Televisa. A comprehensive technological revamping to stay as a leader at the TV forefront.
Televisa is world leader in production of audiovisual content in Spanish language and accountable for the largest TV audiences in Mexico by means of several channels.
This group, which distributes content to over 50 countries and has 26 pay TV brands and channels, cable operators and additional services through the Internet, is now undergoing an ambitious technological renovation plan that will enable it to remain competitive in the world arena.
In order to get a deep insight on the workings of the company and unveil what are the main areas in which efforts are being focused we interviewed Igor Rosette, Chief Technology Officer at Televisa.
Televisa is a world referent. Do you think the channel is a leader at technological forefront in Latin America?
Indeed. We certainly feel to be at the forefront. We are doing a major effort to stay at the top. We have always been one of the most relevant players in creation of content and we must remain so. Recently, we have tried to innovate on our creation of contents and we have been quite successful at that. For example, in regard to the Football World Cup 2018, we had the most digital world cup in history. We were a very relevant player in Mexico in distribution and consumption of signal for all games in digital format. We got audiences of around 12.5 million people watching the games. We have also just launched a channel with contents targeting millennial public, of which we are really proud. Its name is BitMe and it features content much focusing on videogames, Anime, comics… This was an unmet demand that we had pending with our audiences. We are also innovating on our most typical content, such as soap operas. Innovation is focusing on the way they are structured: we are switching from our traditional soap format onto series and miniseries. And we are being very successful. We have contests like “The Masked Singer”, which is nowadays the TV program most seen by Spanish-speaking audiences. Nothing like “the mask” had been seen ever before. For all the above reasons, we see ourselves as the forefront in creation of contents across the region and we are intent on keeping our position as such.
What novelties have you implemented?
As I was telling you, in order to stay at the forefront we are in the obligation of making efforts in all areas. Back in 2018 we initiated an effort for digital transformation within the company. This effort involves having in place a strategic plan for technological and digital development that contemplates investments for the next four years; investments that are quite large, involving millions, which will allow us to evolve our way of operating. We are aiming to become a more flexible and responsive company in all regards. In the way we manage and sell, our way of producing and distributing content… Our strategic plan contemplates a number of technological and business projects that we have been undertaking ever since. One of the most relevant aspects in the strategic plan is the renovation of the whole technology core in Televisa. We are dealing here with technological or administrative systems. We are evolving these systems and switching onto cloud-based state-of-the-art technologies. We are also developing our core sales or traffic systems. These systems are large indeed and span across the entire company, involving all areas and all processes. An effort for evolution of these systems entails a company-wide endeavor. This effort will be continue throughout 2020 and 2021, so when this period is over, we will have covered nearly 100% of core systems maintained nowadays by Televisa while reducing complexity and management costs for increased flexibility and efficiency while simultaneously staying at the forefront. 2019 is a key year because all projects –or most of them anyway- have already started. For example, we are producing content on a vertical format, which is a new format so far unheard of in Televisa or in any other studios, just designed for consumption on mobile media. During 2019 we did more than 2,000 events live that were digitally broadcast from all our platforms: websites, apps and social media. We are increasing our presence in digital media, as this is an area that we must cover and take leadership in. 2019 has been a year of great progress in this direction. And in general, we believe we are at the start of this transformation, although some results are already visible.
What production centers do you have in Televisa and what contents are produced, roughly, in each of them?
Traditionally we have had two major production centers. One of them is Televisa Chapultepec. In this one we produce our news programs, all our sports channels and also those of Televisa Networks. Televisa Networks are all our pay TV channels, such as Telehit, Bandamax, etc. Our second production center and probably the most iconic one is Televisa San Ángel. It has all production facilities in which the soaps, fiction series, special events, etc. are made. And more recently we had our baby, the BitMe channel. This is being produced in our facilities based in Santa Fe. An area was adapted by means of sizable investments so we could produce the BitMe channel from there. Everything is done in these three locations.
What broadcast format are you now working on for your main signal?
In terms of video production and capture, all our contents are already recorded and stored in 4K. However our base signal runs on MPEG2. From that base signal I can increase it or decrease it for delivery as required. To send it on air, I decrease it; for other digital formats, I increase the signal. As for distribution and transmission of 4K, we ran a concept test during the FIFA World Cup 2018 in association with an Asian manufacturer of TV sets. We delivered 4K signal in some football games. This was made in a controlled-environment event. However, we were able to learn a lot and define the size of both the effort and the challenge in order to be able to perform mass delivery of this kind of 4K signals. We are not yet ready for this possibility because of industry constraints as well, but we learned a lot from what we did in 2018. We keep doing our own tests and experimenting so as to be able to do it in a short notice.
