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Perspectives

Altered Slates: COVID-19 Radically Changes the Metrics for M&E Investments

2020-05-26


Forget return on investment (ROI). For media and entertainment (M&E) companies, the pandemic has triggered a new set of measures to prioritize project portfolios.

It’s no small understatement to say that M&E companies’ tactical concerns have shifted as the business shutdown moves from crisis management to the new abnormal. Streaming is the lone bright spot amid an otherwise tough market for M&E companies that includes the downturn in advertising and the sudden disappearance of live sports, theatrical releases and series production. Everyone worries about running out of content.

Achieving short-term efficiency is the question on every M&E leader’s mind. How do you make your company the best it can be in the current environment without a lot of time-consuming workshops and theoretical white boards?

Here are five metrics to help your organization determine which projects are the best choices in the current turbulent environment.

Speed to audience.

How long will it take to get content not just to the market but to the consumer? Time to audience has replaced time to market as the yardstick for delivery. There’s a trade-off between speed and quality as the shutdown dramatically alters what constitutes acceptable content and production values. M&E companies are greenlighting options that they would otherwise nix such as musical performances from celebrity’s dens and the head of the Church of England performing Easter service from his kitchen. Broadcasters tell us that archive content sales are up as companies dig deep in search of content that they can get out to viewers quickly. So far, audiences seem to embrace it all.

  • What M&E companies need to know: Use Agile-based methodologies to make iterative improvements that enable faster speed to audience. For example, technical improvements such as increasing the quality of remote video links for content produced under lockdown are modest changes that have a big payoff for viewer experience. So do creative tweaks such as NBC’s innovative solution of balancing remote links with studio-based presenters on “The Voice.”

Flexibility quotient.

Prioritization is making flexibility in the project lifecycle more important than ever. Among our M&E clients, the business shutdown is accelerating the ongoing trend to solutions that allow course correction as late as possible in the lifecycle and scale easily. Cloud has always been an ally when it comes to the flexibility quotient. For M&E companies, two factors in particular are fueling its rise. One is that cloud-based technologies enable remote teams to more effectively work together. The other is cloud’s ability to simplify the content supply chain, which flows among multiple teams and locations for post-production, compliance and localization, as well as access services, quality control, marketing and packaging for consumer delivery.

  • What M&E companies need to know: Cloud makes it easier for content to sit in a central place. It also enables broader access while providing far better security than companies can manage on their own, particularly if the content moves between many systems. When the metric is flexibility, adopting on-demand cloud computing for video workflows, collaboration and corporate technology projects is as critical as forecasting demand and audience behavior has become impossible.

Tactical cost savings.

The loss of revenue from advertising and sports has exacerbated M&E companies’ efforts to preserve cash. Because financing content has historically been viewed as a risky investment and studios often use their own capital, their goal in the current environment is to maintain cash reserves that will enable them to get back on their feet and restart production. The greatest interest is in projects that have a short-term payback and to avoid Cap-Ex where possible.

  • What M&E companies need to know: To make the pivot, opt for low-risk, fast-return technology projects that deliver improvement without committing large amounts of time and capital. Automation of everyday processes is a good example of a place to start. It offers the ability to drive out costs with minimal risk. For example, presentation scheduling is a task that’s often managed manually with lots of cut-and-paste among a mix of systems and slow, complex processes. Applying robotic process automation to scheduling can deliver relatively quick advances without necessitating changes to existing applications.

Dependency on colocation.

Few industries are as dependent on colocation as M&E. Project delivery often requires onsite, in-person collaboration. As a result, the impact of project members’ proximity to one another has evolved into a key metric during the business shutdown. The colocation metric ranges from doable, to possible but sub-optimal, to save-for-later.

  • What M&E companies need to know: We recommend two options. The first is a good, old-fashioned decision-making matrix of project activities and tasks that factors in colocation as a metric. What alternatives for a project exist given evolving safety guidelines such as social distancing? How do restrictions on border crossings impact a project? The second recommendation involves a shift that’s admittedly far more sweeping yet clearly a new core competency: remote software development for products and services. When it comes to technology projects, there are some initiatives that can’t be done in virtual settings, such as migrating a physical archive to the cloud. Yet new products and services can go virtual through remote software development techniques that make the most of the work from home (WFH) environment and drive down dependency on colocation.

Strategic alignment.

It’s easy for a series of quick pivots to derail a business from its strategic goals. Project alignment with mid- and long-term business, product and growth maps is a frequent casualty of the business shutdown. We hear from many clients that their days are booked with back-to-back videoconference calls and tactical decisions that leave little time to step back and think.

  • What M&E companies need to know: Strategic thinking isn’t a luxury. To ensure that tactical interventions in technology and lines of business don’t drive up complexity and cost, keep an eye at all times on the big picture. In the current environment, it’s tempting to sacrifice strategy in order to implement tools that protect revenue streams. For example, migrating workflows to the cloud without optimizing for cloud operating models and ensuring back-end integration is short-sighted. It checks the box for efficiency, but without strategic alignment, it can be a poor solution for the mid to long term.

    Within the compressed timeline of the COVID-19 environment, over-the-top and direct-to-consumer models have become the core distribution platforms for M&E far faster than anyone expected, and the transformation is driving the need for proper integration and technology strategy.

    Many organizations are experiencing internal strife between leaders who are accountable for revenue and those in operations who see what’s coming their way in terms of problems in the technology stack, such as capacity limitations or legacy applications that are hard to change. Given the existential threat facing their businesses, CEOs often side with those who can protect revenue. Yet act-now-deal-with-headaches-later is not a strategy. Even if it feels counterintuitive, freeing up resources to focus on long-term objectives remains a must-do. Strategic alignment is a metric that’s never out of style.

While we await the new normal to reveal itself, companies need alternative paths to operational efficiency, content delivery and great customer experience. The key is to focus on the projects that are doable and conserve cash or deliver critical strategic objectives that will help your organization to compete once the crisis ends, because the media and entertainment sector will be more competitive than ever.

For more information, visit the Media and Entertainment section of our website or contact us. Visit our COVID-19 response page for additional insights.

This article was written by Peter Elvidge, Media and Entertainment Director for Cognizant, and Marcin Remarczyk, Director for Cognizant Consulting. Both are based in London.

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Altered Slates: COVID-19 Radically Changes the Metrics for M&E Investments