medici.tv, a window to classical music open to the world
Concerts, ballets, operas, documentaries, master classes, educational resources, jazz and much more; all this, live and on-demand for a global audience. The offering of the medici.tv video on demand platform is the dream of any hardcore fan of classical music, but also a perfect introduction into this world thanks to a careful mix of AI-based editorial selections and recommendations.
With an eye toward the highest audiovisual fidelity formats, this OTT service presents attractive challenges. We do not only mean managing a huge catalog of contents with lots of cris-cross metadata, but a growing commitment to live streaming.
We found out the beginnings and addressed the present times of medici.tv with the help of Hervé Boissière, Founder and Managing Director.
How does a platform like medici.tv become a global reference?
Our key pillars are the quality of the content, the diversity and richness of our offer. Today medici.tv presents over 2600 first-class programs dedicated to all genres of classical music, from concerts to operas, ballets, documentaries and masterclasses, to please different types of music lovers such as newcomers or connoisseurs. In addition, medici.tv is the only platform to offer 150 live events each year from the leading international institutions all over the world. Entertainment is by definition driven by content and our added value definitely stems from our capacity to curate, select and promote the best content in the performing arts community.
Classical music is definitely international, as there exist no borders for the composers, performers and viewers! We have the opportunity to work with the best musicians of our time and they have a global reach.
What was the mission of medici.tv when it was born? Was it streaming live events? Was the VoD platform also planned from its origin?
The mission of medici.tv is to serve our dream and belief which is that art can save the world. At a time when there are major disruptions, crises and real difficulties for human beings, art is a strong message of hope, of intellectual development, emotion, and pleasure. Our goal is to share those values with as many people as possible. To accomplish this mission, we have to create very strong relationships with the artists themselves to build long-term projects such as developments in terms of repertoire, in order to create the best possible conditions for filming and broadcasting them.
We started very early, in 2008: At that time there was no real consumption for streaming services, both due to the technology and consumer habits. We knew that being dependent on a single revenue stream such as subscription, which was in its very early age, was too risky. We therefore decided from the inception of the project to create different revenue streams: B2C, B2B, production and sponsoring. The idea of collecting the best possible catalog and streaming live the finest events was there from the beginning. It considerably helped us in gathering a faithful international community, since at that time it was a one-of-a-kind experience to “attend” a concert live at home from anywhere in the world. It was a fantastic democratisation of classical music! We started extending the reach of these remarkable artistic proposals, not only in terms of quantity (we usually multiply the live audience attending the performances by 20 or even 50 times) but also in terms of socio-demographic profiles. Classical music continuously suffers from its elitist reputation and many people are still shy to go to a classical music event. The possibility to bring to each home this content was the opportunity to create a link between the artist and a much bigger audience.
The visual proximity we have created was also very important. People could enjoy a whole new experience of the performing arts: Being in a way on stage with performers, the interactions with the conductor, the soloist, etc. This helped us a lot to engage with the public in the performances.
What do you consider to be medici.tv’s biggest challenge from a technology perspective?
There has always been a trio of challenges, which is putting together the best combination of content, product and technology.
We cannot isolate the technology, because without the best content and a fantastic user experience, technology is redundant. Technology is just a piece of the puzzle!
However, users are increasingly demanding with technology. They have access to outstanding online services every day (Uber, Netflix, Amazon…). These companies invest billions every year to improve their user experience. Today, everybody wants to have easy-to-use and effective services. As a small company, here at medici.tv we of course get the same pressure from our consumers to have the same quality of experience. To be more precise, and again connected to the specificity of our content, one of the key challenges is to cover the diversity of usages: of stream and of expectations, due to the huge number of different situations. From the mobile phone in the subway to the office, to the large home cinema at home for a three hour-long opera. This is really demanding, challenging, exciting and fascinating in order to cater to every type of consumer.
medici.tv currently offers most of its content in HD, but is beginning to offer UHD content. Is there a demand for this? What challenges does this entail?
