Matthew Brooks (BBC)
Object-based media. As a technical concept, it’s one that’s fairly well understood in our industry: rather than delivering content as a single asset, OBM delivers a collection of well-described individual assets, with additional data that enables content to respond to the user, either through direct interaction or through stored preferences and customization to the individual’s device.
This presents a valuable opportunity for personalization and a considerable challenge in changing content production processes – as well as in understanding what new forms of content will be most valuable to audiences on a daily basis.
At the BBC, we are investigating how audiences currently consume our linear content, and uncovering ways in which they already interact with on-demand offerings. We are also developing our understanding of the role the audience currently takes when consuming content, from passive consumption of ambient content through to actively seeking out favourite moments.
We already know that people would value mechanisms such as chapterization. However, while this makes it easy to instantly skip between different stories in a news bulletin, or articles in a magazine show, delivering content as individual, richly described objects unlocks much more than this.
By flagging time-sensitive objects, such as news bulletins or promotional trails in radio, we can deliver podcasts free from old news or irrelevant trails – either skipping these objects or replacing them with new content.
OBM production can also enable audience members and production teams to share individual moments from any piece of content – as each moment is individually addressable, well described, and time-bound.
OBM content could also be made indexable by search engines, resulting in greatly enhanced discovery, with individual moments from programmes surfacing through internet search.
We can also personalize programmes based on preferences selected at the beginning of a programme, stored in a profile, or based on the amount of time the viewer has available. For the audience member short on time, an automatically shortened version can provide an improved experience.
We’re also investigating how can OBM enhance live events, combining live and on-demand content in new ways to help audiences get the most from music festivals and sports events, through enhanced navigation and improved interfaces. This could enable them to manage their own schedule based on what’s already available, what’s live now, and what they might not want to miss in the future.
Layers are also a great opportunity for OBM. We already see examples of dynamic rendering of graphics in sports applications. Resolution-independent representations of on-screen graphics could ensure pixel-perfect overlays, even if you’re watching in 8K. Using layers in both visual and audio domains, we can enhance accessibility through personalized audio mixes, signing, and additional information to help viewers follow a story, such as character names.
There are many challenges to be overcome before OBM can reach its potential. Much of the editorial data needed to drive these applications exists during the production process, but is lost when the final content is rendered. We need to build workflows within our tools that preserve this information, and describe it in a common way, to ensure we can distribute objects and associated metadata throughout the industry, and build one OBM standard that enables interoperation and content exchange.
A role for DVB?
Following expressions of interest and support from several DVB Members, a new study mission has been formed to explore whether DVB could carry out standardization work on the carriage of OBM via broadcast and IP. This may include signalling for OBM elements and support for rendering and personalization.
The study mission, taking place under DVB’s Commercial Module, is chaired by Elfed Howells (Hisilicon/Huawei). DVB Members can join via the member portal, where the group is titled CM-SM-OBM. Non-members should contact the DVB Project Office.
Matthew Brooks is Head of Flexible Media at BBC Research & Development. He has been working in object-based media for eight years, and has a particular interest in enhancing the audience’s experience of content through personalization and interactivity..
This article first appeared in Issue 60 of DVB Scene magazine (PDF)