Ian McDonough shares why the need to create engaging content remotely will remain the same even when the industry returns to a post-COVID world.
In his role as Blackbird’s Chief Executive Officer, Ian McDonough delivers growth, innovation, partnerships, and successful investment in content across global markets and has helped accelerate the adoption of remote production in sports and entertainment.
How is cloud-native video editing helping to set new benchmarks for fan engagement?
With Blackbird, we provide a full set of editing tools in a browser, which means that we’re putting a full suite in the hands of people that would previously have had to book, travel to, and work in a physical edit bay—which is obviously a very select number of people. The extent to which this disrupts the status quo cannot be understated. Now practically anybody can have access to this pro editing toolset from wherever they are, and it’s in a browser. So it naturally means that the bar goes considerably higher in terms of the amount and the quality of the content that fans have access to and so engagement naturally follows. One of the key reference points is we just won a SportsPro award for our digital-first production for esports with Gfinity in the UK.
How can sports properties leverage technology like Blackbird’s to drive more revenue through digital?
One of the key ways is by leveraging the power of a remote and distributed workforce to create a collaborative production, a great example of this is Deltatre’s use of Blackbird for the European SVOD NFL product, the NFL Game Pass. The NFL Game Pass is produced by Deltatre using two production teams, one in Turin, Italy, and another in Los Angeles. If the Game Pass team had to travel to each and every football game across the U.S. in order to create that content, the economics of that model would be entirely different. It’s about creating more revenue by offering services such as NFL Game Pass to be produced faster, in a more cost efficient way for the European audience.
How do you help your clients measure success of their remote production workflow(s)?
There are many core selling points we talk about when we present Blackbird. These can be summarized as faster speed, lower cost, and a huge amount of flexibility in the workflow. This last point gives our customers operational resilience in the face of large-scale disruption and it gives their end-users freedom to operate from a safe and convenient place such as the home.
When it comes to speed, one of the examples that I think is pertinent is our relationship with the National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia. They wanted to have a platform that was able to produce long-form content for international VOD rights that they acquired, but their challenge was to turn around an edited and branded clip of a game that was taking place in Brisbane or Sydney to Twitter in less than a minute, and we’ve managed to get it down to less than 30 seconds. A piece of action happening on the field is ingested into the cloud. Then it is edited, graphics are overlaid, and it is automated and published to Twitter – all in under 30 seconds. Blackbird is incredibly fast, in fact sometimes faster than the live broadcast feed often takes to get to the end viewer.
In terms of cost, we have a unique Blackbird technology-driven methodology that results in a lower total cost of ownership and is significantly more efficient in terms of a carbon footprint than traditional competitors.
Video gaming and esports have increased in popularity dramatically over the last few years, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. What type of obstacles has that industry faced in content production, and how are you helping companies like Riot Games overcome them?
The key enabler of esports sustainability through the pandemic was that it didn’t require live fans in seats or competitors in a venue. But this still meant that people had to travel to create the content because even though everything was online, the production suites were still centralized within, for instance, a Los Angeles facility. Few of the Riot Games team could travel outside of their front doors so we helped them create a completely remote editing facility, working from their own homes. These clipped highlights then became part of the overall live broadcast too.
What are common goals of gaming organizations like “League of Legends” when partnering with Blackbird?
It’s about driving as much high-quality content to the end-user – so it’s all about the speed and the quality of the outputs. It’s about having as many people create as much content as possible as fast as possible to allow the fans to enjoy every single moment, every single thrill of the tournament.
With Blackbird, you can see every single frame within the video, and that is very important in esports because people want to know if contact was made, when the kill happened, how it happened, and so on.
It’s not just in esports that frame-accurate editing is important— it’s in every sport. Fans can get belligerent about seeing the details in sports.
Talk a bit about the importance of the partnership you signed this year with the NHL to the league’s Return to Action and Stanley Cup Playoffs strategy?
It was a very disruptive year, an extraordinary year for sports that have coped incredibly well to return to as much action as possible. We were delighted to help the NHL create content for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were not initially able to travel for safety reasons to a central edit station and had to work from their homes across the US so it was very important for them to have a pro editing platform that had the full suite of tools and bandwidth. We have now been incorporated into a central New York facility which demonstrates the ongoing importance of Blackbird to the NHL team and we also had technology at the recent outdoor broadcast from Lake Tahoe featuring the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.
Any new products or features that will be dropping in the near future?
The key thing for us is we would love to be able to replicate everything that we do on Blackbird in the major public clouds. This would not just be the edges that can reside there now but also the actual proxy editing. This will mean it can be self-service, able to be spun up, spun down, and incorporated much more easily into the public cloud toolsets that they already sell. That’s probably the key thing.
As the world returns to “normal” how will Blackbird evolve its partnership with the NHL, Riot Games, and other clients?
We will look to deepen our relationships with all of those parties. What’s really key that’s happened through the pandemic is that remote production has gone from being an afterthought or a nice-to-have to being an absolute must-have. It’s not just because of the COVID safety, but also because of cost, human capital, carbon footprint, and of course the key attribute that drives so much technical innovation – that of convenience! Now, remote production is a must-have. You’re going to see an awful lot more of it, and that’s how Blackbird will really help these organizations going forward.
As recent winners of the Emerging Technology Company of the Year as an example, the profile, belief, and understanding of Blackbird have gone through the roof, and that’s going to hold us in very good stead as we move past the crisis.
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