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Reflecting on a year of transformation for media and telco

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As we approach one full year since the restrictions and disruptions in response to the pandemic took their full effect here in the U.S., I find myself reflecting on all that has occurred during that time, and how business—and perhaps life in general—has been forever changed. As I’m sure is the case with all of you reading this, my deepest thoughts are of the people who have been lost to COVID-19, and of their families and loved ones who now must carry on as best they can in their absence.

As Microsoft’s business leader for media and entertainment, and telecommunications, I am of course also reflective regarding the tremendous challenges faced by both of those industries over the last 12 months: the disruption to supply chains, the shuttering of traditional channels and venues for extended periods of time, and the dramatic shift to remote work for thousands of employees, just to name a few.

Telecommunications: a “hero” industry during the past year

Specific to telecommunications, the industry—and the global cloud providers—kept the economy moving forward and enabled numerous organizations to maintain business continuity with services essential for remote collaboration and productivity. Microsoft and our partners also responded to address the immediate priorities of telecommunications organizations themselves, with guidance and solutions for crisis communications, the rapid shift to remote work environments, enhanced privacy and security, and connectivity with customers and partners.

The pandemic of course also accelerated the digitization of the telecommunications industry in general over the last 12 months as the benefits of deploying corporate IT, OSS/BSS, and network applications into the cloud became even more compelling, if not essential, as the telecommunications industry retooled their organizations for the “new normal” defined by the COVID-19 crisis. Those benefits include an overall reduction in operating expenses; an accelerated time to market by speeding service design, testing, and deployment; streamlined operational workflows through intelligent processes and automation; and a reduction in the time it takes to perform network maintenance and upgrades.

An example of this accelerated transformation is Three UK, which scaled its operations into an intelligent cloud and leveraged artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to increase productivity, reduce the cost of OSS/BSS, and improve network efficiency and reliability. I had the pleasure of learning more about Three UK’s journey and their perspective on the digitization of telecommunications in a conversation this past September with their Chief Operating Officer, Susan Buttsworth.

Media and entertainment: a year of perseverance, and of innovation

Regarding the media and entertainment industry, the disruption has been and continues to be significant, to say the least. Original content production abruptly stopped. Theme parks and other venues shut down. Sports leagues canceled or greatly reduced their seasons. Retail stores closed.

Even now, a year later, many of the traditional channels for shared, in-person entertainment experiences remain closed or in very limited operation. And yet, the industry has persevered. I’m proud of the way Microsoft and our partners responded with solutions and guidance to help content producers and creators work remotely and to address other immediate priorities of media and entertainment organizations in the first few weeks of disruption.

The industry also responded with new ways for audiences to experience the worlds of sports, media, and entertainment. Over-the-top streaming platforms and other direct-to-consumer channels of course became the essential content distribution platforms for media and entertainment organizations over the last 12 months, and there has been no shortage of new OTT/D2C entrants during that time.

Content production and post-production workflows across studios and broadcasters also resumed thanks in large part to cloud-enabled solutions for remote work and collaboration. The MovieLabs 2030 whitepaper continues to be the North Star for the future of media production, post-production, and creative technologies—although I’ve heard it said that the paper should be rebranded as a vision for 2025 given the rapid acceleration of many digital transformation initiatives over the last 12 months. Our own Hanno Basse also recently shared Microsoft’s vision to put cloud, edge, and AI to work for content creators everywhere.

The last year has also seen tremendous innovation around fan and audience engagement for live experiences. One of our first such opportunities to reimagine a traditional entertainment event occurred last May when Microsoft, MediaKind, and several other partners created the platform for a four-day, interactive, virtual version of the Chattanooga Film Festival. During that same time, the NBA, the NFL, iHeartMedia, and many others also introduced new, immersive fan experiences to reconnect with audiences and bring back a needed sense of community for many people. The profound bandwidth and low latency of 5G wireless technologies will no doubt drive further innovation in virtual fan and audience experiences in the months to come.

And then just this past January, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—the largest and most influential technology event of its kind—went all-digital for the first time in its 54-year history. In doing so, it drove innovation in its own right, working with Microsoft and other partners to break new ground in digital media technology.

All told, the media and entertainment, and telco industries have overcome many of the challenges of the last 12 months through innovation, determination, and sheer force of will. I’m amazed by all that has been accomplished in such a (relatively) short amount of time, and I can only imagine how much more we will do together in the year to come.

Microsoft empowers media, entertainment, and telecommunications organizations to achieve more with our trusted and secure platform supported by a comprehensive partner ecosystem with industry-leading solutions to maximize collaboration and productivity, streamline operations, enable insights-driven decision-making, deliver engaging customer experiences, and accelerate innovation and business growth.

Learn more about intelligent media and entertainment to see how the capabilities of solutions from Microsoft and our partners have optimized workflows, streamlined content delivery, and deepened audience engagement for the likes of Mr. X, Dentsu Aegis Network, the Miami Heat, Real Madrid, LaLiga, and Thomson Reuters.

And, learn more about intelligent telecommunications to see how Microsoft and our partners have increased productivity, streamlined operations, optimized networks, and accelerated innovation for the likes of AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Telstra, NTT, Telia, and Vodafone.