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‘Fusion’ Platform Takes Discovery Across Screens

CTO Honeycutt Says It Represents Rebuild of Programmer's Online Infrastructure 3/31/2014 7:45 PM Eastern

Discovery Communications has yet to announce when its first authenticated TV Everywhere product will debut in the U.S., but the programmer has already built the underlying multiscreen foundation that will support it.

It’s called “Fusion,” and it’s going to play a big role at Discovery as the programmer develops a variety of multiscreen products around the globe.

Fusion represents a “rebuild of our online infrastructure,” new Discovery chief technology officer John Honeycutt said.

And it’s already in use. In addition to supporting more than 50 of Discovery’s new, video-enabled websites around the world, it’s also serving as the basis for video apps, starting with Dplay, a new direct-to-consumer, subscription-based on-demand, catch-up and live streaming service that SBS Discovery and TVNorge launched on March 3 in Norway.

“Norway is unique [because] consumers are used to buying top-up, additional SVOD products,” Honeycutt said, noting that about 10,000 people signed up for Dplay during its first week of availability.

Discovery will extend Fusion to its other multiscreen products, including the TV Everywhere offerings that are in development, Honeycutt said. (Discovery’s first deal with TVE rights, with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, was announced last November.)

“We could build an isolated environment [for Discovery’s online video efforts], but it would be inefficient,” Honeycutt said.

Under a project that started more than two years ago, Discovery developed Fusion in partnership with Accenture. Discovery was fortunate in that its more rigid former Web platform had reached the end of its road, Honeycutt said.

“The hardest thing for any big technology project is dealing with all of the stuff that comes with the legacy systems and transforming legacy systems into something they were never meant to be,” he said. “We had a clean slate.”

Similar to new Internet protocol-based multiscreen pipelines developed by operators such as Comcast, Fusion will allow Discovery to package its video on the fly, as it essentially “senses” the type of device or screen it’s being streamed to.

“It’s built on the back of a responsive design environment,” Honeycutt said of Fusion. “They key is it is code once/display many.”

But extending the capabilities of Fusion is just one big priority on tap for Honeycutt, who was promoted to CTO in mid-March. The 11-year company veteran, who last served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for London-based Discovery Networks International, is also tasked with weaving together Discovery’s IT infrastructure as the company looks to drive more operational efficiencies following its recent acquisitions, including last year’s purchase of SBS Nordic’s operations in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and its pending deal to take a controlling stake in Eurosport International.

The challenge, he said, will be to tie together all of those different and complex systems, whether it’s something critical to all employees, such as the internal email systems, or the IT plumbing for its several broadcast centers in areas such as London.

That integration “is a big component related to the acquisition part of the business,” he said.

What’s not a top priority now is 4K/Ultra HD. Discovery has already experimented with 4K via its R&D group on the broadcast end of the business and will keep tabs on the market.

“We’re not sitting on the sidelines, but we’re not jumping in with two feet,” Honeycutt said.

TAKEAWAY

Discovery’s “Fusion” platform, now being used in Europe, will be the foundation of its U.S. authenticated TV Everywhere products.

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