The Pros (And Cons) Of Adding Cloud For Remote Workflows

At this year’s IBC Show in Amsterdam, finally in-person after two years, remote production solutions were scattered throughout the exhibition floors, to no real surprise. Reduced costs, travel and shipping expenses, scalable infrastructure and efficient use of resources were all cited as advantages, while a few reasons for migrating carefully were also discussed.

In many ways the pandemic accelerated the move towards remote production, but most agree it was inevitable and a necessary next step for the broadcast and production industries and it is unlikely that everyone will be returning to the office or production facilities as before.

Here's a quick look at the pros and cons of connecting, accessing and retrieving resources via the cloud. 

Pros:

Reduce Costs

Traditional on-site production models are complex and require the deployment of many resources, including Outside Broadcast (OB) vans, remote satellite uplinks, equipment, and large crews. By leveraging the cloud to augment signal transport and extend reach - in addition to content storage and signal processing - broadcasters can keep most resources in house or local and significantly reduce costly travel and shipping expenses.

Improve Agility And Flexibility

With on-site production, talent and guests are all required to report to a central physical location or venue. But with remote production, there are no geographic limitations: hosts, guests, correspondents, and staff can be located anywhere.

Deliver More Live Content

Thanks to IP infrastructures supported by the cloud, multiple events can be covered within the same day. The required equipment can be reused across venues, thereby maximizing time and production workflows. By allowing more feeds from multiple cameras around a venue to be managed and distributed to the right location, broadcasters can use cloud services to increase coverage of live events, including in smaller markets, and cost-effectively reach a wider audience.

Cons:

Connectivity Costs

Today’s broadcasters are increasingly squeezed between growing content demand and mounting budget pressures. The need to do more with less is driving many to centralize their operations as they look for greater cost efficiencies. In many cases, traditional satellite and fiber infrastructure are being replaced by IP and cloud-based video routing, but the costs associated with network bandwidth and producing content in the cloud can be substantial.

End-To-End Latency

Reduced frame rates, out-of-sync audio, or overly compressed video can negatively affect the quality of a stream. For broadcasters, the ability to reduce latency across the infrastructure is a significant problem. Many factors contribute to latency, including the network speed, video processing, the choice of protocols, and any additional latencies introduced between production elements (for example, switches, video routers, and multiviewers). To ensure producers and staff can work and collaborate effectively, end-to-end latency must be kept to a minimum for live broadcasts.

Demand For 4K Content

Viewer demand for 4K UHD content is surging. Streaming services like Netflix have been offering 4K content since as early as 2014,but traditional broadcasters have been slower to adapt, with their focus largely limited to delivering 4K UHD coverage of major sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup. But as 4K becomes mainstream, broadcasters will invariably turn to REMI production and the cloud to help keep costs in check, as the move to new 4K workflows come with additional requirements for speed, storage, connectivity, and, inevitably, cost. The positive here is that once HD workflows are set up, the upgrade path to 4K is incremental.

The SDI To IP Transition

The need to satisfy this demand for 4K content is one of the factors accelerating the transition from SDI to IP. In fact, the increased bandwidth and improved connectivity required for the transmission of UHD content, combined with the growing OTT market, begin to step beyond the capabilities of what SDI can offer. For this reason, IP transport via the cloud presents a practical way to transmit 4K and ultra-high definition (UHD) formats.

However, for broadcasters used to operating with SDI and traditional infrastructure, IP brings new challenges. Unlike SDI infrastructure, which is resilient and highly manageable, IP networks can be inconsistent and unpredictable (packet loss), requiring skilled operators to properly implement and manage them.

Standards And Interoperability

In remote production, transmitting data between the venue and studio may rely on legacy or proprietary technologies. Products based on proprietary technologies will not work with other manufacturers’ devices. Choosing best of breed products that use open standards, such as H.264 encoding and the SRT protocol, enable interoperability between legacy and modern devices. With resources staged in the cloud, upgrading to the latest technology can be an automated process, requiring minimal human intervention.

In addition, the transition from SDI to IP requires equipment that can bridge the gap between baseband and IP, and ensure new and legacy hardware work well together. Working in the cloud presents its own set of challenges. Moving any operations to a different infrastructure provider often means not only overcoming technical design limitations but also finding cloud developers who are familiar with the underlying technology of multiple cloud infrastructures and can help make the transition as easy as possible.

Perception Vs. Reality

The idealized vision is that every part of a live program will be produced at a fraction of the cost by taking advantage of the remotely located technical resources. The cloud allows audio, graphics overlays, switching and replays, staff as well as talents to be located in different locations yet collaborate in real-time as if they were in the same physical venue. The reality, however, is more complex, with mainstream adoption not quite there yet, due to the sometimes overlooked costs associated with cloud computing - such as bandwidth, storage, and contract fees.

Instability in one piece of equipment can lead to errors in the data flow and signal degradation. The result: Jitter, delay, and on-air defects. The sheer number of possible hardware and software configurations, the quality of the network infrastructure, and the reliability of each device, highlight the intrinsic complexity of these setups.

For these and other reasons, it’s imperative to choose a cloud vendor platform - typically offered in a SaaS model where you choose a la carte signal processing or storage services that are best for your project or business model - with deep experience and specific knowledge of broadcast workflows. At the 2022 IBC Show, the place was full of them.

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