Managing Costs in a Multi-Platform World

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A Multimedia Experience

Of course, the same users who consume their content on-the-go likely want video and audio content next, adding another level of difficulty to the digital publisher's multiplatform dilemma. While plain text presents its own set of challenges, dealing with audio and video file types across platforms is an entirely different animal. Just consider Apple's infamous refusal to run Flash on its devices.

Wowza Media Systems has server software that delivers streaming video and audio content as streaming content on a variety of platforms. "One of the great benefits is the ability to take a single piece of content and distribute it to various players and devices, from PCs to iPhones to iPads," says Alex Dobrushin, Wowza's CMO. "When you're talking about optimizing content for delivery to any screen, that's what we enable so you don't have to create content separately for each screen's use. Since it is much more unified and easier to manage, it is more cost-effective." Dobrushin says this offering has been available since 2009.

By taking the guesswork out of which devices they should work with, digital publishers can more effectively extend their customer base-not limit it. End customers "shouldn't be worried about if they have Flash installed on their device," says Dobrushin. "From the consumer point of view, consumers don't really care what technology is being used as long as they can watch content on their particular device."

While pushing that content out on various devices, some technology solutions literally pay for themselves by offering crucial insight that can help publishers and their advertisers generate the ROI necessary to fund their presence on multiple platforms.

Adswizz's product is a digital streaming audio ad server that streams audio content for its customers on a variety of platforms, such as smartphones and tablets. "We help publishers [such as radio broadcasters] monetize their content," explains Alexis Van De Wyer, president of Adswizz Americas.

Adswizz provides measurement tools that help publishers further understand how they should spend their digital content dollars, as well as help them guide advertisers toward the most profitable spending options. The measurement tools enable publishers to understand who is listening to the content, where those people are located, and what kind of devices they are using, explains Van De Wyer. This allows the company to target ads to specific consumers.

Multiple Platforms, Multiple Revenue Streams

While publishers can distribute content to multiple channels to increase revenues, there is some concern that these new avenues to profitability can instead become a losing proposition. When content is available across a multitude of digital platforms, there is always the possibility that unauthorized users (nonsubscribers) will receive paid content for free-thus, cutting into profits.

Digital rights management solutions are available to help digital publishers provide access to users across a range of devices without cannibalizing sales, while ensuring users who have earned access (through a paid subscription, for instance) are the only ones consuming the content.

Glenn Grube, global director, sales and marketing of ebusiness for ModusLink Corp., explains how the company's entitlement management offerings are designed to help digital content providers protect their digital assets, while offering users the flexibility to view content on just about any platform. But he acknowledges the challenge digital publishers have in making this a viable business model.

"The challenge is, how do [publishers] keep their revenue stream at a current level and offer the consumer the ability to move it from hardware platform to hardware platform?" says Grube. "The consumers are in control and they are demanding this [flexibility]. Eventually, if they want to provide content, they have to find a balance between giving customers what they want and still generating a revenue stream."

Grube noted a European book publisher that was exploring the addition of ModusLink's technology to a digital book that would identify what particular device was being used to access the book. "So when it's opened, the book can recognize that it is on [a particular device, like a tablet] and format itself," says Grube. "That way, you don't have to maintain multiple copies of the book, so you're reducing your storage and your technology costs."

This publisher is also looking at embedding a locking technology into the book so a consumer who purchases it will need an activation key to view the content, thereby "locking out" anyone else who wants to view it. Such solutions could certainly help protect the bottom line of publishers, but they are likely going to have to tread lightly as they determine if these strategies are accepted by consumers, many of whom aren't accustomed to paying for digital content.

Publishing Platforms of the Future

While we don't yet know what the next in-demand digital platform will be, that's not an excuse for digital publishers to be unprepared. "The publishers need to be looking at the evolving technology landscape," says Trippe. "The thing publishers are naturally good at, and getting better at, is the content they create and the audience they understand. Over time, publishers will gain an increasing understanding of user behavior and be able to make the content experience much more valuable ... delivering what they truly want to read, what they like, [and] what fits their style of content consumption. There will be less guesswork around that."

Frost & Sullivan's Roberts re-emphasizes that it's not the channel content providers must worry about. It's the content processes. "In my experience, it's not the channel that's significant for their investment, rather it's actually the investment they place in securing open and flexible content processes," says Roberts. "So whatever the next channel [is], as long as content is effectively managed, tagged, and stored, you're able to keep that content flexible and can repurpose it as required." That's something that will never change, no matter what technology platforms emerge. If publishers keep producing quality content and keep it organized, they won't have to duplicate any potentially costly content management efforts, and they will be prepared for that next new "it" device.

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For content jockeys, of course, it is the dream: a single information store and automated delivery to multiple platforms in numerous configurations, all at the push of a button. And it is not a new ambition--it predates the tablet and smartphone outbreak by decades. The need for smart content management and the ability to automatically generate customized outputs, then, is greater than ever. Luckily, getting there is easy. All you need is intelligent content and cross-platform code development. (Okay, maybe getting there sounds easy.)