NBC News Digital: A Case of ‘Once’ and Done

Article ImageCompany: NBC News Digital 
NBC News Digital (NBC ND)-one of the world's leading news brands, with millions of unique visitors every day-has a reputation for delivering timely, compelling, diverse, and visually engaging stories. Formerly known as Msnbc Digital Network, NBC ND is part of NBC News and supports a variety of its brands, including The TODAY Show, MSNBC, Dateline, and NBC Nightly News.

Business Challenge
As mobile devices proliferated, NBC ND found itself faced with a problem that is familiar to digital publishers across the spectrum. The content management and video delivery solutions those publishers had relied on were not up to the task of delivering and monetizing content across a variety of devices and platforms in a simple, streamlined way. With these new considerations in mind, NBC ND went in search of a new video delivery and monetization solution.

Vendor of Choice: Unicorn Media
Unicorn Media, Inc.-headquartered in Tempe, Ariz.-is a provider of internet video solutions that enable companies to maximize IP video profitability. Unicorn's patented technology, Unicorn Once, allows customers to ingest video content one time and deliver it to any internet-connected device via a single URL. Content owners can monetize their content on any device by dynamically inserting targeted ads and analyzing content and ad performance in real time on every platform, allowing for on-the-fly changes to maximize profitability.

Problem in Depth
NBC News Digital strives to deliver the best original journalism, commentary, and local updates to popular mobile devices, so its workflow issues were paramount. When NBC ND first entered the world of mobile video delivery, it went with a fairly turnkey solution for handling video delivery to a range of devices and monetizing that content. But as the network's needs grew-and especially when it later entered app development for the iPad and other higher-end devices-its provider's limitations with content ingestion, ad stitching, and analytics were resulting in lost monetization opportunities and business agility. Thus, NBC needed a solution that allowed for a greater level of flexibility, performance, speed, and reporting capability for both ad and mobile video delivery.
NBC ND had been using the Limelight Network Kiptronic service but needed more, says Anthony Baker, NBC News Digital's principal program manager of video platforms. "Kiptronic is a really good service for a number of businesses but what I found was that it didn't work well for the nature of our business, the news business," says Baker.

"The issue there was that we didn't have the flexibility ... it didn't provide us with the measure of flexibility that we really needed to run our business. Particularly, the mobile space continues to grow and continues to be in a state of flux," adds Baker.

Also, with its previous service, NBC News Digital did not have the ability to manipulate ads without retranscoding every piece of content. As a result, the company wanted greater visibility into transcoding status in order to increase the ROI and maximize yields. With so many visitors demanding immediate, high-quality media on hundreds of device types, NBC also wanted the ability to manipulate an asset so that only specific segments of a media item could be published on different devices for maximum profitability.

The Solution
Enter Unicorn Once, which allows content owners such as NBC ND to ingest media one time and deliver it everywhere with dynamic ad integration and real-time analytics across any internet-connected device. NBC ND began using the service in December 2011, according to Baker. "I started looking for an alternate and then came across Unicorn ... [and] I felt very strongly that their platform was radically different than the Kiptronic service and would provide really what we needed."

"We're focused on helping large media companies monetize their content," says Bill Rinehart, founder, chairman, and CEO of Unicorn Media. "That said, we also strive to simplify the process that allows them to easily reach every IP-enabled device in the world. The task is complex, and prior to using Unicorn Once, was actually very costly and time consuming. Our technology automated the process without disrupting the workflows they had in place that worked well for them, delivers high-quality content to devices everywhere faster than they previously could and allows them to insert pre, mid, and post roll ads anywhere in the stream."

Baker says NBC ND has implemented a system "where I can provide, very easily, a 100% server side video and ad delivery solution for an application." He continues, "And what that means is basically someone comes to me and says they need to get mobile video to this new application they are building. And what I'm able to say is, ‘Ok, I can handle analytics for you; I can handle ad delivery-pre-roll advertising-for you; I can handle video delivery to you. You don't need to worry about: are you on a broadband connection or are you on a cellular connection? It's not a concern you have to have.'"

On the advertising side, Baker noted that "a huge difference" between the Kiptronic service and Unicorn Once is that ad stitching and delivery is "done on the fly."

"What used to happen in the stitching scenario with Kiptronic is they would pre-build so if I have five pieces of creative ... [and] one video potentially, you have to pre-build all five versions of that video in all the formats with that ad attached to it, so you had to wait for that six times," explains Baker. "With Unicorn they'll do it on the fly and only on request."

The Outcome
Unicorn Once says it made an impact almost instantaneously for NBC ND, exponentially increasing content quality and speed of delivery and greatly improving the user experience. In fact, NBC News Digital was able to monetize its Roku content for the first time ever.

"[NBC ND] simply provided a file with all the metadata associated and through our content synchronization tool, we allowed them to use their existing publishing workflows for everything from their mobile website to their mobile applications," says a Unicorn case study. "There were no customers facing changes other than a higher quality output, asset availability per device and speed-of-play. The simple, behind the scenes integration exponentially increased the speed of publishing, increased ad revenue and reduced costs across multiple divisions."

According to Baker, his company is on track to see an increase of 25% in mobile ad revenue in the current fiscal year. "Working with Unicorn Media and its integration with our ad decision platform, mOcean, we are able to quickly flight new campaigns across all devices with no difficulty on the part of our ad operations team," says Baker.

Unicorn has also been quick to meet NBC ND's requests for feature changes. "We have asked for specific feature changes at times which they've accommodated readily," notes Baker. "The nice thing about their platform is it's really not a mobile delivery platform per se; it's much broader."

For any company that may be considering Unicorn Once, Rinehart says he would tell them "we're in the business of making them money." He adds, "They'll deliver to more devices, place more ads, and grow their mobile audience-and they'll get higher CPMs on their advertising content. We're built for scale and we solve the hardest problems in internet video."

Baker adds he would wholeheartedly recommend Unicorn Once to another company. "We use it all over the place; it's been a huge advantage for us," says Baker. "I have absolutely no problem recommending them to somebody else; I think that they're ahead of the game. I think their platform is robust and I think it's wildly flexible."