The launch of TVNZ’s online streaming and download service last week is just the first phase of an ambitious plan to deliver multiple content types across multiple channels and build a closer relationship with viewer communities.
But to make that vision a reality required huge changes and development under the hood, including the complete replacement of the company’s existing Vignette content management system.
“Vignette was hard to support and didn’t do what we needed,” says John Ferguson, TVNZ’s interactive production manager. He says Vignette is still present, for now, but after a few “non-essential” business systems are decoupled it will be gone.
To be able to deal with the complexity of serving numerous content types, including online text, print, film and teletext among others, TVNZ opted for a hybrid approach when building the platform to support the new on demand service.
That platform includes Java and open source elements (The Apache Cocoon web development framework) sitting alongside Microsoft’s digital rights management running off an Oracle database, interactive project manager Ian Mortimer says.
Akamai is used to ensure high-performance of online delivery while online payments system is provided by New Zealand company DPS, the same technology used by Trade Me.
“Akamai gives us a lot of peace of mind,” Ferguson says. “It gives users the best possible experience.”
The service runs off four application servers and four web servers with a cache device at the front end.
Ferguson says the new system, which was built very quickly over just four months, allows TVNZ to scale quickly.
“We are technologically agnostic but needed to build a platform that reaches as many people as possible affordably,” Ferguson says.
Last week’s rollout is the relatively simple first phase of the project, with a limited feature set designed to allow people to access content and get used to systems such as digital right management and online payments (streaming is free, while downloading is charged at about $2 for a half-hour show).
The next phase will be about building online communities and interactivity, Ferguson says. Users will be able to blog about shows and rate them as well as contributing their own content. The system will also be smart, so that when users log in, they will be provided with their own unique electronic programming guide (EPG) built from demographic and psychographic data and their own user history.
“It’s a new way to see an EPG based on what they’ve been doing,” says Ferguson. “It’s fresh, easy and customised.”
That information will also feed into ads so they are customised for the user. Ferguson says by doing this, advertisements become more like content by being more relevant.
TVNZ’s launch was supported by representatives of the local content industry, including South Pacific Pictures’ John Barnett and reality TV producer Julie Christie, who said it would allow them to exploit their production more completely through a financial partnership with TVNZ.
Barnett says audiences want to be in touch with what is happening locally and South Pacific Pictures wants people to be able to pick up on moments they might have missed from shows such as Shortland Street.