Obviously, we are very active on improving the quality of the events’ videos. HD is of course the standard people expect today and we are increasingly sourcing UHD, 4K or even 8K when it’s available. We are definitely proactive on that; the key question is the quality of specification of the devices and of the Internet access of our viewers. Again, there are large differences in the big community we have. Flexibility and adaptability should always drive our work.
Does medici.tv produce live event coverage? Do you have an internal team or do you work with external production companies?
We do progressively produce our own content to complete an existing offer provided by our partners, which is already very good. It’s however great to have the ability to be present in some territories or in some genres; for instance, competitions became for medici.tv a very important development area. We produced ourselves twice for instance the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia or the Van Cliburn in the US and these events have been a major step in our short history, with dozens millions of people watching these competitions. We are really looking for a good balance between producers’ proposals and our capacity to generate ourselves our own recordings.
On the artistic side we have a permanent team to manage the productions (negotiation of the rights, management of the technical teams…) but we always hire a third party for filming and recording. We operate all over the world, and we are looking for the best resources and people in each country. Of course, it would not make sense to have a permanent team based in Paris when you have to operate on the five continents.
What’s the workflow for broadcasting one of your events? What technological elements are involved in the coverage?
We are used to working short-term timings, which means that compared to other media such as television we can react very quickly. Live streaming supposes being positively opportunistic, meaning that the priority is given to the artist, the quality of the content and the editorial. If, for some reason, the project arrives at the last minute but it really creates added value for our line-up, we have to be available. Flexibility is therefore a keyword in our operations, that’s how we can combine very much anticipated major events such as festivals or competitions and a line-up of smaller forms like concerts.
Regarding the technological elements involved in the coverage, today livestream broadcasts are getting easier with concert halls which have very good fiber internet connections. We have streaming partners all over the world who can be physically on site and push the live stream on our servers. For this, they use various encoders such as vMix, Elemental, Wirecast… Then, we have several CDN duplicating our live contents everywhere, to allow our audience to get the best quality with the maximum reliability from all over the world.
What live video codec are you implementing for these types of events?
We still use H.264 since it is really perfectly integrated in all standards for now. The streams are pushed from event locations through RTMP but more and more in SRT (Secure Reliable Transport), an UDP protocol very good for both data safety and route reliability. Our audience is receiving a HLS playlist of 5-6 adaptive streams which allow people to get the best quality as their device and connection can play. We are working on implementing HEVC codec and DASH protocol very soon now.
How has the encoding of your videos evolved over the years?
It has evolved a lot in 12 years! When we started, we even received physical video tapes and we were encoding them in a type of file which was quite limited and very simple. Now, of course, we have dramatically improved our capacity to be distributed on different platforms, in different formats. The streaming quality was linked with the possibilities of internet connections: in 2008, the stream was 512×288; in 2011, we streamed in 720×404; and now we have some concerts and operas available in 4K (4096×2160). We are now trying to lower our bandwidth use to save both money and the planet [laughs].
The audio bit rate we suppose is of great importance to Medici.tv. How did you work in this area to meet the expectations of your audience? How can spectators recreate the sensations of being in the concert hall?
Absolutely, being at the service for musicians and being ourselves from the music world, we always put the maximum attention on the quality of our audio recordings and restitutions. We work with classical music experts who have a deep knowledge of how to create the best audio experience, depending on the acoustic of the hall and particularities of the recording.
On video streaming we cannot use lossless codecs as audio streaming platforms can do: the video is using a lot of bandwidth and we need to keep a stream available for all connections. Our audio encoding is based on AAC, which is much better than mp3 according to all sound engineers, and we offer the highest AAC bitrate available at 320 kbps. That way, our audience can keep all the sharpness of the audio recording, the hall acoustic and the artist’s performance.
Of course, we cannot control the equipment of the people who watch and listen to our work. We constantly encourage them to get the best hi-fi system at home and it is fascinating to see how the devices, headphones, and connectivity for casting on TV have improved in the recent years. Of course, there is still room for improvement, but we believe that we have already reached a very satisfactory level, which restitutes the beauty and quality of this experience of classical music.
