Can the media run cleaner, cheaper, and faster?
Humans Not Robots wants to optimise media companies for the good of us all
Startups that monitor energy and carbon consumption are not exactly in short supply in the inboxes of early-stage investors at the moment. But today’s startup has a different spin on this hot sector.
Find out below how Humans Not Robots wants to help media companies optimise their working processes, save money, and help the planet too.
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Humans Not Robots wants more efficient media companies, for the good of us all
If the opportunity for ESG (environmental, social, and governance)-focused startups is as big as the number of them vying for a prime place in the market suggests, there’s room for a wide range of specialised solutions beyond the general ‘carbon dashboard’ type products some offer.
With that in mind, meet Humans Not Robots, a startup taking the familiar B2B approach of beginning with a niche and planning to later expand out with a broader offering.
This startup is targeting media and broadcast companies with the aim of achieving “a cleaner, cheaper and faster media supply chain”. And rather than another ESG-minded cloud usage monitoring solution, it wants to delve deeper into what businesses actually do.
In practice, they’ve built a product that monitors media companies’ workflows and provides insights and suggestions for ways they can reduce their energy consumption and spend, and their carbon footprint.
Digging into media workflows
The broadcast media world, at least in the UK, isn’t starting from zero when it comes to sustainability. You might have noticed the Albert Sustainable Production badge at the end of the credits on a lot of UK-made TV shows. But this certification focuses specifically on the actual production process. Humans Not Robots focuses on other parts of the business.
“Media workflows are very complicated and media companies are built out through mergers and acquisitions. You will very often see two people on different desks in the same company, running the same technical tasks,” says Humans Not Robots founder and CEO, Kristan Bullett.
“If two people are transcoding the same video from one format to another for their own purposes, our solution observes and understands all of these workflows. It says, ‘I can see duplicity of process in your technical operations. If you transcode that content once and share it, you’re reducing the amount of work that your technical workflows have to do and that reduces costs, reduces carbon, and reduces power.’”
To monitor workflows, Humans Not Robots tracks data points from a media company’s different systems to build up a picture of the different workflows that take place, and their impact. This is then communicated through a dashboard.
Bullett gives an example of the BBC, not (yet?) a customer of the startup, with hypothetical figures:
“We could tell the BBC that its total carbon footprint in April was, for example, 77 metric tons, its energy consumption was 18.8 megajoules, and its total cost was $99,000. And then we have pretty graphs in there that allow them to see how that is changing over time. Is it improving or degrading?
“We have different metrics that help understand things from a relative perspective. When the BBC covers the Olympics, they’re doing more, so it’s not fair to assume things are going wrong when they’re spending more money.
“But if we can tell them their carbon footprint per dollar spent, and how that is changing over time, that's a much more interesting metric for understanding whether something's improving or degrading.”
Humans Not Robots’ dashboard also breaks down energy usage, costs, and carbon impact by the different types of processes its customers conduct, so they can focus on the areas that can make the most difference.
Right now, the software provides data to help customers improve their workflows, but Bullett says in the second half of this year it will begin to suggest actions they can take. The startup wants to eventually automate some of these action points, potentially making life simpler for its customers.
At its current early stage, the software requires manual integration with a customer’s workflows, but Bullett says the startup is working towards a turnkey solution that will easily connect to most of the systems big media companies use. This automated onboarding process would allow customers to set their own priorities and KPIs to measure the software’s (and their own) success.
Humans Not Robots is currently in private beta, and Bullett says the startup has one paying customer, along with six proof-of-concept users (including four “very well known, very large media organisations”), that are helping to make sure the startup has strong product-market fit based on real industry data. The aim is to enter public beta at the end of the summer.
Bullett’s connection to the media and broadcasting industry goes back over 20 years, including time working on the development of video-on-demand products for companies such as Sky and Channel 4.
“I've got a lot of experience working with very large media organisations, and watching the progressive transition from linear to on-demand content, and from on-premise to cloud-based content, and continued mergers and acquisitions,” he says.
“I watched as humans made workflows more complicated, and I can tell you repeat stories of people in different offices doing the same job, and it became a bit of a running joke. It's a hidden secret that media companies spend a huge amount of money on their technical operations and they've been racing to keep moving features forward so they can out-compete the Netflixes and the Amazon Primes.
“I sat down at the end of a conference in an airport with our now CTO, and we were just laughing about this. Why are these companies willing to spend so much money and it's out of control? Now, what's happened is, with the pandemic and with the scare of understanding that cloud operations are actually really, really expensive, the timing is now correct to start to make those savings.”
Based on these observations, Bullett and co-founder and CTO Kris Brown came together to start working on Humans Not Robots in 2021.
The startup’s third co-founder is Mick Broderick, who used to work at MTV and BSkyB, more on the business side of things.
“He's lived and breathed the sweat and tears of the problem that we're resolving with our product. So it's very complementary in bringing that business knowledge to help enrich the offering of what we're providing,” says Bullett.
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