by Lauren Brousell

Viacom Feeds Your SpongeBob Fix on Any Device

Jul 18, 20126 mins
CRM SystemsData and Information SecurityIntellectual Property

These days people expect the latest episodes of Jersey Shore and The Daily Show anytime, anywhere and on any device. Companies like Viacom are centralizing and digitizing their content to keep up.

That flat-screen TV in your living room is no longer the center of the viewing universe. Viacom, a leading global entertainment content company, now needs to deliver content, like SpongeBob SquarePants, to viewers via smartphones, computers and tablets, 24 hours a day.

Nickelodeon's SpongeBob Squarepants
Viacom made it easier to push content like Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Squarepants out to a any possible device, regardless of the format required by the provider. (Photo courtesy of Viacom)

Broadcasting online or on-demand required different workflows depending on service provider requirements. “They may want it in a certain format, they may want it sized properly for the viewing experience,” says Viacom CIO David Kline.

Three Roads to Content: the Web, Mobile and TV

When TV was the only way to consume content, this wouldn’t have been a problem, he says. Now, though, content is pushed out three ways: to the Web, mobile devices and TV. As a result, each medium had its own planning, scheduling and distribution systems, making the management and distribution of content redundant and wasted employees’ time.

And Viacom has a lot of content to manage owning over 170 media networks that reach 600 million subscribers. Some of their most well-known TV stations include MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and VH1 and movie companies such as Paramount Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. The company also has to contend with a variety of international content protection laws given its domain stretches over 160 countries and territories and includes film, online and mobile platforms.

Given the wide array of global regulations and content providers Viacom deals with, protecting its intellectual property is also a big concern. (Currently, Viacom has pulled some popular shows from the Web in a dispute with DirectTV.)

Kline says the existing systems were not going to cut it. “We did have many systems in place, with a mix of technology and manual human intervention. We needed to make sure we weren’t the hold up. We needed something more workflow friendly to enable us to go multi-platform.” On top of it all, Viacom had not yet gone digital. “We are on a fast rampage to reduce tape stock. Tapes are expensive and they wear out,” Kline says.

In the media industry, effectively and efficiently distributing content in a multi-platform, global economy is of the utmost importance. “The proliferation of technology since the iPad in 2010 has [created] a free for all,” says Kline. “We need to be able to deliver [content] in a fast and robust way as new people join the market and so we can be more nimble for the business.”

Kline upgraded the company’s 125 media networks to a centralized digital distribution suite in February 2011. The project won him a 2012 CIO 100 award. “They are integrated together so, as a workflow, each system talks to each other,” Kline says.

The Evolution of Asset Management

Upgrading to the centralized suite was a multi-step process for Viacom since there were several types of content and several types of existing systems for planning, scheduling and distributing that content to its respective mediums.

Kline says the biggest challenge was converting the old systems to a new centralized model. “A lot of this was the original architecture and we got a lot of input about what the [organization] wanted. There were a lot of iterations and it will [continue to] evolve.”

Viacom changed its broadcast planning and scheduling system so it could manage and house all types of content in one location. Specifically, the change gave Viacom employees the flexibility to find video clips they needed in a pinch. Before the change it was a time-consuming process to pull content from many locations.

For example, if someone needed to pull Michael Jackson music videos when news of his death broke, they could do that quickly and easily no matter the format. “We cataloged them and made them electronic so it will pull that and give you choices and the rights and anything else associated with it,” Kline says.

Viacom also automated its digital asset management system, so it became a distribution engine exclusively for web and mobile content. The system automatically archived Viacom’s content, instead of logging it on tapes, and enabled quicker distribution of shows such as Spongebob to Netflix, Jersey Shore to on demand and The Daily Show to iTunes.

For distribution of TV content, Viacom developed a system with one end-to-end workflow model for broadcast automation, HD/SD video, graphics, digital video effects and more. So there became one complete workflow for all kinds of TV content no matter what kind of TV it would be viewed on, whether it was an old school TV or a flashy new HD plasma. “This has reduced the cost for launching a channel and made it more efficient,” Kline says.

The suite links back to Viacom’s rights-management system, so the company can monitor whether content is being used legally. Kline says Viacom employees are able to quickly answer a standard set of questions, such as, “Can I put it on the Internet or iPad in a certain country?” For content that is Viacom’s, they can put a watermark on it so other companies know it’s their content. “We can put that onto content on the fly rather than spending a lot of time,” he says.

Kline says the suite is about 90 percent deployed, but more importantly, whether it’s Netflix, Hulu or a cable box, now there’s only one automated process. “The beauty of it is to take [the service provider’s] requirements and the system will do it for us in an automated fashion,” he says.

This process has saved time for Viacom employees. “At a minimum, they’re gaining back a half an hour to an hour worth of time on a daily basis.” The savings has been sustainable as well; Viacom has reduced its tape stock by 250 percent over the last two years.

Viacom can now deliver 2,000 large media elements every month internationally. They were able to launch seven new channels in 2011 and inked new deals with MTV Dish, Comcast Xfinity and more. Kline is hoping to be fully deployed by the middle of 2013. “As we show it to more and more people, we come up with more ideas. As we get into the multi-platform world, how do we incorporate the content systems? We’re coming up with more usage on it.”

Lauren Brousell is editorial assistant for CIO magazine. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter @lbrousell