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An OB Van In The Cloud

People are used to service-based offerings in everyday life: from ordering food to customizing a streaming service. The levels of flexibility and control are too attractive. The broadcast industry is not much different, being the latest to embrace an “as-a-service” approach.

Broadcasters are increasingly moving their production and operations infrastructures into the cloud and adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) based models as a way of continually adapting to changing industry dynamics and audience viewing preferences. The development of Telstra’s Media Production Platform (MPP) is a perfect complement to the changing broadcast landscape.

MPP is a cloud-based platform designed to bring all the functionality and quality of on-premise broadcast workflows into a fully virtual environment. This gives users complete remote control through any web browser and the public internet.The platform supports live production, playout automation, asset management, signal processing and master switching, and allows technical teams to select – and pay for –these capabilities on an as-needed basis.

It's “An OB Van In The Cloud”

Traditional hardware-based production infrastructures have always required a significant, and burdensome, amount of capital investment in equipment that only depreciates over time. A SaaS model like MPP allows organizations to shift to an operating expenditures (OPEX) model and choose a supplier offering a logical upgrade path rather than being tied to a capital (CAPEX) renewal cycle.

Using a cloud-based SaaS model enables a broadcaster to provide everything an OB truck does with none of the logistical drawbacks of on-premise workflows – and without losing quality.

It’s possible to take multiple camera feeds while curating a single global feed, overlay graphics for replays, or simply take an international feed and provide regional language localization.

Server-side ad insertion is streamlined as well, with customers taking feeds from a sporting event, inserting SCTE-compliant triggers and relaying them to the scheduled programming spot.

Pay As You Go

The direct cost benefit of a SaaS approach is scalability with customers spinning a service up or down based on production requirements, timelines, and budgets. Additionally, SaaS platforms are scalable to as many instances as required without requiring upfront build-out. For example, a customer may want to run a relatively simple vertical implementation but needs to have up to 40 feeds coming running concurrently in parallel.

The customer doesn’t have to set up and manage any on-premise infrastructure other than their glass. They can engage through the MPP platform through public internet or cloud service connectivity. Then they can manage a broadcast via an intuitive HTML-based interface with low-latency, frame-accurate cloud streaming and monitoring. And the user’s operational experience remains the same regardless of the distance from the processing.

Leveling The Playing Field

A SaaS platform is an attractive option for delivering a diverse mix of events to a broad range of audiences – from high-profile global sporting events to emerging entertainment areas like esports.

Many popular sports that draw large audiences don’t always warrant the expense and time to bring a truck out on location. A virtual broadcast environment cost-effectively brings the content that audiences and subscribers want, with the content owner paying on an ad hoc or per season basis.

This flexibility also presents additional potential revenue streams for advertisers and rights-holders by creating new customer interactions that previously would have been financially prohibitive.

Easy Upgrades

Even the most capable platforms can’t operate in a vacuum. A network of technology partners is necessary to keep the technology current and relevant to real-world requirements. The MPP platform is supported by Grass Valley’s Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP) and the combination of both technologies keeps the system evolving steadily.

A SaaS architecture allows users to access and download upgrades virtually, avoiding the time-consuming tasks of physically upgrading hardware themselves or sending a product back to a service center for firmware updates.

It’s also important to continually monitor a product’s roadmap and stay close to the professionals using the technology every day, taking their feedback and then folding it back into ongoing development.

While the platform is currently focused on remote sports production, Telstra is working with Grass Valley and other partners to incorporate a straight linear playout workflow for the creation of new Free Add Supported (FAST) streaming channels as well as enhanced live replay capabilities. Many of these planned future services are already built into the platform, and simply need to be activated, another benefit of a cloud model.

As new features and capabilities are continually added, the user costs are reduced accordingly. Depending on how a cloud-based infrastructure is configured, customers can use less graphics processing unit (GPU) power and more central processing unit features (CPU) or have lower-cost access to powerful analytics. The platform’s “openness” also means users can work with their choice of cloud service providers while maintaining a consistent level of security and reliability.

Workflow Flexibility

Not every production or type of programming uses the same workflow. The same organization may produce several shows that require different production techniques: online only, on-premise hardware-based or a hybrid combination.

Broadcasters can use the platform in a variety of ways. They can create their required feeds in the cloud and deliver them into their hardware- based systems, with both technologies running in parallel. The platform can function as a stand-alone end-to-end production solution or as an on-premise complement for specific functions such as final mixing, ad insertion or standards-based conversion.

One sports customer is doing the majority of its studio production through its on-premise environments and then bringing those feeds into the MPP platform, which is replacing its physical playout engine and editing capabilities.

Virtual broadcast environments are practical, and profitable, options for reaching a larger audience beyond the limited number of people watching in a venue. A hybrid online/physical approach extends an event’s impact and reach to the potentially limitless online community.

The convergence of more broadcast organizations adopting remote, cloud-based production workflows and the rapid rise of new content platforms and viewing options will certainly increase, creating a heightened urgency for broadcasters to deploy flexible and scalable solutions.

Like the industry it was designed to support, the Media Production Platform is all about options.