Bitcentral’s FUEL Revolutionizes On-Line News Production and Delivery Paradigm

Aug 15 2018

Linear on Demand™ personalized digital streaming brings viewers and revenue back to content owners

This month’s company highlight features Bitcentral, a well-recognized award-winning manufacturer of news content production, distribution, aggregation and publishing provisions to broadcasters and content creation companies. The pioneering company, founded in 1980 as Miralite Communications, a provider of satellite networks worldwide, changed its name to Bitcentral in 2000. Since its inception, the company with over 50% marketshare in the US, has provided its over 255 clients a mix of hardware and software solutions, but is in the process of evolving toward a software solutions company that will provide efficient media workflows and customized solutions to maximize the value of video content.

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Fred Fourcher, Founder and CEO; Sam Peterson, VP of Product Management and David Hemingway, Senior Product Manager to discuss their launch of FUEL™ this week. FUEL, which made its debut at this year’s NAB, is Bitcentral’s cloud-based modular news platform that provides broadcasters and content providers a means to personalize the online viewing experience while helping them to more efficiently monetize their media assets through advertising.

FUEL and its Aha Moment
According to Fred Fourcher, Bitcentral started looking into the deficiencies in their customers’ revenue model several years ago and found that there was an opportunity to help them better refine and enhance their audience viewing experience of creating and distributing content online. “Our customers give our technical experts in our customer support center, which is open 365 days a year, 24×7, the highest
customer satisfaction monthly rating in the industry at 97-100%. That trust grants us complete access to their systems and online data, so we can test within their environment as we design the most innovative solutions,” said Fourcher. “Up until now, TV stations and content providers realized that there was a large advertising revenue gap between TV advertising vs. online and that the present toolsets and workflows were not optimized to be able to monetize the potential change in revenue coming from an online audience.” As an example, many TV stations up until now, put a slate up or playback an old newscast when they are not “in the news”. As a result, watching an online program feed only to see a black slate coming up to say that they will be right back after a commercial break, coinciding with what is being broadcast, is not a great way to endear an online audience to keep watching your online site.

Fourcher remarked that it was at this point that Bitcentral realized that’s the “aha moment” to really think about the revenue side for stations – that is how to make it simple for TV stations and content providers to sell, place and generate advertising revenue on social media platforms. “Our customers are only achieving 20% of the revenue they could from their online platforms. They don’t have an easy-to-implement workflow platform solution. They needed a way to supplement the declining advertising revenue from traditional TV with new revenue generated from their digital platforms, i.e., they want to make their existing content easily available on digital (OTT, web, apps, mobile devices, etc.) platforms with one easy and simple-to-deploy workflow that can monetize their online content on all devices,” added Fourcher.

Bitcentral‘s innovative solution to this predicament is their newly developed FUEL platform. FUEL is a Linear on Demand™ (LOD™) stream creation platform that is purpose built as a monetization scheme for assets that’s been created either from news production or master control for getting assets out to an online audience through OTT like a Roku app, Android/Apple TV app or online audience site. The new digital platform affords TV stations personalized channels in a cloud-based solution. FUEL seamlessly delivers stories viewers are interested in, delivered when and where they want to consume them, across all platforms. FUEL’s personalized LOD streaming provides the ultimate viewing experience because it offers people the ability to watch a newscast or program from the start whenever they access it, coupled with stories or content personalized to each viewer.

Further research resulted in FUEL’s two primary goals: 1) having an integration with an ad exchange (efficient way to mechanize the ad placement); and 2) having the ability to enhance the viewing experience for the viewer instead of duplicating what TV stations were showing over the air. “FUEL allows TV stations to personalize and create a style of experience for the viewer wither it be content or advertising – enhancing the engagement over a longer period.” Future iterations of FUEL will allow content owners to personalize their content for viewership, including news.

FUEL’s Scalable Platform
Sam Peterson, elaborated on FUEL that it has been architected on a modular set of components. This architecture provides flexibility to make available individual features to meet specific customer needs. “We’ve developed FUEL to address our customers’ challenge of streamlining the digital workflow process with a simple-to-deploy, easy-to-integrate and easy-to-operate process that will bring viewers and revenue back to them,” continued Peterson.
Bitcentral’s goal for FUEL’s personalized LOD streaming is to provide the ultimate viewing experience because it offers viewers the ability to watch a newscast or program from the “top of the playlist” whenever accessed, coupled with stories and content personalized for each viewer. Content is dynamically constructed in real-time using enhanced metadata to stream content based on the viewer’s geography, demographics and user preferences as they consume it. The personalized stream translates into higher levels of engagement, longer viewing, and more advertising impressions – resulting in more revenue staying with the content owners. Non-personalized stream generation is also available.

Fuel’s dynamic streaming integrates with an ad exchange network to insert advertisements server-side maintaining a high-quality viewer experience. Newly designed tools provide faster than ever clipping, versioning, graphics overlay and closed captioning capabilities. The white-label platform is also easily scalable for additional media channels and future requirements and is delivered in a SaaS (Software as a Service) model along with advertising revenue sharing.

Main FUEL Highlights:

• Provides an easy path to generating new digital revenue
• Linear on DemandTM streaming keeps viewers engaged and watching longer on any device
• Dynamic and personalized viewing experience (more relevant content means longer viewing times, which means more revenue)
• Streams monetized via local ads or programmatic exchange with server-side insertion to prevent ad blocking
• Non-Stop NewsTM (automated live pass-through and recording/VOD of newscasts with dynamic ad insertion)
• All in one efficient end-to -end digital content workflow
– Ingest tools with metadata capture
– Sub-clipping
– Speech-to-text for metadata enhancement, captioning and faster editing
– Graphics tools to add lower thirds and transitional elements
– Closed caption editing tools to manipulate existing captions or create new captions

An Inside Look at FUEL
“As the market leader and the news production workflow experts, our customers turned to us to develop an innovative online viewing experience as engaging as on TV that would enable them to significantly
monetize their online content,” commented David Hemingway. “Our FUEL solution platform gives broadcasters and content providers an easy path to find viewers on social media and attract them to their own digital platforms and apps.”

