After six years of using an increasingly inefficient homegrown content management system and a brief stint using the Joomla open-source CMS to maintain its Web presence, the TV One cable television network realized it needed to go in a different direction.
TV One has been steadily adding to its lineup of lifestyle and entertainment television programs since its launch in 2004. The network is focused on adding original shows and concert performances to its collection of old sitcom favorites like Good Times and The Jeffersons. As programming expanded, so did its rich media management needs and the homegrown content management system (CMS) was starting to fall short in many respects, especially in the realm of digital asset management (DAM).
The increasing demands of digital asset management and digital rights management, which help automate notices of copyright protections and keeps track of authorship and redistribution issues, were growing beyond the scope of the homegrown Web content management application the company had been using. Whenever TV One reuses film, video, photographs, music and the like, it must make sure it is acting within legal boundaries and must often notify the owners of the digital content of its reuse.
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Soon after starting to use Joomla, the cable network quickly saw that the open-source product required a fair amount of day-to-day development skills to use, and TV One wanted to simplify the process of posting content on its website. At the same time, the network chose to focus on increasing both the amount and the quality of content it offered, and it became clear that it couldn't continue to rely on already-overworked program producers to constantly create website landing pages, a regular task required to make the system work. The company's leadership decided in 2011 that it was time for a relaunch and rebranding.
In addition to simplifying its Web publishing processes, TV One wanted to set up a more sophisticated site on a more stable platform. It would include a process for making content available to the host of mobile devices its audience was adopting and make it easy for writers and editors to post original content.
"Our strongest asset is video," said Allison Rand, the vice president for digital media for the Silver Spring, Md.-based TV channel. "We needed a website that displays those assets in the best possible way."
Rand joined TV One, which targets a primarily African American audience, in November of 2011 and helped guide the company through the process of choosing a new CMS. From the challenges of managing the rights of video and other digital assets to streamlining its Web publishing processes, picking the right tool to introduce a new website for a rebranding was key.
An elaborate competitive analysis
Rand, who spent almost 6 years with The Discovery Channel, working in its digital strategy division, said the first step in figuring out a technology replacement that would solve TV One's multiple problems involved an "elaborate competitive analysis" designed to compare how other cable and media companies managed their digital presences.
"We looked at everything from open source to enterprise products," she said. "I looked at every other cable company website, looked at every product, and we analyzed how each worked. We spent a lot of time looking at the competition."
Rand helped put together a search team -- drawing from all interested departments -- and it met regularly to hammer out a list of needs. The team understood that the digital media team would be small, so any technology they settled on would have to be effective without requiring many hands to maintain.
"We had a pretty long list, given that we knew we wanted to do this fast and efficiently," said Jay Schneider, the executive vice president of operations at TV One.
Rand worked with all departments in the mid-sized company to make sure everyone's voice was heard. Marketing, programming, production and other concerns were considered, she said
"The user experience, the design, and how we create content is important to me," she said. "And the IT stuff and how the site would work in our infrastructure are important to Jay." TV One's chief marketing officer focused on digital asset management issues.
The team evaluated about a dozen CMS products closely, including Word Press, OpenText's Vignette and Autonomy's TeamSite. After a three-month search, the group settled on Adobe's CQ5 product, citing the product's ease of use when it comes to publishing content.
CQ5 also smoothed out managing digital rights and made it possible for content creators to publish "on the fly," Rand said. It meant that producers would be freed up for more important tasks and editors and writers able to take over posting duties.
Designed with users in mind
After TV One settled on CQ5 and signed a contract with Adobe last March, it hired Washington, D.C.-based design firm Baker and Hill to create the look of the website and develop the user experience for the site. To make sure its digital assets would work well with the design, TV One contracted with Digital Primates, a development consulting firm based in Chicago that had experience with Adobe CQ5.
"We spent hours and hours and hours on the user experience with Baker and Hill," Rand said, explaining that the design firm built the wireframes for the individual pages and Digital Primates made sure they would translate in a production environment. Once the wireframe for the home page met with the TV One team's approval, "we flew through the rest," Rand said. Wireframes are visual schematics representing what a Web page will look like.
The CQ5 technology enables responsive design, wherein the HTML is automatically adjusted to display on most mobile devices. Content is reconfigured depending on the device the user is looking at.
TV One launched the new website last August concurrently with the premier of two new shows: R&B Divas and The Rickey Smiley Show. Promotions for the two shows pointed to the new website.
"The video product is remarkably better," Rand said, adding that digital asset management is now a smooth process.
Learning by doing
"Everybody is incredibly happy with the site. It's easy to publish to it," Rand said. And while traffic on the site continues to climb every month, she said there have been some difficulties.
For one thing, TV One didn't plan for the amount of time it would need to migrate existing content and properly set up its digital asset management processes. "One of the benefits to CQ5 is how fast you can build new content, but it has to be set up correctly," she said.
A couple of other valuable lessons came out of the TV One experience.
"Choose your content management system before you choose your redesign vendor," Rand said. As part of the RFP process, Rand met with Web designers and asked them for recommendations on the CMS. Many of them, she said, recommended open-source products despite the organization's lack of a development team. After its own CMS search resulted in CQ5, TV One had to expand its RFP to designers with CQ5 experience.
"If we had decided on CQ5 before we met with vendors, we would have saved a lot of time," Rand said.
Speaking of time, Rand said it's important to fully understand how a CMS works before writing template requirements. If she had a better sense of the way content posters would use CQ5, Rand said, she'd have been better able to list workable page needs.
"We were lucky," she said. "Our vendor, Digital Primates, sat in on every call and really guided us, but nothing beats first-hand experience."
This was first published in February 2013