The Sponsors Perspective: Go Small To Go Big - Microservices Keep Broadcasters Ahead Of The Curve

The media industry is evolving faster than at any point in its history. Broadcasters and content producers are striving to meet consumers’ insatiable appetite for more content, rich viewing experiences, stunning images and access across all screens. As a result, in some cases, we have a situation where broadcasters’ revenues are growing more slowly than their costs. In fact, the big question facing all broadcasters today is how to create more first-class content more efficiently.

This article was first published as part of Essential Guide: Microservices For Broadcasters.

Timescales for bringing new services to market are also compressing; from conception to launch is now a few months, if not weeks, compared to the years it would have taken in the past. Services today must also evolve very rapidly to keep pace with their core audience demands and need to be able to spin-down as fast as they are spun up.

Entrenched models can no longer be relied on to take on the challenges of this new mediascape. On an operational level, a vast amount of content is now being produced, ingested and managed. Traditional broadcast architectures can’t scale at the necessary volume or adapt as quickly as they now need to, while the single-function system – although perfect for its intended use – is unable to support broadcasters’ need for hyper-agility.

Virtualization and beyond

As an industry, we need technology and commercial models that can support highly nimble operations. For their part, vendors need to give customers platforms that can be deployed at speed and rapidly evolved. Looking ahead, broadcasters are going to need to be more agile than they’ve ever been, delivering services that can stay ahead of the shifting needs of the consumers.

The move from CAPEX to OPEX and workflows virtualized on commodity hardware are steps in the right direction, giving broadcasters more flexibility to add and pay for additional capability and capacity as needed.

As broadcaster and media companies adapt to take on the challenges of the new, dynamic market head-on, a cloud-native or microservices approach enables them to take the next leap in evolution. Microservices take the virtualized software-based approach one step further, separating processes into smaller more autonomous functions, and allowing multiple microservices to be combined to deliver specific applications.

Microservices add greater degrees of inherent flexibility to existing IT infrastructure. Once you get the IT right – whether you’re running monolithic applications on it or microservices-based ones, the hardware remains the same. Not only does this model deliver the inherent nimbleness and flexibility needed to shape successful media businesses for the future, it also opens up new ways to build, maintain and operate services and provides the capacity to scale these services – up or down – in a very compressed time frame.

Getting it right and going live

While new technologies always create a buzz, the challenge for the broadcast industry is not to get side-tracked into replicating old workflows or business models; shoehorning an existing approach into a new paradigm means you miss all the benefits that new technology brings. We’ve seen this with IP – in the early days, as an industry we tried to map the SDI world to IP, losing a lot of benefits that IP offers.

We need to avoid doing the same thing with cloud and microservices. Instead of focusing on migrating applications like playout on to cloud platforms and running them on a microservices architecture, we need to look at where these technologies can make the biggest impact. While playout is technically the easiest thing to implement in a cloud environment, it’s typically a 24/7 service, running with very high utilization of the underlying infrastructure. This doesn’t make the best use of the nimbleness that microservices deliver.

Live production – and particularly live sports – is where the power of microservices has the potential to really come into its own. Not only does this model lend itself really well to the needs of live environments but this type of content is something consumers place a higher value on – especially live sports. Furthermore, they are willing to pay for it – PWC estimates that over 90 percent of sports fans subscribe to services for access to live games.

Being able to rapidly spin up temporary, subscription services like a pay-per-view event or targeted, seasonal sports packages – all Liverpool soccer games for instance – fast and cost effectively is hugely valuable to broadcasters. Leveraging microservices, capabilities can be fired up just before a game then be turned off after the final post-game analysis wraps up. In essence, you are only paying while the infrastructure is in use.

As the technology matures, we can expect microservices to be part and parcel of delivering transitory, live services, where very bursty capacity is needed. On a technical level, live is undoubtedly more challenging to do due to the time constraints, but it’s certainly solvable and we’ll see solutions hitting the market as soon as this year.

Vendors must answer the call

As they meet these changing customer demands, the onus is on the vendor community to develop applications that use microservices, rather than taking our existing products and reshaping them for the changing market. While broadcasters have a real need for solutions that underpin new business and operational models, our customers tell us they want technology adoption to be largely hidden from them. The applications and operation should be familiar and work as they need to.

Our customers face real time pressure and need to rapidly change business models; we, as technology providers, need to create technology to facilitate that for them. Just as broadcasters will have to rapidly conceptualize and deliver new services, vendors have to increase innovation velocity, delivering lots of fast iterations of microservices architectures, and adapting their capabilities, so that customers, in turn, can keep running successful agile businesses.

The internet has really shaken up the broadcast industry, shaping the way consumers access content and throwing down the gauntlet to traditional broadcast models. While this has presented a challenge for the vendor community, at the same time it’s provided the solution. In the case of Grass Valley, we can now put our unique intellectual property and expertise in media and live production on internet platforms. Furthermore, we can now leverage technologies that allow us to exploit our intellectual properties in a way that just wasn’t possible before.

Neil Maycock, Senior Vice President – Strategic Marketing & Playout, Grass Valley.

Neil Maycock, Senior Vice President – Strategic Marketing & Playout, Grass Valley.

We’re at an exciting crossroads, where long-held beliefs about what a broadcast facility looks like, or how content is created and delivered, are being shed. Our customers need partners that can understand the shifting dynamic and deliver solutions – regardless of technology – that answers their needs and can help them adapt and scale at speed.

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