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The Cloud: Are We There Yet? Part 1

Cloud is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics in the broadcast and media industry at present, and if you were to judge the state of cloud adoption by the huge volume of noise around the subject, you could be forgiven for feeling like a dinosaur if you haven’t already fully embraced it.

Part one of this article, first published in the Journal of the IABM asks what’s the real state of play? We spoke to eight IABM members to find out what their end-user customers are actually doing now in the cloud, what they’re not, whether it’s public, private or hybrid, and where the future will take us. Are we truly heading towards a dematerialized industry, and if so, what’s holding us back today?

Where first?

Flexibility, speed, efficiency, cost savings and the ability instantly to scale operations as a result of operating in the cloud are common themes, with some activities and workflows seemingly better suited than others. “When selecting which ones to start with, focus on the ones that deliver on the core value propositions of cloud - utilization, elasticity and efficiency - as some use cases are better suited than others,” says Simon Eldridge, Chief Product Officer at SDVI, whose cloud platform, including Rally, Access and Gateway were all conceived in the cloud and are cloud-native applications.

“For example, linear distribution is typically a 24x7 operation, meaning utilization and elasticity are not things you need, whereas content validation and transformation for distribution and delivery can be a very spiky workload, so could present bigger returns,” Eldridge adds. “We recently published data showing the very real returns of migrating media supply chains to the cloud, highlighting the efficiency and agility gains measured by our customers. They are significant, and got a lot of attention, not only because of the size of the savings, but the fact that customers can now measure and report on the savings they are seeing with consumption-based services.”

SDVI has plenty of evidence to back up these claims. “We have very large media customers running production workloads at scale in public cloud environments and have had for over three years. As an example, Discovery use the SDVI Rally platform to automatically validate, normalize and process incoming content from their network of +600 producers, and Fox uses Rally to automatically create distribution content across its family of networks.”

The SDVI platform was conceived in the cloud.

The SDVI platform was conceived in the cloud.

On-demand scaling

Andrew McGettigan, VP Professional Services at Piksel, whose Piksel Palette application covers the entire media and metadata supply chain, agrees, and highlights savings realized on physical infrastructure. “The economic advantage of cloud usage is mainly around efficient on-demand scaling, both up and down. Using infrastructure as code on a Cloud platform means that meeting on-demand peaks for process intensive processing (e.g. transcoding, QC) no longer implies having to own and manage enough infrastructure to meet a weekly peak that only lasts a few hours. 

Cloud processing avoids the need to provision for peak weekly load<br />

Cloud processing avoids the need to provision for peak weekly load

“From a consumer facing side, the necessary infrastructure profile to run the Playout services to support the live football game on Sunday is vastly different from the profile required to run the OTT service at 4am in the morning during the week. This infrastructure scaling provides massive efficiency gains, flexibility and speed and also moves the goalposts from a Capex model to an Opex model. The days of budgeting next year for a large infrastructure refresh are long gone. When done right this also enables more accurate infrastructure and service Opex costs to be attributed to individual business services – making business case validation and ROI verification more accurate and so improving commercial-based decision making,” McGettigan continues.

Focusing on core business

Moving to the cloud also enables broadcasters and media companies to focus more sharply on their core business, according to McGettigan. “Our customers can focus on their expertise and not on supporting functions; do you need to employ technical resource to learn, install, manage and troubleshoot infrastructure and applications, when your expertise is Content production? A greater understanding of Opex costs for your business service is imperative to successfully managing that service. This model also reduces the cost of entry; using cloud based Opex services means that launching new business services or propositions no longer requires a costly and long build out of data centre and applications. In a positive way, ‘failing fast’ enables better decisions; try something out, if it does not fly or the landscape changes then its far less to write off. This ethos then brings about a more entrepreneurial approach to business growth decision making.”

Make.TV has an extensive client base across esports, sports, news and entertainment that leverage its Live Video Cloud and Cloud Playout solutions. Live Video Cloud allows broadcasters and producers to acquire an infinite number of live video feeds from all types of sources and curate them in a single view for playout across broadcast networks and social media platforms. Cloud Playout allows publishers, influencers and online publishers to extend their audience reach by delivering video across platforms and monetize them with automatic ad-breaks. “Used well, cloud migration can improve the workflow of any company in the broadcast and media industry,” says Andreas Jacobi, CEO and Founder at Make.TV. “However, from our experience, the main beneficiaries are content producers and broadcasters, who can easily utilize the cloud to collect and curate content best suited to their needs without compromising on quality. The cloud helps reduce infrastructure costs and speeds up content preparation.”

Make.TVs Live Video Cloud allows broadcasters to aggregate an infinite number of feeds.

Make.TVs Live Video Cloud allows broadcasters to aggregate an infinite number of feeds.

Make.TV has an impressive client list to prove it. “Our solutions are used by Major League Baseball/BAMTech, ESL/Turtle Entertainment, Bayerischer Rundfunk, SRF/TPC, SWR, FOX Sports Brasil, NBCUniversal, MTV/Viacom, Warner Brothers, DreamHack and more to help them harness the power of the cloud,” Jacobi continues. “This includes spreading their ingest network for low latency and reliable content delivery, controlling live video acquisition, routing and distribution; since our solutions can run on multiple cloud infrastructure providers worldwide, they immediately adjust to each of our clients’ needs, while our ad-hoc usable transcoded and passthrough engines simplify content distribution so they can get content to their viewers faster, more easily and across more platforms, including social media.”

Globecomm’s Vector uses virtual microservices for encoding, transcoding, multiplexing, compression, post-production processing and output format management.

Globecomm’s Vector uses virtual microservices for encoding, transcoding, multiplexing, compression, post-production processing and output format management.

