In a rapidly changing media landscape, exacerbated by demanding consumer viewing habits, “fixed” SDI-based facilities find themselves limited in who they can reach and how. For content owners and exclusive rights holders looking to monetize their vast (and growing) content libraries, IP workflows are helping solve this problem, making it relatively painless to launch new channels, adjust existing ones, and turn off ones that are not generating revenue.
Due to this marketplace uncertainty, an IP infrastructure, with its inherent flexibility, is also enabling users to adapt with demand and change or grow their business models accordingly with minimal effort—remembering that providing a good advertiser experience is as important as keeping the viewer happy and coming back for more.
A Calculated Decision
To date, the migration to IP—which includes elastic cloud channel playout and real-time signal monitoring—has been a slow and calculated one. If you are building small studios, or minimal playout facilities, then SDI still makes perfect sense. As a result, many manufacturers will continue to offer SDI products for some time. This model features all deterministic interfaces and very low latency, which is all that they need.
Looking to move to the next step in distributing media, without breaking their budgets, many facilities are now in the process of developing “hybrid” workflows that could, for example, include locating content libraries on premise—along with physical production gear like cameras, switchers, I/Os, etc.—while ad insertion, digital switching, transcoding and channel playout happen in the cloud.
For redundancy, there are also successful examples throughout the industry where the main channel is on premise, but the backup channel is in the cloud.
Hybrid Workflows Can Be Difficult To Maintain
The problem with hybrid workflows is that the facility is now operating and maintaining two distinctly different systems with different perspectives on what is technically possible to do with them. How are they architected and how do they share information between them? Also, how do you keep costs low?
This can also cause problems for the user experience. The on-premise systems used might have a different user interface, with a different response time and a different method for dealing with failures. You also wind up with different feature sets in the cloud that don’t match what’s on premise. You end up with a separate group of operators for those channels—on-premise vs. cloud—or you have the same operators that must learn two different workflows and react accordingly. Basically, you are adding confusion on top of complexity. Things are bound to go wrong.
Making Hybrid Models Work
How do you make the hybrid model efficient enough to be cost-effective? You can start by ensuring that the software running in the cloud is the same or at least very similar to what’s running on premise. There has to be a common interface that works for both workflows. Therefore, operationally, no one will know the difference. That’s important. The operator should not have a different process or user interface between the two systems.
By synchronizing the on-premise and cloud workflows, via a software orchestration layer, you can make content and ad materials easier to handle and maintain operations that are familiar to the staff. This integrated system design needs to be as painless as possible for the operator. The less pain there is, the fewer issues there will be when a problem occurs. When something needs to be fixed, it can be identified and addressed quickly.
You also have to look at how technology is evolving to help both workflows. Is there room for growth across the two workflows or does maintaining a hybrid model make economic sense?
IP Flexibility Provides Value For All Involved
This is where IP benefits really make a difference, because there is a lot of analytics and telemetry information that isn’t available in SDI and can be very useful to keep operations running smoothly. This can be used to trigger playout events to recover or prevent on-air issues (for both ads and program content), as well as turn on or off channels. This analytic information can also be leveraged to monitor channels in real time, giving the staff more control (via more granularity) and a better understanding of what they have to work with. It also enables them to be proactive and diagnose problems before they happen. Downtime means lost revenue, so it has to be a concern.
To make this all happen seamlessly, what we can do is insert an orchestration layer to integrate traffic, automation and channel launch features that can be accessed from a single online dashboard. It should combine scheduling, rights management, channel origination, live events, VOD, ad sales, ad placement, ad serving, campaign management, and more into a single cloud platform. This converged solution should be able to deliver both linear and CTV content with ads and triggers for local and dynamic ad insertion, making it easier for media companies to monetize across every platform—from broadcast and pop-up to OTT, VOD and FAST. It should also guarantee high audio and video quality on all outlets and support the demands of premium services.
