Digital Media Distribution – a view from a simpleton

Posted on  |   by Patrick Murphy

No one seems to have written anything about the world of distribution
from an independent perspective. I believe I have a unique point of
view having crossed over from agency production world to help set up
Adstream in 2003.

I remember the early days of trying to go digital for our first client
AMV on D-Day and we actually never did quite achieve it. There was a
bunch of motorbike couriers round the block waiting to take digibetas
to the stations whilst we crossed our fingers and hoped the client
never found out. I think enough time has passed for the agency to
forgive. But honestly it was exciting and we all knew that there was
no going back to the old way of doing things.

I can definitely say that in the early days I developed a respect for
the amazing team at that time who just made shit happen.

Back then, the connectivity and bandwidth to move around large digital
files was difficult. Broadcasters had to have boxes to receive the
files prior to insertion into their playout systems. Transcoding to
the optimum formats plus any proxies didn’t always work. The QC
process was still in the hands of the post house. And then of course
there was the huge price difference between the old playout method
which sometimes costs 1000’s instead of £500 to all stations.  A
revolution was taking place. Never mind the fact that I had all the
doors of agency and post pro world closed because we were upsetting
sizeable covert revenue streams.

Fast forward 13 years. I was asked to have a view on where I think
this is all headed. Should Distribution be bundled with other
services? What evaluation should a client be using as a way of
deciding who to work with? Surely its about the people? If its too
cheap, will service be substandard? Are there still protectionist
practices.

Well, honestly, we are dealing with an area of advertising that in
some ways has changed beyond recognition, and in others remains as
cloaked in the vagaries of invisible processes with very visible
costs.

The cynic says that delivery always has been, and remains nothing more
than a commodity. In other words, it has no impact on the
creative work. If you take this point of view, fine. All you
need to ask yourself is do you trust the company to deliver what you
want to where it needs to be….basically Digital DHL. Then do you have
the best price? There is nothing more complicated than that at all.

Then there’s my point of view, which is that delivery has grown up and
evolved. It’s no longer about shifting files from A to B.  Delivery’s
become the Event Horizon, the point at which all that creative, media
and production effort and cost becomes real, the actual point where
theory becomes quantifiable.

Delivery partners that understand this and what they’re providing
isn’t just a “delivery” service for a few £s will win out. What they
can provide is ‘the truth’, the data that proves your ad did what you
promised it’d do; where did it play out (really play out, not just
according to the media plan), who was it served to, what did they do
as a result, etc. We played around with this when I was in the
delivery business, watermarking the ads so you knew if your radio or
TVC actually went to air. How valuable would that be to a client? And
if you don’t think that ads got missed from airing, think again. Even
when I was a radio presenter I knew that national ads would
occasionally get shunted, or by the mistake of a DJ cutting the
Newslink ad by accident. I did it once so I know.

For a brand, this data can tell you what you really want to know
about your challenged media spend without the spin, the smoke and
mirrors and the mystery that campaign analytics is so often draped in.
Procurement doing an RFP need to look beyond just delivery, and see
what other value they can provide for their marketing colleagues who
have the original budget. This will also show procurement care more
than just about cost too, and can even add more value to their
internal relationships at the same time.

This intelligence closes the Creative – Media – Production – Playout
circle, it creates the perfect self-feeding cycle of creative
improvement and clever spending.

Whether you subscribe to my cynical or non-cynical point of view of
Delivery, the conclusions the same:

Technology has improved, bandwidth has come on leaps and bounds in 13
years and moving a broadcast digital file around can be done from your
laptop, and storage is all in the Cloud. Its not about TV anymore
anyway, its all about moving ‘content’ around. So what does your
Delivery company provide that still warrants the similar pricing as before?

We’re seeing all sorts of deals, and bundling of workflow, DAM and
other services thrown in for free with the price. But then there are
all the added extras you DO pay for such as HD delivery, VOD,
subtitling, online and Express delivery as a way of beefing up the
charges.  All very strange in my view and unwarranted as Express
delivery takes the same amount of time to send as a normal standard
delivery…..its all digital FFS. And HD files can often be smaller size
than a standard broadcast file, so surely the HD delivery should cost
less than a SD? Some of these extra charges are bordering on
fraud frankly.

There HAS to be better transparency, and these companies have to stop
finding ways to charge extra to cover all the massive overhead derived
from building old legacy systems and human QC which should go back to
the post houses. Now in the big scale of things of a production
budget, these smaller sums seem insignificant, but as the number of
destinations just get larger, the flat fee ceiling now looks like
great value as long as there are no hidden extras.

So here’s my tip for sourcing a distribution partner.

Find the simplest possible solution to provide you what you need and
expect. Ask the questions;

Do I trust this team to get my precious assets from A to B without
screwing up? 2. Is the pricing transparent, and do I have the best
price?

Is there insurance to cover missed deadlines/airtime or wrong delivery?

Are there hidden extras such file format changes, storage costs and
‘international’ rates (all of which are become less acceptable now)

Finally, how could the delivery guy actually add value to what your
ads trying to do? What does your delivery partner know about your ad
at the moment of reality that’d be worth you knowing?

I am loving this moment, as we see new entrants into the marketplace
challenging the companies that only 13 years ago were the new kids on
the block. Challengers make the existing players work harder, be more
efficient and provide transparent pricing. It’s healthy. You have to
ask the question though, if there weren’t a challenger, would
restrictive practices continue?? Of course they would. Remember there
are significant revenues at stake here and no one likes to give that
up. It reminds me of 2003 all over again.

Bottomline though for me  – Simple is good, and that works for someone
like me. Nothing more, nothing less.

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