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What Everyone Wants To Know About Live Production In The Cloud

What exactly is live production in the cloud? Let’s start with what it is not.

As “the cloud” has become a bit of an industry buzzword, some vendors may tout jagged remote control of onsite hardware engines as “cloud workflows” – but this simply isn’t true. With these “faux cloud workflows,” users miss out on quality-of-life enjoyed in a hardware control room, and yet, they do not have the advantages of a true cloud native production environment. There may be a reduction in feature set, scaled-down control, or maybe your control interface lacks any live video previews of the sources you’re working with – all without any real advantages other than simply working remotely.

So, what exactly is live cloud production? Cloud-based applications are nothing new, but what defines them and why are they now part of the live production discussion?

Software applications – consisting of a script written in a computer language for accomplishing certain tasks or functions along with an interface for users to interact with the application – historically have been installed on computer hardware that is physically near the user. Cloud computing, introduced by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006, allows users to remotely access and interface across the internet with software that is installed on servers in facilities – “the cloud” – that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The model is now common. You have used cloud computing if you have ever logged on to Microsoft Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud, for example. With these popular software suites, you are remotely accessing functionality and an interface that looks very familiar if you used previous versions available for purchase or download, but now the software is not running on your computer. You are merely accessing it on your computer through a web browser, but it actually runs on a server far away, even in another country.

In an industry where productions are historically defined by the quantity, quality, and overall price tag of the gear in your rack room – cloud technology represents a major paradigm shift for broadcasters. With the advancement of cloud computing platforms like AWS, live production in the cloud no longer entails a compromise of creativity and quality of final output. In fact, by leveraging the power of the cloud, both big-player broadcast networks and up-and-coming live content creators alike can power top-tier shows with less cost, fewer constraints, and more agility than ever before.

Who Should Be Leveraging Live Cloud Production?

Historically, video engineers would shudder at the thought of bringing anything but a top-quality SDI camera into their broadcast. But increasingly, modern audiences care about speed, ease-of-access, and excitement of the coverage itself – as much as the guaranteed quality of traditional on-premises hardware setups. With cloud production, users can depend on a variety of different sources to provide more dynamic, energetic coverage of live events from unique viewpoints.

While not everyone wants or needs to give up their hardware and cables, cloud production brings new possibilities. With the recent release of Chyron LIVE, our product team has built a professional control room -- with production switching, real-time motion graphics, clip server functionality, audio-mixing, replay creation, and sports telestration – into a single cloud-native platform. Accessible from any device with an internet connection, Chyron LIVE makes broadcast-grade live video production available to anyone who wants to create content like a broadcaster. During its recent proof-of-concept phase, early adopters included onsite production companies, lower tier collegiate sports programs, established broadcasters wanting to produce additional OTT content and others.

Onsite Broadcast Production Companies

The ability to spin-up a cloud production control room on-demand presents incredible cost-savings and reduction in operational logistics. Think of your classic sports production scenario, covering a match for televised broadcast from an OB van. You need a heavy-duty vehicle, a full rack’s worth of expensive production gear, and all the necessary operator staff on-site to execute your show. This scenario entails logistical, equipment, maintenance, and staffing costs that put broadcast out of reach for smaller-tier content creators and niche sports with fledgling audiences. Even for established production companies, adding one more client or one more series of events is challenging if they are already at capacity.

By utilizing a platform like Chyron LIVE, the only on-site requirement is camera equipment, camera operators, and the network connectivity to transport the video feeds into the cloud. You can simply spin-up your cloud control room and start producing. And staffing is less of a challenge as well. While your production demands may still require onsite camera operators, the rest of your production crew can handle their role from anywhere in the world. Technical directors, graphic ops, replay ops, and telestrators – these roles are usually associated with a seat in the truck and a hefty hardware interface to get the job done. With our all-encompassing platform, users are able to remotely collaborate in real-time on the same cloud production instance via dedicated browser interfaces. A TD can switch the show, a graphics op can queue and play graphics, and a replay op can put together illustrated replay packages – while observing what changes and actions other users are making.

Collegiate And Community Sports

Not every college or university, and certainly not every sport or team wins a place on prime-time television with the production crew to match. But they all have fans and with more exposure, could potentially grow their fan base. The same logistical, budgetary and staffing efficiencies discussed above for production companies apply here as well. Even inexperienced, student volunteer crews can produce great looking sports coverage.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of cloud technology is its ability to eliminate the massive cost barriers associated with top-tier live content. Chyron LIVE makes the production capability of a six-figure control room available for merely a low hourly cost. This on-demand model eliminates the need for massive upfront investments and gives you the ability to capitalize on revenue opportunities that were previously unfeasible from a cost and logistic standpoint. Spin-up a popup channel for a specific live event or build audiences in promising yet currently small-scale niches by activating your cloud control room for only the few hours you need to prepare, produce, and wrap-up your shows. Without having to give an arm and a leg to create professional content, you can bring that excitement and energy to entirely new channels and audiences.