This allows media companies to sell inventory by audience, by context, or by spot―regardless of the platform or delivery mechanism. Media companies can maximize revenue by accurately targeting commercials to specific audiences. It can also ease monetizing scenarios that are difficult to plan in advance, such as extra time in sporting events and breaking news programming.
Meeting Advertiser Needs
Set up correctly, this fully integrated software platform provides a repeatable way to stand up a first-class channel with all of the right business rules and business systems involved in the cloud-based architecture, so that the ads meet all of the advertisers’ demands and get to the target consumers as well. Indeed, following the lifecycle of that ad allows you to show the value that your business customer is getting.
With remote monitoring and control capabilities, where channels can be supervised from anywhere there is an internet connection, the operator can fire up a web browser, push a few buttons and launch a new channel, take one down, or adjust other parameters that enhance the viewing experience or improve quality. And better viewing experience reduces churn.
Elasticity Is The Key
The cloud also brings the ability to turn channels or processing services on and off easily with little or no upfront costs. Channel providers realize that they need flexible infrastructure that can adapt with the times. This is how a facility can adapt operations with little effort as viewing habits change. It also allows facilities to experiment with new ways to market products and advertise to consumers on a more personal level. What if I want to go international? Hyper-localized? It’s all possible with an IP infrastructure supported by the cloud.
Launching A Channel In The Cloud
If a business is based in the U.S. and they want to launch a channel in Europe, a web browser with access to a deployment tool allows them to configure a template for the type of channel they want, at what resolution, by simply checking a few boxes to initiate configuration changes. Therefore, with an IP orchestration layer, getting channels to different places is made extremely easy:
- Pick a profile (and encoding profile) that matches the features you like to offer your customers.
- Select where your live inputs are coming from. They can come from different places and be switched live.
- Choose how much storage you would you like to use.
- Select the resolution you would like the channel to be.
With this template, which can be launched and recalled in minutes, you have picked how your channel will operate. At that point, you simple click “launch,” and a few minutes later the channel will be ready for the consumer to use. You can also set up a redundancy stack (up to five channels per stack) to ensure reliability—another critical factor for 24/7 media delivery success.
Redundancy is also assured by spreading channels across multiple availability zones, so you never have a main and backup channel on the same availability zone. You can also leverage multi-region support. Securing the delivery path can be accomplished via cloud-to-ground using protocols such as SRT or Zixi, or a CDN can be used to reach different parts of the world.
Playout By The Rules
Cloud dramatically reduces the cost of launching a channel, although there are different perspectives on how operators look at cost of ownership. [Be aware that cloud providers have different rates for different regions.]
You also must accommodate local rules for which content can be played. These rules may, for example, prevent you from storing content in certain regions, or you can be restricted from distributing certain content deemed unacceptable in some countries. Your playout system has to understand all of this, while sending the right content at a pre-determined time. Distribution agreements have to be followed closely to ensure financial success.
Know Your Audience
Finally, you need to look at how consumers are watching your content and what’s changing. This helps with targeting ads more effectively to individuals, locations or types of devices. One of the key reasons people pick the cloud when they are looking at their future projects is because of this flexibility.
Making The Transition Affordable
So the real question for those considering the move to IP and the cloud is: How will I shift my operations to make the most money? Every business will have a slightly different answer, based on how they like to operate. Looking at the analytics of your prospective audience can help here. It’s easy to put the trigger information that enables program segmentation and ad insertion into any channel or linear service you might want to launch, which will enable other services down the road. This is also a mechanism to manage campaigns and not run ads at inappropriate times.
Andy Warman - Senior Vice President, Product - Imagine Communications.
Broadcasters and content owners looking to migrate with the times understand that deploying an IP infrastructure is the best way to control the flow of content and get immediate feedback on how it’s performing. Software is critical for managing and controlling what happens. It’s also important to focus on value for your customer (advertisers), ensuring that you get the right ad to the right viewer at the right time.
Moving to IP in the cloud is a necessary first step to bringing financial ROI to everyone involved in the content and advertising chain.