What system do you use to manage the enormous amount of content that Medici.tv involves?
We have developed an in-house CMS thanks to our internal team of developers and product owners. They operate internally on a daily basis the management of the data due to the very specific qualifications of classical music, which has to be much granular than pop music for instance (you need to specify many data to describe a full opera for instance). We, therefore, created our own database with our data scientists and we continuously improve the management of this key element for our business, especially in the context of recommendations, specifications for marketing, profiling etc.
What is your cloud provider?
We recently moved to AWS (Amazon Web Services).
What AI developments are you currently implementing to provide expanded services to your audience?
We are focusing our efforts on personalized experiences, depending on a smart and accurate recommendation system. It is not only based on the largest consumption or previous viewings, but also integrates some editorial subjectivity. This means that we are trying to select and expose the most relevant content with regards to the profile of the viewer: Is he/she a fan of piano, ballet? Is he/she a newcomer or a specialist? We believe that our responsibility is to create surprises, to recommend content which people may not have imagined to watch. Music is emotion, art is a permanent discovery, so we shall be very effective with data and strong marketing machines, but at the same time we shall never forget that entertainment is there to create unexpected encounters.
Medici.tv is also available on TV via Chromecast and Airplay; and on mobile devices. How do you get to adapt each of these different systems?
Today the ecosystem supposes that you cannot distinct these two different screens. A platform like us has to accompany our consumers in all circumstances. It’s a logical extension to be available on all these devices. We will be available on Roku TV before the summer, we also work on new channels to distribute our content via other partnerships with telcos and OTT companies. We try to fill every space where our content can be visible and contribute to accomplish our goal: Create the most connections between artists and spectators.
Medici offers specialized content that is attractive to a global audience. How do you solve this great challenge of meeting this demand? What is your reach?
Even if there are mainstream names like Mozart, Beethoven, Callas or Rostropovich, classical music still suffers from being considered niche content. We have worked very hard since the beginning to enlarge the door to concert halls, operas, festivals. This is what we have achieved when we see that we now have a regular audience of half a million viewers every month, which is significant for classical music. Of course, some events can be dramatically bigger: Just one livestream can reach over 100,000 people, and some special projects such as the Tchaikovsky competition or some festivals can themselves alone represent over 20 million connections. We are very happy with the fast growth of our audience; our other priority is the loyalty of our audience.
We are really trying to establish a long-term relationship: of course acquisition is very important – conversion is by definition the key of our business model – but retention is another very important priority. Indeed, classical music is so vast and rich, you need time to discover and explore the quality and richness of its repertoire. It’s very important to establish loyalty and trust between the viewers and ourselves.
Medici.tv also has two parallel developments: medici.tv Japan and medici.tv EDU. Do both share your main technological platform?
These are two very different projects. medici.tv EDU has been since the very beginning a major development of the company in order to develop our offer to the huge community of students worldwide. Today medici.tv is considered as a reference for this educational digital resource and we work with close to 400 very prestigious universities, conservatories, libraries all over the world (Stanford, Columbia, MIT, McGill, Juilliard School…). It’s a fantastic success and we expect a strong development in the coming years for this educational channel which uses the same technology as the B2C platform.
On the other hand medici.tv Japan is totally another initiative. Japanese consumers always expect a localized service so we made a partnership with Avex, and they created this Japanese sub-website with a lot of editorial content connected to what’s happening for classical music in their market to promote medici.tv and complete our main service with local editorial content.
What’s the technological future of Medici.tv? What will be your next step?
Virtual reality and AI will definitely impact our business in the coming years. We don’t even know in which way nor we measure the next steps in those phenomenal disruptions. medici.tv has to be on the right track and has to jump on this bandwagon in order to take the benefits of these fantastic improvements and new opportunities. We therefore try to be very selective and agile to ingest these new developments. For instance, the capacity these technologies will give us to enrich the viewing of the programs is definitely a great promise. You can add some information during the course of the viewing to explain who’s playing in the orchestra, who is this character in the opera, what kind of added value we can offer to as always try to make music more available, more accessible, for all generations.