Bandwidth still dictates cloud economics

Globecomm’s Vector is a virtual broadcast infrastructure that is evolving physical box processes into virtual microservice functions across encoding, transcoding, multiplexing, compression, post-production processing and output format management. James Brown, Product Manager – Media Platforms at Globecomm, sees IP as a key enabler in the move to the cloud, but suggests that not every process is yet economically viable. “We’re finding that IP is the common communication standard, allowing ingest, conversion, and distribution workflow manipulations that could not have been configured a few years ago. Editing, channel package creation, and quality assurance are all activities that work well in the cloud environment using these techniques; however, the economic downside comes from the increasing amount of data, enhanced presentation quality (i.e., high dynamic range, high frame rate, and 4K image processing), and the requirement to move larger files in a timely manner and at a lower cost. Delivering larger files is going to be the engineering challenge of the broadcast world in the future.”

Hexaglobe CEO, Franck Coppola, also sees large file sizes as a current limitation. “Theoretically, any type of operations could be moved to the cloud, but the size of video assets does matter. So, while the cloud is ideal for all OTT activities, it is not that convenient to send an SMPTE 2110 to the cloud right now. The ability to get reliable and affordable IP connectivity for the size of the video assets you work with is the main factor that makes cloud economic or not.” Hexaglobe specializes in content management, monetization, distribution and delivery in the OTT realm, and offers solutions for both on-premise and in the cloud. “For event production, not having to setup everything onsite is of course a huge benefit. Buildup schedules are usually very tight, so having a large part of the infrastructure deployed in the cloud really offers peace of mind. 

Analytics screen from Hexaglobe.

Analytics screen from Hexaglobe.

Operational flexibility

“For delivery and OTT activities, it’s the flexibility that matters most,” Coppola continues. “Knowing that you are not constrained by hardware resources and that you can get the power you need when you need it in seconds and without having to overcommit is a huge plus. News customers, for example, always have to deal with the unexpected. Knowing that you’ll have the ability to cope with the load in any circumstances is very reassuring for them. And when the event is expected, like a royal wedding or a big sports tournament, not having to invest in gear you’ll use only for a day or a few weeks is also a source of relief for cost-constrained managers.”

Harmonic also sees such flexibility as a key benefit for customers of its VOS cloud media processing family. Elie Sader, Director, Product Management, VOS at Harmonic explains: “Cloud-based media processing is perfect for content and service providers that need to launch temporary channels and/or channels centered around events, such as major sports competitions. In these instances, relying on a cloud-based solution speeds up the time to market for new services without requiring a pre-existing engineering team or datacenter, both of which can be expensive. Using the cloud is also advantageous for channels that would not necessarily have a clear ROI if fixed infrastructure were to be used. It provides our customers more business agility, in terms of being able to quickly turn on and off services, as needed, and try new service ideas. Finally, if you are a new startup company without a pre-existing engineering or operations team, and no datacenter, then a public cloud SaaS is exactly what you would be looking for.”

Cloud-based media processing is perfect for content and service providers that need to launch temporary channels.

Cloud-based media processing is perfect for content and service providers that need to launch temporary channels.

“In the second phase of the project, we added playout to the toolbox of VOS 360 to enable a new creative workflow for SuperSoccer. They key was to leverage existing program assets already available in the library as time-shifted assets (slices or the live event that was defined to be used for catch-up or live-to-VOD workflows). VOS 360 is able to play these out and create a linear 24/7 highlights channel. Suddenly, what started as a live event service became an enhanced full-time premium content channel,” Sader concludes.

Enhanced localization and distribution

Well-illustrated by Netflix’s drive to tailor its output for each market’s different needs, giving content local relevance is another area where the cloud can provide streamlined answers and boost revenues. As a provider of cloud-based subtitling, captioning, localization and distribution services, ZOO Digital is one of the companies leading the charge in this area. “ZOO’s localization and distribution services are all powered by our own cloud technology; we use our cloud-powered services across post-production, distribution and delivery,” says Gordon Doran, President ZOO Digital.

Doran goes on to detail the benefits for ZOO clients: “The ability for global teams to work in real-time in a shared online environment from anywhere in the world; the ability to track project progress in real-time from wherever you are working from - this also replaces the deluge of emails and spreadsheets with live data; all assets stored in one, centralized and ultra-secure environment in the cloud rather than distributed between individual studios and post-production facilities; efficient change management where changes flow seamlessly through our processes and services - so script changes flow into both subtitling and dubbing workflows, reducing errors and greatly assisting version control; and streamlined processes where automation handles repetitive, administrative tasks and enables faster delivery.”

ZOO Digital recently launched the entertainment industry’s first cloud dubbing service and according to Doran, “It’s been a real eye-opener. Cloud dubbing powered by ZOOdubs encapsulates the entire dubbing process from script localization and adaptation to casting, auditioning, recording and editing. The cloud-powered service acts as an online dubbing studio for voice artists and directors, addressing a wide range of challenges with the way the dubbing process has traditionally been managed. It gives dubbing directors and voice talent the flexibility to work remotely from anywhere in the world for casting and recording. Free from the constraints of studio locations, this opens up a far wider pool of dubbing talent.

“It also gives content owners the flexibility to choose where they want their dubbing projects to be recorded, and it has made it financially viable to dub a wider variety of TV content including factual, drama and unscripted content. For content owners, this opens up new revenue streams. All this adds up to a more cost-efficient way of working – with clients now taking on projects that would have been price-prohibitive,” Doran concludes.

In the next part we look at the choice between public, private and hybrid deployments and at cyber security.

Continue reading Part 2

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