Deluxe Exec: Content, Metadata Standardization Among Ongoing Industry Challenges

As Deluxe Entertainment continues to use its cloud-based Deluxe One open platform to try and unify global content creation and distribution amid today’s increasingly complex entertainment ecosystem, content and metadata standardization continue to be among the biggest challenges the company continues to see across the industry, according to Stefanie Gamberg, its VP of product management.

Gamberg was one of the builders of Deluxe One, which the company introduced in April at the NAB Show. Deluxe One “unifies every stage of the content ecosystem — from creation to viewer experience — in one cloud-based interface,” Deluxe said in its announcement at the time. The platform was designed to “integrate with any vendor or customer system, allowing users to succeed in an age where the lines between creator and distributor are becoming increasingly blurred,” the company said.

The platform unifies a network of micro-services accessed via an intuitive interface that, as Deluxe demonstrated to reporters at NAB, helps customers streamline their workflow, whether they are using the company’s end-to-end solution or just part of it, according to Deluxe.

The company is “essentially enabling what we’re calling a virtualized media marketplace,” Gamberg told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) in a recent phone interview. The platform includes layers of integration for its customers, collaborating companies and rival competitors, she noted, explaining that for its own customers, “we want to integrate with their applications and tools, and make it as easy and seamless to work with content back and forth between the originating company and us, and also take advantage of our creative services up front.”

Deluxe One includes four verticals: a creative vertical that’s overseen by Melissa Cao, VP of product management for creative services; a localization vertical overseen by Gregory Taieb, VP of product development and innovation; a mastering and servicing area that Gamberg oversees; and an over-the-top (OTT) vertical overseen by Kristie Fung, VP of product management for OTT & content exchange, Gamberg told MESA.

“What that means is that we are encompassing everything from creative through OTT in this platform,” Gamberg explained, adding the area she focuses on is the mastering and delivery area – “so, anything that has to do with digital distribution products driving the mastering and servicing portion of the workflow.” Microservices covered in her area “span title and asset management, metadata, ingest, materials analysis, transcoding, packaging, delivery and all the non-sexy stuff like orders and reporting and billing,” she said with a laugh, noting “nobody ever wants to deal with those, but they’re part of the process.

The challenge of content and metadata standardization “affects every vertical but it heavily impacts our ability to not only automate processes, but when you’re dealing with global versioning, localization, digital delivery methods, everything impacts the process,” she told MESA.

However, she said: “You can’t even get the process started if you don’t know what you have. If you can’t tell this inventory means I have these items that can be used in these regions or these territories on these platforms; if you can’t even visualize and have visibility into that inventory, you’re not going to be able to monetize your content or distribute it.”

Inconsistent Data Standards
As the number of content creators continues to grow, “there’s less and less consistency with how content — this data — is represented or shared,” she said. Deluxe is “seeing all of those struggles — even with” the Interoperable Media Format” (IMF) “right now,” she said, adding: “Something as simple as like a basic title hierarchy — how we deal with universe, franchise, brand, series, season, episodes — all things that MESA really helps people deal with metadata-wise — we’re dealing with. And those metadata points can change dramatically from organization to organization.”

She noted that, at a recent Digital Supply Chain Alliance (DSCA) event, Deluxe and other organizations from throughout the industry “spent over six hours collaborating on how to standardize avails and metadata” and asset fulfillment.
“The real challenge is: how do we standardize this across the industry? And our goal is really to help create that structure that allows everyone to describe their data in the way they want but within this standardized framework,” she said.

So, although “there may be nuances to how you define or store your content and data internally, we want to be able to present your content to the world and ensure that it’s accepted by all platforms and we can provide a consistent user experience,” she said, adding: “That’s really key for Deluxe One as a platform. And those are some of the challenges we’re trying to tackle.”
At the end of the day, “if we can organize content, we can enable automation,” she pointed out, adding: “That’s what really expedites content to market. It gives content owners the ability to monetize in new ways across platforms, and that’s even more important now as competition for audiences everywhere increases.”
Migrating to the Cloud

Deluxe, meanwhile, is also focused on “making sure that, as a cloud platform, we’re no longer tied to the historical” concerns of companies such as the “need to go through long-range planning” or dealing with procurement for infrastructure, she said.

“We’ve migrated to the cloud to allow us to be unconstrained by capacity, processing or storage,” she said, adding: “We’re moving to a place where we can move content between virtual sets of storage without actually moving content. What once took, I would say, weeks or months to procure equipment, now in a matter of minutes we can say ‘we want to spin up 5,000 more machines because we’re launching a new campaign.’ Or ‘we know that we’re going to have petabytes of content coming in [and] we need to make sure we’re ready for it.’ So, really, as more and more of the industry migrates operations into the cloud, we’re going to be ready to meet the demand for that efficiency and reliability.”

Gamberg and the team of five women — Cao, Fung and also director of product strategy Hannah Barnhardt, head of UI/UX product management Evangeline Lee, and VP of new technology Sherry Kao — that built Deluxe One have been able to shorten the lifecycle of content between camera lens and screen, enabling studios to meet audiences’ demand for more and more content, in “a couple of different ways,” Gamberg said.

For one thing, “we’re really leveraging system logic,” she said, explaining: “On the back end of the microservices, we’re doing materials analysis. We’re doing normalization of content. We’re creating that clean set of assets upstream with that robust metadata, which will speed up the creation of downstream deliverables and reduce redundancy work, reduce wasted resources, reduce the time that you’re manually spending researching your content. You’ll know what conforms. You’ll have the ability to auto conform. All of those things take place only after the standardization or normalization of your content and metadata takes place. So, really by connecting the content and metadata across services, spanning creative, the mastering and servicing, localization and OTT … we’re able to manage and allow people to view their content without lengthy research, without additional systems and without systems that are historically siloed. You now have all of your content and metadata at your fingertips via one centralized platform.”

Building a platform that has all the “expansiveness that we are trying to achieve” comes with many challenges, she went on to say. “But the biggest challenges recently really have been how do we aggregate so much metadata according to the content that’s coming in and how do we help the content providers invest in normalizing that data? That’s really one of the biggest challenges because everybody likes things the way they have them and they really need to understand the investment in standardization to enable faster turnaround time to market and I think people are getting onboard. They’re understanding it now. But I think that’s one of the things in the industry at large that has been difficult for all of us.”

Gamberg started at Deluxe in March 2017 and her team of four VPs — three of whom are women — share an office, so “we spend a lot of time together,” she told MESA. “It’s just been amazing having a group of women in a technology-driven sector of the industry to compare notes with, to share experiences with,” she said, adding: “It’s rare that you find that many women in those roles overseeing technical product and really driving those products.”

Of the challenges facing women in the technology sector in general, she noted that it took time for her to learn how to “self-promote and to take credit” for her achievements. She added: “I think being visible in the industry and building relationships – really networking – is completely underrated. I can’t stress enough the value and importance of networking” at MESA and other industry events.