Recently, we hit a remarkable milestone of analysing 1000 channels. Today, we are speaking with Adrian Arroyo Mirantes and Ceres Serea Manso Acuña, Product Owner and Product Support Coordinator at Media Distillery, respectively, who explain what value this milestone brings for Media Distillery and the broader video industry, as well as their future plans.
Congratulations on this milestone! Could you tell me more about how you achieved it?
Adrian: Before I dive into explaining the milestone, it would be useful to tell you more about what we do. At Media Distillery, we build AI solutions for comprehensive video understanding. We analyse vast amounts of video content to enhance the viewing experience for various players in the TV and streaming media industry.
Our flagship product, EPG Correction Distillery™, takes a big share of our services. By using AI and ML algorithms, it automatically detects the actual start and end times of TV programs so that viewers don't miss the start of their favourite TV programs or watch the end of the previous content when watching catch-up or replay.
So, last month we reached 1000 channels in production with EPG Correction Distillery. Considering that each of these channels consists of 24 hours of video content per day, in essence, we are processing 750,000 hours of video or approximately 10,000 TV programs every month.
It's been quite a journey, spanning over five years, and it required substantial processing capacity to achieve this feat.
Can you describe your roles and responsibilities within the process?
Ceres: Two years ago, I worked as a Product Support Engineer, responsible for monitoring channels in production and performing regular maintenance tasks. If a specific channel exhibited any issues that required correction, I would intervene to make the necessary modifications or communicate with the customer. As the number of channels increased, my role has evolved. Now, as a Product Support Coordinator, I oversee all the customers and channels simultaneously, ensuring smooth operations. I am managing a team of 7 Product Support Engineers.
Adrian: I started four years ago as a Product Support Coordinator and was responsible for onboarding the first customers and ensuring a good performance on the initial channels we delivered. As the number of customers and the product team grew, my role transitioned to Product Owner. In this position, I focus on coordinating stakeholders, ensuring smooth customer onboarding, delivering the product at a high standard, and providing support to the team throughout the process.
How large is your team?
Adrian: The size of the development team behind our service has remained relatively constant. However, we have significantly improved the efficiency of our onboarding process. Initially, we tailored solutions extensively for each customer, but as we progressed, we identified aspects that could be applied to multiple customers.
With our current cloud streaming based setup, we can complete technical onboarding in just two weeks, compared to 4 to 6 months for on premise-based installations. Moving to the cloud has significantly expedited the deployment process compared to being on premise. We also have developed tools for our support team, enabling them to manage more channels with the same number of people. This optimisation has allowed the development team to allocate more time to improve the onboarding and add new platform features.
Where are these channels coming from?
Ceres: We analyse channels from 17 countries in Europe, Middle East and Latin America, including Portugal, Spain, Chile, France, Turkey and the Netherlands. Our channels range from news to entertainment, from sports to reality shows, cartoons and anything in between.
Adrian: While it is beneficial to understand the language of the channel, it is not a requirement for EPG Correction Distillery. We can easily manage channels in different languages, as we focus solely on analysing visual cues. Many customers have international channels. For instance, we have a Danish customer who also distributes Norwegian and Swedish channels. Therefore, the channels we analyse can originate from countries different from where our customers are located.
We are fortunate to have a diverse team representing various languages, which allows us to cover a wide range of linguistic needs.
However, our advanced technologies have the capability to analyse and process channels without the necessity of understanding the language used in the broadcast.
What have been the major challenges you've encountered when onboarding multiple channels?
Ceres: Some channels pose more challenges than others. For instance, certain channels exhibit erratic behaviour, with programs starting from 8 minutes before the scheduled EPG time to 30 minutes after, which makes it difficult to detect to which program the detections belong. Our team is actively working to improve this aspect, such that even on the most challenging channels we can help our customers to offer a great replay user experience.
In terms of workflow and team management, I must say that we have been fortunate. Our team functions as a harmonious unit, collaborating together towards shared goals. So far, we have been able to meet our deadlines without significant hurdles.
Adrian: From my perspective, scaling our operations has been a major challenge. Managing an increasing number of customers requires more than simply allocating additional resources. Initially, we need to obtain access to the video streams and EPG data for analysis, which can sometimes be a complex task due to variations in customer setups.
Developing our own monitoring tools for the support team has been immensely helpful to deliver and maintain the quality that our customers expect from us while improving our efficiency in doing so. Additionally, transitioning to cloud-based infrastructure has significantly accelerated the onboarding of new clients, reducing the time to go live from a few months in on-premise deployments to a couple of weeks with cloud-based video delivery.
To scale up further, we require increased computing power, as well as additional resources and talent. By optimising deployment processes, we can reduce time and resource requirements. Leveraging the cloud enables us to effectively structure information, ensuring its accessibility and creating workflow consistency. This streamlined approach also facilitates the onboarding of new team members.
