The Great Courses

Treasure Troves of Content

Video content producers continually develop new and exciting ideas to grab the attention of viewers. As soon as one project is finished, it’s right on to the next. This mindset spans industries — from sports to entertainment to education. It makes sense — consumers are always eager to take in the latest highlights, television shows and scholastic topics. Heavy focus on the “new” shortens the life cycle of older material and can prevent it from reaching the broadest possible viewing audience. In response to this challenge, The Great Courses, the market leader in educational media for lifelong learners, decided to take a look at its ever-expanding library of video recordings featuring highly produced lectures by university professors and high school teachers. Exceptional educational media existed in its video library that had sold successfully and yet was only available in physical formats. How was the company able to make this content more accessible to consumers and thus extract unforeseen revenue?

Background: Carving a Niche In Educational Media

Today, The Great Courses is an intellectually engaging series of video and audio courses led by the world’s best professors and experts in diverse fields such as business, philosophy, history, literature, science and the arts. Designed to meet the powerful demand for lifelong learning, the company maintains a catalog of more than 400 courses — almost 6,000 hours of content — delivered by professors from the Ivy League, Stanford, Georgetown and other leading colleges and universities.

Challenge: Expanding Delivery Platforms

The list of course topics produced by the company has expanded significantly over time, making for a considerable accumulation of video content over the years. As The Great Courses business has accelerated, this accumulation has only picked up speed.

While The Great Courses has enjoyed success in selling its video content on DVD, it was eager to explore additional distribution channels and open up new sources of revenue. The company knew it made sense to capitalize on fully produced content by making it digitally available on a broad variety of platforms, allowing The Great Courses to tap into a wider audience than ever before. But, with a library of daunting size to convert, the project needed a powerful transcoding system in place to execute it in a timely fashion.

The Great Courses Workflow

  • Broaden video distribution for a wider audience
  • Convert an existing video library quickly
  • Integrate a solution to deliver video efficiently
  • Create web-friendly outputs with Elemental Server
  • Capitalize on the capabilities of a powerful platform
  • Minimize the required transcoding footprint
  • Extract unforeseen revenue
  • Provide new and accessible ways to learn
  • Reduce operating costs and workflow complexity

Solution: Mastering a New Area of Study

The Great Courses found a solution powerful enough to satisfy the video processing requirements for its content library conversion system in Elemental® Server. Elemental Server provides high-quality video and audio transcoding for multiscreen video applications. Elemental Server supplies the multiple output formats needed for each of The Great Courses’ desired distribution platforms.

Using Elemental Server, The Great Courses inputs 720p60 full-raster high definition Pro-Res video files that have undergone editing and production. The transcoding software converts these files into several iterations of web-friendly H.264 and Windows Media files. The newly formatted content is then made available for purchase via digital download as well as distributed on DVD. In preparing to convert the company’s legacy material to new media formats, The Great Courses regularly takes advantage of the image processing capabilities of Elemental Server, including noise reduction, deinterlacing, cropping and logo insertion.

While sheer performance typically garners much of the attention for Elemental Server–the software delivers faster-than-real-time conversion of multiple HD and SD video streams in multiple formats–Technical Advisor Daniel Shine of The Great Courses said several other factors played important roles in the decision. Key differentiators included overall cost, output quality, ease of use and, notably, Elemental’s technical support: “Elemental has been very responsive in addressing the very few technical issues we have experienced, whereas other organizations are slow to respond to service requests or technical inquiries,” Shine said.

“Elemental has been very responsive in addressing the very few technical issues we have experienced, whereas other organizations are slow to respond to service requests or technical inquiries.”Daniel Shine
Technical Advisor, The Great Courses

Benefit: Providing New Ways to Learn

Using Elemental Server, The Great Courses is able to provide its customers with new and accessible ways to learn, leading to an expanded user base as well as revenue from previously dormant content. Digital availability puts buyers’ minds at ease, since they know they will be able to consume their purchased content in whichever way is most convenient.

The Great Courses anticipated that adding library conversion to an already busy workflow would be burdensome, but with help from Elemental, the company incorporated high-speed video processing into its existing infrastructure with surprisingly little trouble.

While sheer performance typically garners much of the attention for Elemental Server, other key differentiators include reduced cost, video output quality, ease of use and superior technical support.