca was promoting its artificial intelligence-enabled detection of service anomalies, such as content piracy incidents, that can, the company said, provide invaluable insights into the operational challenges faced by a premium content service provider.”

5G was another disruptive technology very much at the edge of many people’s thinking at the show, with content being touted as ‘its killer app’ in numerous speeches and presentations. However, one interesting subplot developing is that the telcos that will build out the 5G networks have no interest in replying the same circumstances that surfaced in the US surrounding net neutrality and saw them potentially reclassified as a utility.

“We are so far behind the OTT players we are not even at first base,” commented Matt Stagg, director of mobile strategy at BT Sport. “And we don’t want to be the dumb pipe for others.”

One more thing worth noting at the show was the rise in Android TV deployments and technologies. We were involved here too (see our press release from IBC: Wibox Launches Android TV 4K Offer on STB Secured by Viaccess-Orca) but even so the amount activity in the sector is surprising.

“I have never seen anything grow as fast as this,” said Accedo’s Fredrik Andersson at the What Caught My Eye conference session on Innovation. “The number of Pay-TV providers looking at launching on Android went from tens to hundreds in less than two years in what is normally quite a conservative market.”

Key Takeaways from IBC2018

Elsewhere, momentum built behind UHD, with South Korea even planning to switch off HD transmissions by 2027, and HDR; the Alliance for Open Media started talking about AV2 development even as some of the first AV1 implementations debuted on the show floor; VR continued its slightly bumpy path to the mass market; and IBC as a whole made a welcome embrace of diversity, increasing the number of female speakers at its conference from 14% last year to a far more representative 37% in 2018.

Last word for IBC2018 though should go to Maria Garrido, chief insights & analytics officer at global agency Havas, who anchored the IBC Audiences conference stand with a session looking at how traditional media can compete in the digital space. To summarize:

  • The industry must spend more on innovation if it is to survive increasing competition
  • “The TV industry isn’t dead – yet! It still has 34% of the pie in terms of ad spend but this will go down to 31.3% in 2021 while platforms such as mobile will grow to 30.5%.
  • “If you take out all live and sports from live TV in the US, the total audience drops 19%.
  • “More innovation is required to grab the attention of Millennials, Generation Z and Tweens. With Generation Z you have eight seconds before they are on a mobile or tablet.

Eight seconds isn’t long and if we were to predict anything following the show it is that there will be more and more emphasis from all across the industry on perfecting the experience it offers consumers during that brief period. What’s more that feels like exactly the place where AI in media and entertainment might have an increasing impact in future years. Offering the right customers the right content at the right time has never seemed more important.


About the Author: Chem Assayag

Chem Assayag is VO’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Business Development. With a strong experience in the world of digital television and content services, and during his tenure at OpenTV, the worldwide leader in interactive television, he managed operations in Europe and the Middle East, growing revenues in the company’s largest business region. Chem also led the worldwide sales, marketing, and business development functions for the MediaHighway® product line at NDS (now part of Cisco Systems). In the late 2000s he was also a key figure in Europe’s mobile TV and mobile broadcast industry, leading Qualcomm’s MediaFLO division in the region. Aside from his corporate sales and business experience, Assayag is an entrepreneur who founded, managed, and sold his own company, and has also driven a number of business startups. Chem graduated in management from EM Lyon, and holds a postgraduate degree in media management from ESCP Europe.

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