Project Management for the Digital Media Age

This blog will attempt to compile some project management and product management resources for practitioners working in the field of digital media; touching on areas such as standards, formats, methods and tools, platforms, architectures and distribution channels; and discusses some of the tactical and strategic issues that may arise.
Please also visit the accompanying blog exploring related Technology Convergence issues.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Starting your own Mobile network - what are the risks ?

The fastest growing channel for content is undoubtedly mobile; but the question can be how to get past the gatekeepers of these channels – i.e. the cellular service providers or carrier networks- without paying too much; and making too many compromises on what you can and can not deliver; and get your content and marketing message into everyone’s hand ?

If you have the financial resources, one solution could be to start your own network - as an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). You brand, market, and supply content for the service, and then buy the transmission capability from one of the established service providers, who are frequently happy to sell any unused capacity they have. After all, many of them have significant debts to pay off after paying handsomely for 3G transmission licenses over the past few years; an investment which has still to show any appreciable return.

Not only that, the cellular service provider industry is likely over the next decade to experience the effects of the VoIP revolution, which has already severely impacted the traditional fixed-line service market. As high-capacity WiMax hotspots start to proliferate, they will potentially give individual subscribers a choice in how they want each individual call to be handled - e.g. over inexpensive WiMax in urban areas, and using cellular service providers only when WiMax is not available. To an MVNO, this shift will be largely irrelevant, and likely be beneficial.

Possible risks that may impact an MVNO include-

1. Quality of Service (QoS):- If you don’t own the infrastructure, how can you guarantee the availability and quality of your service? One of your carrier networks could make a configuration change that could inadvertently disable availability of some aspect of your service.
2. Restrictions on the content you can offer due to licensing conflicts with the carrier networks’ own consumer offerings.
3. Restrictions on the content you can offer due to technical limitations of the underlying carrier networks. You can’t deliver content that your carrier network is physically unable to transmit. Even using multiple carriers with different service delivery capabilities may lead to patchy service delivery across your entire service footprint, leading to frustrated marketing teams, not to mention subscribers.
4. Billing - How to integrate billing information from a number of different carriers? Depending on the method used by the carrier network of delivering some content – especially enhanced content – the billing methods and tariffs may be very different. Your end subscriber doesn’t want to (or need to) know this, but you have to resolve these issues.

How to mitigate these risks –
1. Make heavy use of SLAs, and keep in constant contact with the carrier network to ensure that there are no upcoming surprises; that the carrier network is aware of your upcoming plans for upcoming service rollouts; and that they see a business benefit of upgrading their systems to handle the extra/enhanced traffic, if that is what is required.
2. The carrier networks may object to you hosting the same or directly competitive content; and include restrictive clauses in the service contracts. At the contract negotiation stage, ensure that your content is presented as complementary rather than competitive; and that the carrier sees a sound business case in hosting it. In some cases, it may be possible to license some of your content to the carrier’s own consumer product offering, perhaps benefiting both.
3. Although one of the main benefits of being an MVNO is not having to invest in the purchase & deployment of radio transmission & switching infrastructure that may become obsolete frighteningly quickly; it may make sense to host some critical pieces of infrastructure in –house, especially those which are necessary for the value-added services that differentiate you from your competitors. These would include HLR (Home Location Registers), SMS and MMS service centers, mobile email and instant messaging servers. Ideally, you only want to depend on the carrier networks to handle the basic mobile switching, locationing and radio transmission .
4. You will have to handle billing for your subscribers anyway; As with the VAS equipment above, it may make sense to have as much control over Billing and OSS (Operations Support Systems) as possible – i.e. installing your own infrastructure. Ensure you know how the carrier networks handle and charge for carrying enhanced services, such as multimedia content, video, email and inter-network roaming; to avoid getting a nasty surprise when their invoices arrive.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Outsourcing Digital Media projects

Once you have actually created your content, the processes involved to actually deliver it over the various channels are very amenable to an outsourcing approach.

Format changes - changing content from Cellphone video, to High Definition Video, for Podcast, to streaming media etc. can all be done by an outsourcing vendor.

