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Viewpoint: The Role Of SaaS: Using Software As A Service For Media Processing And Playout

Video consumption is changing with increased demand for video content anytime, anywhere, on any screen. As broadcasters and pay-TV operators look to deliver more content, including live, VOD, catch-up TV and start-over TV, to subscribers on a wide range of devices, being agile is becoming progressively more important.

With a software as a service (SaaS) video delivery approach, operators can increase workflow efficiency, cut costs by eliminating hardware dependence, and speed up time to market for new channels and enhancements to existing services. Operators have started experimenting with and launching services in the cloud, including playout. Yet, the current approaches to playout in the cloud are often focused on broadcast distribution, with the goal of offering a larger volume of channels with low operational overhead and lower capital outlay to solve distribution, disaster recovery or other scalability issues that make conventional hardware-based solutions prohibitive. This only leverages part of the potential of a cloud environment, with playout treated as an isolated function of the overall content creation and delivery process. The cloud environment enables much more, including the ability to complete more processes without needing to leave the cloud ecosystem.

This article discusses the concepts behind using playout as an integral part of the OTT and broadcast delivery chain where the cloud processes live sources, provides integration with traffic, playout, graphic branding, encoding and transcoding, and distribution of content for OTT and broadcast delivery. This approach makes use of cloud for the whole chain rather than focusing solely on playout as an isolated process.

Role of SaaS in Playout

Cloud playout is just a small part of a much larger ecosystem that can exist on the cloud. With SaaS, operators can host a variety of media processing tasks via public cloud, including file and live ingest, playout, graphic branding, transcoding, encryption and delivery.

The playout part of a SaaS solution enables operators to create channels that mix live content and scheduled clip-based media. This approach allows the operator to stop delivering a continuous live stream to the cloud and instead use files to create a new playout stream, complete with graphic branding and easy repetition of files as needed. Integration with traffic systems allows operators to deal with file-based content in a whole new way. The traffic system can be more directly connected to the control layer of the system. Manual override is still supported so users can add and drop clips and graphics, extend live events, or manage timing, as needed. Otherwise, the channel will run on its own. SaaS provides immediate feedback to users, including event-based responses to the traffic system to notify it when each event has been completed. If, for instance, the wrong advertisement plays, operators can respond very quickly to make up for errors resulting in a more elegant approach to controlling the playout process.

Using a cloud solution also enables operators to handle certain production aspects in an entirely new way. For example, if an operator is bringing live streams into the cloud, they can capture those streams, save them on cloud storage and repurpose them for additional applications like catch-up TV and start-over TV. Moreover, in a cloud environment, operators can easily store content for compliance recording. A traditional delivery workflow that is on-premises requires dedicated ingest channels and storage for this task. With the cloud, operators can use the system resources that already exist on the cloud.

Capturing live streams in the cloud can enable greater workflow possibilities for things like sporting events. It allows operators to deliver live streams, replay entire events or parts of them and create highlight reels from the same sources. Content that is being captured in the cloud can be pulled down and edited, then packaged and published for future playout in the cloud (i.e., VOD). Choosing a SaaS solution that supports full linear channels with clip-based playout and live content is advantageous, as it enables the operator to schedule content when live events aren’t happening to keep subscribers’ attention longer.

Benefits of SaaS

A key benefit of choosing SaaS for video delivery is that there are no underlying infrastructure costs or technical skillset needed to operate the platform. With a traditional media processing chain, any time an operator wants to launch a new service, they need to plan for major CAPEX and time investments to deploy on physical infrastructure and staff to manage and monitor all of the tasks. Even with a public cloud system that the operator controls there are significant time and technical requirements to maintain the system. SaaS is based on an OPEX business model where operators only pay for what they use, with all the services provided for them. As they add more capability and grow their subscriber base, the usage is in proportion to consumption. It’s a very simple and fundamentally different way of looking at service delivery. In effect the operator only needs to provide the content and schedules to run the channel.

Not only does SaaS reduce the costs typically associated with starting a new service, it also increases operator agility. When operators want to test a new offering, proof of concept on a next-generation technology or channel idea, they’d typically spend a lot of money in a lab or live environment to try it out. This can take months or years. With SaaS, it’s easy to experiment. New channels can be taken up and down quickly and easily, and modified rapidly with little or no upfront costs and low operating costs.

With SaaS, operators also avoid the complexity that is typically associated with hardware and multi-vendor workflows. An end-to-end SaaS video delivery system provides a turnkey workflow, meaning it handles all aspects of media processing, including live and playout capabilities, for broadcast and OTT distribution. The service is pre-integrated and managed by the technology provider, which takes the pressure off operators to handle complex media processing tasks and allows them to focus their attention on increasing subscriber engagement and monetization.

Versatility of SaaS

The OTT landscape is enriched by the additional playout functionalities that are being added, creating new workflow opportunities and fresh approaches to how operators can derive channels. With SaaS, operators can roll out new and experimental channels with little overhead. Moreover, they can streamline their media processing operations by unifying the workflow chain.

We’re still in the early days of cloud-based playout and delivery. The initial channels powered by SaaS tend to be simple, low risk and low revenue generating. As operators build their trust in SaaS ecosystems, the complexity of channels residing there will increase and revenue generation capabilities will grow. 

Andrew Warman is Director of Playout Solutions at Harmonic.

Andrew Warman is Director of Playout Solutions at Harmonic.

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