Operations the size of Televisa’s require a sizable volume of resources. Do you rely on any technological partner that is common to all your production centers?
Definitely yes, throughout the years we have been achieving some partnerships. We have established strong bonds with some partners. For example, in production of soaps the Avid technology is being used; in terms of distribution, compression and encoding we use technology from Imagine and Harmonic; and as for transmission, we use Grass Valley. For digital distribution our CDN is mainly Akamai. There may be others, but the bulk of it lies with these vendors.
What does Televisa contribute in the area of graphics, augmented reality or virtualized stages? What system are you using?
Televisa is an intensive user and a pioneer in these kinds of technologies. We use them a lot in news programs, but our main focus here are sports. In that area this technology is used a great deal, with Tricaster-type platforms. For creation of graphics and animations Adobe is used. We are a pioneer and we endeavor to stay at the forefront as far as these technologies are concerned.
It is said that the major breakthrough in graphics will take place when creating or implementing them will not require a lot of time. Do you agree with this?
Yes, I agree. But producing these items is not just a matter of time. These are areas requiring very large computing capabilities. Moving a render of an elaborate graphic item can take even 4 or 6 hours for compilation and another 4 hours to complete the render. What we have seen is that new solutions are going for the cloud. I think this will be a key issue in these kinds of technologies, in order to make them quicker and less expensive… because they still remain expensive.
What MAM system is being used in Televisa?
Note that MAM has been one component in which Televisa has put a lot of effort in the past ten years. Significant investments have been made to have a MAM in good order. Nowadays we have two MAMs. One, running on OpenText technology, is being used to store all our contents –both purchased from third parties and proprietary- with our own productions, soaps, films, etc. From there, we provide service to all production and programming areas in the various channels for use of the relevant assets.
That tool was developed on your own?
No, it was a mixed scheme. Many things have been made by us, but using for example Oracle storage technologies. There are some amazing and gigantic tape robots. Besides this, we are using OpenText technology for all the management side. As for the second MAM, we have in it our files relating news and sports content. This is separate from the other MAM. However, as they share architecture, we can make available these contents to whoever needs them within the company. As I told you, this is an area in which we have invested a lot, not only in technology but in processes and talent as well. We are quite comfortable and proud of our effort and achievements in regard to Media Asset Management.
Is Televisa also focusing efforts on developing artificial intelligence, big data or machine learning technologies?
I think that the challenge we are all facing to have the ability to do things on big data and artificial intelligence is a common trend worldwide. And Televisa is no exception. One of the cornerstones in our strategic plan for digital transformation is the creation of an area that had never existed in Televisa before. I call it the Chief Data Officer. This is an area that must only have data and information as breakfast, lunch and dinner. It directly reports to me and its mission is creating within Televisa governance models for generation, use and consumption of information and data. Stage 0 for being able to have or direct efforts on big data or artificial intelligence is having our own databases in order and supplementing them with third-party databases under information architectures that enable us quick and flexible consumption within them. Investments in terms of handling of all information systems are very important during this year and over the next two years. On the other hand we have quite amazing things that we launched during 2019. We began to automate processes. This robotization technology is called RPA: Robotic Process Administration. At present we have 12 robots in operation that carry out various tasks, mainly of an administrative nature. We have found these robots can already start trying to carry out tasks relating content and take part in other areas. As for artificial intelligence, you know this is a broad area in which everything is applied. For instance, we are trying to work out how to use artificial intelligence for carrying out our media monitoring. Artificial intelligence could eventually become an item that will help us to be more efficient and agile in this area. Also in regard to issues relating subtitling and special contents can be implemented by means of this technology. But again, I would stress that the most important part in efforts relating all this is a task to be carried out by a Chief Data Officer, which cuts across all company areas in regard to need for information, generation and structuring of the same in order to be able to build complex models, big data sort of. In issues relating audience research, we are also probing this area. This research is based on sheer data crunching, detecting consumption or taste patterns from data provided from other areas within the company, such as ratings on what was most watched in the schedules. Truly complex information analyses are made by parsing databases of varying natures.
Are you also including an adaptation to the IP world in the comprehensive transformation you are implementing in Televisa?
