Since its founding in 2001 by owners Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, Magnolia Pictures has established itself as a foremost distributor of independent films in the U.S. market. Magnolia combines savvy business strategies with a commitment to elevating new artists and giving voice to fiercely original points of view to bring audiences some of the most compelling films of the past two decades, including critically acclaimed features such as Tangerine, Frank, and Lucky, and groundbreaking documentaries like Blackfish, Life Itself, and I Am Not Your Negro.
In 2016, Magnolia began its move into the over-the-top (OTT) video market to create new revenue and further monetize its vast, fast-growing content library. With a strong brand built on premium content and a loyal following among a diverse audience, the distributor saw an opportunity to stand apart in the fragmented, highly competitive OTT services landscape. Rather than rely solely on established subscription services, Magnolia planned to launch OTT services under its own well-recognized brand.
The choice to chart its own path to the OTT market presented a number of obstacles for Magnolia. The technology required to manage, process, and distribute its library would need to be built from the ground up or contracted through a third party. Its diverse library – encompassing comedy, drama, action, documentary, and other genres in English as well as foreign-language productions – did not necessarily suit a single-channel approach to marketing its content. Among American film distributors, Magnolia’s library carries a uniquely international appeal, making a strong case for a global distribution model. An outstanding audience experience would be a top priority, reflecting the company’s reputation for premium quality. And, its OTT solution would need to grow and evolve with the company and its offerings, and position it to move quickly on new business opportunities.
After exploring a range of alternatives, Magnolia selected OWNZONES Media Network to help execute its OTT strategy. OWNZONES, a global provider of technology and media solutions for the media and entertainment industry, offers an end-to-end solution for delivering video content across all OTT platforms. The company deployed OWNZONES Connect Platform, a proprietary, cloud-based media logistics solution, to tailor OTT services to Magnolia’s unique challenges and business requirements.
With OWNZONES, Magnolia was able to build its OTT services around a multi-platform strategy, delivering device-optimized audio and video to web interfaces as well as app-based distribution through Amazon FireTV, Roku, iOS and Android devices, and other internet-connected screens. Magnolia cemented a channel-based model for its OTT offerings, establishing distinctive subscription-based channels for each of its key genres: DOX, home to Magnolia’s rich library of documentaries; action movie channel Warriors and Gangsters; Monsters and Nightmares, home of horror films; LOLFlicks for comedy movies and TV programming; and Magnolia Selects, spotlighting the company’s most acclaimed feature releases. With OWNZONES, a global footprint is built into the platform, allowing Magnolia to easily start on a path toward extending its channels worldwide based on subscriber demand.
When we entered the OTT market, we saw technology infrastructure that required a massive upfront investment and didn’t offer the flexibility to adapt to our business needs nor the kind of quality our audiences expect.Jeff Cuban, COO of Mark Cuban Entertainment Properties
Deployed entirely within the cloud, the OWNZONES Connect Platform relies on a host of services from AWS and AWS Elemental to power Magnolia’s OTT services. One of the key responsibilities of the workflow is transcoding media assets: by converting each asset from its source format into different versions that span a comprehensive range of formats and quality levels, Magnolia can support a full array of connected devices and network bandwidth to deliver each subscriber a viewing experience that is optimized for individual screens and connections.
As a first step, OWNZONES needed to transcode the Magnolia content library, which comprised more than 40,000 minutes of content. In addition to its size, the nature of Magnolia’s content library adds a layer of complexity to the transcoding process. Many of Magnolia’s films originate from different post-production houses, with each produced to unique specifications for aspect ratio, color, screen resolution, audio levels and features, player compatibility, and a host of other variables, each of which must be accounted for in creating the parameters for transcoding.
With other video solutions, Magnolia’s transcoding workload would have required months of time- and labor-intensive processing to complete. Using AWS Elemental MediaConvert, OWNZONES was able to spin up multiple transcode processes concurrently, while eliminating repetitive, time-consuming tasks by automating key steps. As a result, OWNZONES prepared the Magnolia library for multiscreen distribution in less than one-third the time of previous approaches. New films are quickly ingested and processed for distribution to Magnolia’s rigorous standards using the same process.
As shown above, the OWNZONES Connect platform spans a complete, end-to-end workflow. Source files and accompanying metadata are uploaded to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), and Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) and Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS) issue notifications to trigger automated ingests according to predefined parameters. Based on key variables for each asset, those parameters may include measures of quality, such as luminance, cropping, drop frame, demuxing, and caching, as well as destination requirements, transformations, and transcodes needed to derive a conformed file. A quality control (QC) step validates mezzanine files, which are submitted for transcoding. Files are transcoded into adaptive bitrate (ABR) bouquets and validated by a second QC step prior to application of digital rights management (DRM) protections. Content streams are delivered to consumers through Amazon CloudFront and other content delivery networks (CDN) as part of a multi-CDN distribution strategy, which affords Magnolia’s OTT channels reliable, consistently high-performing reach across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
At the heart of the media workflow, AWS Elemental MediaConvert is one of the managed AWS Media Services that make it easy to build reliable, broadcast-quality video workflows in the cloud. AWS Elemental MediaConvert offers the quality and functionality of AWS Elemental file-based transcoding solutions from the AWS Cloud. It enables VOD content creation for broadcast and multiscreen delivery with advanced features, such as professional and broadcast codecs, adaptive bitrate packaging, graphic overlays, advanced audio, DRM, and closed captioning support. As part of the Magnolia OTT video workflow, AWS Elemental MediaConvert adds simplicity and powerful functionality to support the transcode profiles and asset conversions Magnolia requires, with seamless API integration with the OWNZONES platform.