Even with no budget, Chyron LIVE’s graphics capabilities facilitate sponsorship and ad revenue. Sponsored replays, pop-up tombstone style ads, sponsored score bugs, semi-transparent sponsor logos and more are all possible, easily covering the cost of each production. So not only can cloud production’s payment model solve the “small or no budget” problem, but it can also actually facilitate revenue generation. Of course, you can generate revenue with traditional non-cloud production as well, but if the cost barrier to getting started is too high, then that will never happen.

OTT And Streaming Channels

In the same way that live inputs for a production have become increasingly web-connected and streaming-based, so have the channels where you’ll find the growing majority of viewing audiences. Live streaming platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook Live provide rapid-access to full-length live content from any device – while social media channels themselves are ripe for grabbing attention with eye-catching highlight clips. With Chyron LIVE, you can easily publish directly to these cornerstone online channels, as well as your own proprietary OTT platform. Of course, you can leverage the content for OTA broadcasting as well. The process is as simple as encoding your stream output into a suitable format for broadcast.

Cloud technology makes the creation of broadcast-grade productions more flexible and affordable than ever before. While this is fantastic news for how you fulfill your existing programming, think of how you can apply this new paradigm to address your organization’s wish-list of content, channels, and audiences that just weren’t quite feasible from a cost and logistic perspective in the past.

What are some of the potential challenges with live cloud production?

As with any production workflow, live cloud production has some potential challenges. Some commonly asked questions include:

  • How can I staff this workflow? Doesn’t it require a different skill set from traditional workflows?
  • If every function of production happens in the cloud environment, how do I get my sources into this environment and how do I output the produced video?
  • Even though the hourly cost is low, what if I am producing thousands of hours of content

Although the Chyron LIVE interface is all-in-one, the core functionalities and the controls that drive them will look familiar to experienced graphics playout operators and replay and telestration operators. Switching (vision mixing) is accomplished from a touchscreen multi-viewer and the audio control portion of the interface offers familiar slider control. It’s all designed to be very intuitive, but users will want to invest a little time in learning. We recommend that operators and producers spend an hour or two learning the production features in the Chyron LIVE course, available on Chyron Academy.

Production Workflow

For cameras that are capable of video output as SRT Listener, RTP, Zixi Push or RIST, Chyron LIVE can be configured to ingest these sources directly. Video that is output as SDI, NDI, IP 2110 or HDMI will need to be routed to an encoder and then sent to the production environment. Encoders may range in price from less than $200 to just under $2000, depending on the features included and the number of inputs. For video captured on a cell phone, there are free encoders available as apps for your phone, such as Larix. Output video may be sent to Facebook, YouTube or other destinations on the web. Chyron LIVE offers a straightforward dialog, accessible within the user interface, for configuring inputs and outputs.

Each production has unique concerns around latency and camera synchronization. AWS currently reports a latency of under 5 seconds with even lower latency being possible. Factors include broadband speed, proximity to the cloud environment, and the efficiency of each component of the workflow. Synchronization is best achieved with all cameras going to a single encoder, or by having all cameras and all encoders be the same model. Both latency and synchronization should be tested and optimized prior to the first production. Our specialists work closely with each user to ensure an optimized workflow.

Dan MacDonald, Chyron Product Marketing Director.

Dan MacDonald, Chyron Product Marketing Director.

Total Cost

To recap, with cloud production, the initial cost barrier to begin creating professional broadcast grade content is minimal – only a few hundred dollars – compared to the tens or hundreds of thousands required to build and equip a control room or OB truck. However, if thousands of hours of production are part of the equation, it may seem that the traditional workflow is worth the investment.

In some cases, this is true, but in many others it is not. The cloud purchase model is the best option in these situations:

  • You have content that you want to produce. You have a minimal budget. Perhaps you already have a streaming channel or maybe you are just thinking of spinning one up. You want your content to stand out, to look professional. With Chyron LIVE, you can achieve this with minimal up-front investment, making most of your production ad-supported, possibly even generating net positive revenue.
  • You may have a significant budget, but you want to test new content or new audiences before making a massive investment. You have an established reputation, and your content must be broadcast grade and on brand. Your viewers are accustomed to a certain style of graphics and camera transitions. With Chyron LIVE, you can easily produce new content with the same quality as your traditional control room.
  • You could invest in another control room, but you want the advantages of true cloud production. With Chyron LIVE, you can have a team that works from anywhere. You have the advantage of instant product updates and new features without complicated software updates and licensing. You have no hardware to maintain. And with none of the costs associated with a traditional control room – the building and its associated maintenance and utilities or fuel and lodging for trucks and onsite crews, when you add it all up, even with thousands of production hours, total cost of ownership for cloud production may still be the best option.