Certainly, Sergio. IP is also a really broad issue that needs to be tackled from several fronts. As I told you, our base signal is generated in MPEG2, which is a technology running on IP. We have many elements and technological pieces enabling encoding and encapsulation towards more complex IP-based formats such as ATSC. But I would say that beyond these base signals, one of the areas we are now exploring with a marked interest and doing concept tests in is the way we convey and distribute signals. Televisa and the whole industry still rely a lot on satellites. And we distribute signals in many parts in the world. However, these technologies turn out to be very limited in terms of quality and price. We are trying to consolidate a project which, if everything goes according to plan, would be ready by next year. This is the so-called Digital Distribution Hub. With this and from a single point we might be distributing under an IP format and towards all different locations where contents are consumed. We have already performed successful test for delivery in Europe and in Asia, with all benefits you can possibly imagine. For example, you can save significant amounts of money. This way of delivery is cheaper than via satellite. Additionally, you can deliver a quality that is unthinkable nowadays through satellite. You can deliver either in HD or in UHD. You can virtually deliver the format you want. With the satellite and loads of work you can deliver 720p; you cannot go beyond 1080p in my opinion. There are very important expectations to consolidate this digital distribution hub that will make us efficient and enable us to deliver our signals to consumers with 4 or 5 times better quality.
In respect of outside broadcasting… What type of events coverage is made in Televisa?
Both coverage of sport events and news are areas of high relevance in Televisa. For example in the tribute to José José, Televisa and its channels were there for due coverage. We are always covering news, special events… We are quite extensive in our range of outside coverage. We have very significant investments as well. For example, with regards to backpacks, we are using digital technology on LiveU. These technologies are highly versatile as they are able of packaging everything, conveying it on 3G or 4G and uploading on to the cloud. This can be encoded to TV in real time with impressive quality and everything is on remote. By using the cell infrastructure already in place you can broadcast video and audio of very high quality in real time. We are pioneers in this technology in Mexico and it is a favorite of ours because you can do coverage on time for anything.
Are you also exploring capture and broadcast of audio and video with mobile devices?
Actually, we are not. Let’s say this is not our usual practice. However, we do it whenever it needs to be done. We are still comfortable with technologies such as LiveU, because they are better. In order to do this successfully you need to have highly efficient telephony carriers; this is something that escapes Televisa’s control. Therefore, we cannot take such a risk. As you well know, technologies such as LiveU have an encoder capable of holding up to 10 data SIM cards, because you must create a broad bandwidth.
As for your mobile units, will you update them in the future to make them ready for IP models?
Yes, of course. We are now exploring these issues. What we really do is the encoding into digital from some of these units for distribution to television or digital media. Therefore, we do have some units with digital capabilities, but in view of the type of events that are still covered, such as sports, you need to have a bit more certainty in the media.
And in regard to storage, you said before you work with libraries. Are you considering adoption of a cloud solution?
The move to cloud is definitely part of our strategic plan. We want to make the most of all benefits offered by this possibility and we are at present using all clouds. We have things in Azure, Amazon, Oracle, Google, Akamai… We are intensive users of these clouds and we have developed internal capabilities for administering and managing our various processes in that environment. We are also making significant investments to have our own private cloud and being able to operate within a hybrid environment such as the one you have mentioned. There are things we would like to have in the cloud, but in a private one. We undoubtedly acknowledge the value of this technology and we are using it.
Do you continue in Televisa committed towards the way favored by OTTs for distribution of content?
Indeed. Digital efforts being made in Televisa go much further than just Blim. We have in Televisa at least 10 apps in production delivering contents relating entertainment, news, sports and pay TV. Of course Blim is one of the jewels of the Crown. However, just a couple of months ago we re-launched Blim with features that it did not have before to make it evolve. Now it is going to include broadcast of more than 30 signals. This will position our Blim platform as one of the richer -if not the richest- Spanish-speaking content platforms. We want to maintain our leadership position in digital media as well.
And last, what would be, in your personal opinion, the area in which would be worth going deeper with this renovation you are doing?
Our strategic plan goes on until 2021, at least stage one. 2020 is going to be a year in which we will be busy going live with several projects already initiated back in 2018 and 2019. One of the areas we will consolidate is our entire sales and traffic core systems. Televisa is already a multiplatform, multichannel organization. However, we still need to fit many technology parts in order to perfect our multiplatform, multichannel capabilities. These systems we are now implementing will enable us to have capabilities that we do not have at present for our clients. We want to be able to have our clients consume our contents on a multichannel basis and also let them make their campaigns and service ordering decisions in a quick fashion. And they can do so nowadays, but it is not an integrated process in many regards: you have different systems, processes and people to serve a channel or the other… These platforms are being implemented to standardize our processes and assets so clients will only require one visit. We want to achieve a One Stop Shop for our clients in a very simple manner. Under this same analogy, we want our multiplatform capabilities to become more real. Making reference to multichannel and multiplatform may sound quite simple, but making it true is a very important challenge we are undertaking and something we want to strengthen in 2020. In a similar fashion, we will continue consolidating our projects relating move to cloud, transport and distribution of signals on IP; and we will keep evolving our administrative systems to become more agile, efficient and flexible. This is how, to sum up, we will successfully tackle the challenges facing the industry.