Could you share some anecdotes/situations from work?
Ceres: We had such an incident surrounding the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. As a historic moment, this event was broadcast worldwide. This led to disruptions in the broadcast schedule of television programs, particularly in the United Kingdom, where all channels went to live reporting of the event. During that time, we were attending the International Broadcasting Conference (IBC). The disruption in the schedule made it challenging to demonstrate the effectiveness of EPG Correction Distillery because when the entire broadcast schedule is discarded, our solution is less accurate. Nevertheless, it was a great showcase for another product, Topic Distillery. We were able to automatically identify broadcast items for the trending topics and present them in a carousel in our UI.
Are there any channels that you cannot work with, and if so, what are the reasons?
Adrian: We have the capability to work with a wide range of channels, but there are a few exceptional cases where our solution may not be applicable. For instance, channels that continuously broadcast live events from parliaments tend to have limited additional value from our solution. Due to the nature of such continuous streams, there are no programs with a clear start and end time. Some music channels could also fall in this category, due long slots dedicated to music videos airing back to back which diminishes the impact of our solution. In such instances, we communicate this to the customer, emphasising that the value generated by applying our solution to these channels may not be as significant compared to other channels with a more standard broadcasting behaviour.
What were your personal takeaways from these milestones of 1000 channels?
Adrian: One significant lesson I've learned is the importance of looking ahead and anticipating potential deviations from the planned workflow. Drawing from our past experiences, we can identify and prevent various issues that may arise during the onboarding process or from straying away from the original plan.
Performing regular damage control has also been invaluable for our ability to foresee and tackle more substantial problems. By conducting frequent screenings, setting up alerts, and establishing fallback options, we can prevent issues, minimise their impact, and ensure swift recovery of the channels.
In instances where we experience downtime, loss of video signal, or a complete breakdown of our analysis system, we strive to address the problem promptly and prevent programs from starting with incorrect start times times.
Ceres: While we have achieved the milestone of managing 1000 channels, we must now consider how we will handle double or triple that number. We need to continue working on improving the efficiency of our workflows and optimising our toolings. Whenever we encounter unexpected issues, we address them head-on and learn from them, striving to prevent their recurrence in the future. And if prevention is not possible, whether it's a downtime or any other challenge, we have amassed valuable knowledge and information to minimise the problem's impact and mitigate its consequences.
What are your future plans beyond reaching 2000 channels?
Ceres: Our future plans involve expanding both the number of channels we work with and the range of integrated solutions per channel. Five years ago, our focus was primarily on integrating start times, but now we have expanded to include end times, Topic Distillery™, Ad Break Distillery™ and Image Distillery™, among other solutions.
Adrian: Our goal for the next 1000 channels is to maintain and improve the quality of our services while keeping the size of our team manageable. We don't want to simply scale up by increasing resources and team size. Hence, we are planning to introduce more automation and data analysis into our processes to optimise efficiency.
What significance does this milestone hold for the industry?
Adrian: Reaching 1000 channels demonstrates that we are collaborating with major customers capable of managing a significant volume of content. It also highlights the robustness of our platform that is capable of processing 24/7 live content at this scale reliably.
This milestone also signifies a growing demand from TV operators for innovative user experiences to their replay and catchup environments
As users become more accustomed to the seamless user experiences offered by video-on-demand (VOD) platforms, providing a similar level of experience in replay on linear TV has become a requirement for cable operators. Precise start and end times play a vital role in this regard. When viewers want to watch a program from replay or catchup, it should start neither five minutes late nor three minutes early. We adjust the EPG in real-time and in an automatic way, ensuring that as soon as a program begins, the updated data is immediately sent to the customer. By doing so, we can enhance the viewing experience for a larger audience, as replay predominantly occurs within 24 hours after the program has aired.
What sets Media Distillery solutions apart from others in the market?
Adrian: The main differentiating factor of Media Distillery is the comprehensive service we provide.
We don't simply deliver our product and leave the customer to maintain it themselves. Instead, we take care of the entire process, from launching the product to its ongoing maintenance. This makes it a full-service solution that can be easily scaled up by adding new services, ensuring peace of mind for our customers.
Once we provide EPG correction to a customer, expanding or introducing new products becomes as simple as pressing a button. Our customers don't need to provide us with anything additionally, making scalability and user experience enhancement effortless.
But of course, it's not just about technology. As a company, we have vast experience and expertise in the media industry. Thanks to this, we understand our customers' needs and strive to achieve them. We put ourselves in our users' shoes when designing a smooth and harmonious viewing experience.
Our customer satisfaction is reflected in the positive feedback we have received over the years and the number of renewed contracts.
The milestone of reaching 1000 channels is a clear demonstration that our solutions work and are highly trusted. It serves as confirmation of our high-quality work and exceptional performance. With this achievement in mind, we can continue to grow, analyse more content, and offer new solutions to our customers.
June 20, 2023