According to Hemingway, Bitcentral’s FUEL platform seamlessly streams relevant videos from newspapers, online, mobile, etc., personalized to viewers when they want to view them, and on any device, along with the ability to efficiently enhance and monetize existing assets through advertising. Its efficient and easy-to-use tools offer a smooth and integrated workflow combined with a server-side streaming engine that, together, produce a personalized viewing experience. “With FUEL as the digital platform, viewers watch longer, more ads are viewed, and more revenue is realized.”

Prior to FUEL, many of Bitcentral’s customers complained that it was difficult to get something out in time due to too many tools and too many people involved with the digital workflow. To this end, one of the main operating priorities for FUEL was to make it as easy and efficient as possible for the user to operate.

To help streamline the ingest process either online or live ingest, FUEL’s front end is integrated with their OasisTM asset management system. Newly designed tools provide faster than ever clipping, versioning, graphics overlay and closed captioning capabilities.

In operation when a job is kicked off, the metadata is scraped off from video content itself. Metadata is prepopulated if brought in from Oasis or additionally added to each video clip, resulting in a customized viewing experience for the individual viewer. The system then creates video proxies for clipping and versioning, thumbnail and audio proxies for editing alignment. Graphics can then be inserted (logo bug, branded graphic anywhere on screen, open text captioning for mobile app or site, etc.), prior to playlist generation and delivery.

FUEL also has an integrated speech-to-text module to make versioning as quick as possible that maximizes the system’s efficiency when clipping source content. Its time and text-based clip identification relieves the user of having to scrub video to find exact in and out points for the clip – just type and click on any word and the system will go directly to the clip. From there, users can drag-and-drop clips to complete the video/audio timeline.
Additionally, users can add enhanced metadata to assets throughout the workflow to customize the media to the individual viewer. Accordingly, video content is dynamically constructed in real-time, per viewer, to their geography, demographic and user preferences. During playout, the system also gives users the ability to seamlessly switch to unplanned live news, while still maintaining a continuous stream of video content from its file-based playlist components.

Lastly, FUEL adds a comprehensive rights management layer for added security. Using a rule-based model, the system can be configured for multi-use and multi-tenet operation, managing distributed assets across multiple locations. Easy-to-deploy, its channel manager can then dynamically create a URL link to start the on-line viewing experience.

The Main Features of FUEL are:

• Ingest file-based and Live Media
– SDI and RTMP live streaming formats
– Integrated with OasisTM (Asset Management System)
– Easy to use file upload

• Focused Asset Management System
– Video centric
– Rights management
– Manages distributed assets in multiple locations
– Supports the enhancement and use of metadata

• User and Content Metadata Management & Enhancement
– System ensures metadata is associated with media assets prior to ingest
– Auto-categorizes content ingested into the system
– Add enhanced metadata to assets throughout the workflow

• One Tool for all Content Preparation One of the key benefits of FUEL is that it has all of the content editing elements in one tool to quickly version content, apply graphics and manage closed captions
– Clipping tool
– Graphics tool to apply lower 3rds, branding bugs & open text
– Captioning tool to create and edit captions

• Integrated Speech-to-Text
– Maximizes efficiency when clipping source content
– Time and text-based clip identification, no need to scrub video to find exact in and out points for the clip

• Seamless switching between live stream and file-based playlist components
– Ability to seamlessly switch to unplanned Live news, while still maintaining a continuous stream of video content

• Dynamic Playlist Generation to Create a Personalized Viewing Experience
– Video content is dynamically constructed in real-time, per viewer, to their geography, demographic and user preferences
– Leverages all available metadata and analytics to customize the media to the individual viewer

• Easily Monetize Media Published for Online Viewing
– Support both local spot and programmatic ad delivery
– Pre-integrated with an Ad Exchange
– Server-Side Ad Insertion for all advertising
• Linear-On-Demand (LOD) delivery
– Stitching together individual clips to seamlessly create a continuous linear stream of video content
– Server-side delivery
– Maximizes viewership retention

• Scalable best-in-class Cloud-based architecture
– Easily scales to the necessary demand
– No hardware expense required

• Intelligent Analytics
– Provides system and viewer data to report most engaging content
– Ability to use analytic intelligence to make better decisions on the type of content created

FUEL’s Business Model

FUEL’s rollout is a SaaS model and customers are charged based on three elements: 1) a monthly fee for the platform based on market size; 2) a usage fee based on the number of streams produced and 3) a percentage of net inventory.

Bottom Line

“FUEL will enable TV stations and content providers to open up new revenue streams by giving viewers the choice to watch a newscast from the beginning any time they want, personalized to their viewing preferences on their TV, phone, tablet or computer,” concluded Fourcher. “FUEL helps overcome the lack of monetization on YouTube, Facebook and the like by teasing content on social media and monetizing it on a broadcaster-controlled platform.”

Personally, I think Bitcentral has hit a home run in that FUEL will give media companies the right tools, the right products and importantly, the right analytics to better monetize their content and advertising across all platforms. Bottom line – FUEL is a game changer that’s long overdue in the industry.

Posted on Broadcast Beat here