Other services which are available outsourced-
Metatagging of video for searching based on keywords and phrases
Archiving of older video/audio content

Digital Media / content delivery projects tend to have short timeframes - hence it is always better to deal with a company in the same timezone, if not in the same country.

As with any outsourcing project, ensure there are guarantees in places for the warranty on the items delivered, that Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are in place; and that the contracting company has the resources and competencies to do the work.

Tool Watch - Useful tools for new media projects

Estimation guidelines for Digital Media Projects

EverywhereTV- Only the small and the big need apply

Little more than ten years ago, TV sets were all pretty similar in size - 22-inch screens, give or take a few inches. These days, TV either comes in 40-inch or 4-inch screens; with little demand for anything in between.

How to you plan to deliver content which must appear in High-Definition format on the larger screen, and simultaneously must be delivered to a cellphone or mobile device screen, at a speed that doesn't annoy viewers?

What content is more suitable for the small screen (and we do mean small, these days) versus what is more likely to be consumed on the plasma-screen hanging on everyone's walls?

Managing Social Media projects

Social media has been the big trend of the past few years on the web - sites such as myspace, facebook, flickr and youtube have appeared out of nowhere to become internet phenomenons, though they could be considered as the logical extension of the newgroups, forums and blogs that have been in existence on the internet for years.

When developing a social media project, there are several risks to consider -

Possible copyright infringement in posted material
Posting of inappropriate content
Posting of irrelevant content
Legal challenges arising from any of the above

Adequate storage capacity and bandwidth for websites which have seen explosive growth

Agile Management Techniques & Digital Media projects

Agile Project management Techniques have been developed to address some of the drawbacks of tradiotional project amangement methods which did not adapt well to manging the fast timeframes and ferquent specification changes common in software engineering and IT projects.

Consequently, these techniques lend themeselves particlularly well to projects involving digital media content creation and delivery; where similar problems of fast turnaround and frequent spec. changes are commonplace.

The Rising bar(s) of expectations

For a project manager, setting realistic expectations is one of the most important parts of the job to keep clients happy. For the IT projects pof the past, conetnt and information delivery was limited to fixed terminals, often in locations where an access charge could be levied for access to the physical location - libraries, internet cafes etc.

However now that the wireless age is here to stay, the expectation is that the content and information will be available wherever the coverage bars indicate a network is in range.
True, you still have to pay a subscription to access a service, but overlapping service areas create the ability for information and content providers to compete directly.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Getting ready for IPv6 - more web addresses, anyone?

The Internet is soon going to run out of IP addresses - those strings of numbers so difficult to remember that we have to think up catchy web addresses and URLs to help us navigate the web. Way back in the 1970s, it seemed that the 4.3 billion addresses provided by the IPv4 protocol would be enough for all time. Yeah right - due to the proliferation of cellphones, iPods, TV boxes, routers and other gizmos, they're expected to sell out sometime shortly after 2012.

Widely used techniques which as subnetting, CIDR and network address translation allows large organizations to use duplicate addresses within their own networks, but the increasing scarcity of addresses and complexity of network configuration required will inevitably lead to the widespread adoption of IPv6 -which provides 4.3billion addresses each - that is, per person, on the planet. Should be enough for the forseeable future, but we've heard that before.

(In case you're wondering, IPv5 was an experimental version of the Internet protocol that never saw public usage).

Any project manager developing Internet-connected products needs to consider the following -

- Support for IPv4 and IPv6 addresses
- Support for IPv6 address format - Eight groups of four digits vs. four groups of four for IPv4
- Support for multiple IPv6 addresses per device
- Domain name Representations using quad-A (AAAA) records

Also, the sheer number of addresses available means that they can get embedded into items previously unconsidered as being "net-worthy" - remote controls, cars, carkeys, bikes, jackets, lawnmowers......

The larger packet size in IPv6 will allow for faster downloads - but the application will have to know that in advance. Knowing what is and what isn't IPv6-capable will become increasingly important.