​Is Cloud Playout Ready For Primetime? SAM Has A View

In theory all elements of traditional playout can be migrated to the cloud now. However, there are issues of standardization of IP streams and everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to truly make the first step. There’s certainly a lot of buzz around the cloud, but little evidence that high revenue prime time services will migrate to the cloud anytime soon. In the latest in our round table of opinion formers on the subject, here is Karl Mehring, Director of Playout & Delivery, SAM.

BroadcastBridge: Where is the evidence that is move to cloud will reduce cost?

Karl Mehring: If a broadcaster is migrating to a cloud based infrastructure in order to reduce costs it is quite possible that they are focused on the wrong thing. It is a possible outcome, but not a given. The principle use case often stated by vendors offering cloud based systems is for disaster recovery. This does make some sense of course since cloud is synonymous with virtualization, and virtualization in theory allows the dynamic reallocation of software based video engines across different hardware in different locations – an ideal architecture when disaster strikes. As with Channel in a Box, broadcasters were initially adopting it only for DR before they the realized that our ICE product could equally be used in prime time playout, DR is only a start. The real benefits of going to the cloud is the ability to drop the reliance on SDI, co-locate your linear playout software with the other OTT platforms to bring targeted commercials and other personalization strategies to your audience. So long term it is less about just reducing costs, but increasing your share of available advertising revenues.

BroadcastBridge: When we talk about cloud playout – what does the cloud part actually mean? (private, public, both?)

KM: There is no single definition. Our research suggests there’s an equal split between broadcasters investigating private data centers, sometimes located in the basement just as they have always done, and those that are evaluating the well known public cloud providers. The first brings a level of comfort and security. The costs are more predictable and its really about the first phase of migrating away from SDI in a controlled way. The latter brings exciting opportunities for scaling dynamically on demand and more easily providing delivery to a global audience. A word of caution though, broadcasters must really do an extremely close analysis of costs and consider whether they could ever back out from an agreement for hosting in the public cloud should the need arise. If the pricing doubles, how quickly could a broadcaster switch to another provider of model of provisioning?

BroadcastBridge: What does the shift entail?

KM: The biggest barrier is a lack of knowledge at all levels. The list of new things to know about touches every part of a playout business. Broadcasters and services providers can’t afford for any part of their business to have a hiccup because margins are low and jobs are on the line. Its not just about repeating today’s playout model in the cloud, its all new; IP streaming formats – SMPTE 2022-6, H.264, VC2, How will you decode and test those streams, because your existing broadcast engineers probably don’t have the tools or knowledge. VMware or Hyper-V? What resiliency models at the VM level do you want to deploy? What are the different cost models in the different clouds? If you upload an extra 3 day’s worth of content over a long public holiday will your business be hit with a huge bill? The considerations are huge, both financially and technically.

BroadcastBridge: What are the barriers to adoption – security? Existing contracts in place? Skepticism of vendor claims? A willingness to sweat legacy assets further?

KM: As an industry we need to start being completely honest about what is achievable today. Some vendors appear to be raising expectations of what is possible today to unrealistic levels. Fortunately many customers have now worked this out, but it is a disruptive influence in the industry at a time of such change. The truth is we are at the early stages of our industries transformation so once the technology is proven there is still a huge mountain to climb regarding data security, especially where public clouds are concerned. In which jurisdiction is your content currently residing? At the moment the industry is still at the technology evaluation stage, so we can continue to existing systems to be used until the virtualized platforms can truly deliver a full channel.

BroadcastBridge: Are dedicated graphics engines or other dedicated hardware still necessary to run channels in the cloud?

KM: Any high value channel absolutely depends on branding. The traditional SDI solution is the graphics device using bespoke hardware. In ICE, SAM is able to provide the same high quality graphics that these solutions provided but using GPU acceleration. Until recently this was seen as one of the key barriers to migrating playout technology to the cloud - that is changing with a variety of technology developments. Here at SAM we believe it is only a matter of months before we start to see the full branded channel available on commodity IT platforms.

Karl Mehring Director of Playout & Delivery at Snell Advanced Media

Karl Mehring Director of Playout & Delivery at Snell Advanced Media

BroadcastBridge: What are the implications for moving complex versus simple channels to the cloud?

KM: There’s a common misconception that a complex channel is a live content channel. That’s not necessarily the case. Some of the most complex requirements can come from the thematic channel brands. For example there are well known children’s entertainment brands running on ICE channel in a Box who need very complex audio and subtitling shuffling and insertion rules. That is complex but of a completely different type of complexity to the prime time national broadcasters. ICE also supports these types of highly responsive live reactive channels and is regularly used to broadcast premier sporting events for example where trust in delivering the live match is paramount. So both of these complex channel types must be delivered from the cloud for the cloud to truly have come of age. Currently the questions of latency of live feeds into a cloud based solution are probably not completely ironed out, so we expect the first services to move wholesale to the cloud will be the thematic services, whether simple or complex.

BroadcastBridge: What are the challenges involved in delivering a Ultra HD channel with 4K graphics from the cloud?

KM: It wont be surprising to hear the answer is bandwidth! The financial costs of storage and time taken to move the very large UHD file sizes around are going to make VOD the most attractive initial delivery mechanism for single assets and binge viewing. That’s certainly been the strategy of Netflix and others so far. However, it is inevitable that bandwidth costs will come down and compression techniques will improve so it’s just a matter of time until it becomes common place in linear playout, whether cloud or anchored to the ground.

8 What type of media organisation or broadcaster will move to SDN and cloud playout first? Isn't cloud best used for business continuity/disaster recovery?

DR is the safe and sensible strategy to adopt when dealing with a paradigm shift like this one. It gives a broadcaster a way to evolve its skills and assess the technology in a low risk way. That’s exactly what happened with our ICE Channel in a Box. Broadcasters quickly realized that it was more reliable and cost effective than their primary sites so they deprecated their discrete boxes and went CiaB. SAM’s intention is to do exactly the same with ICE SDC our virtualized IP platform variant of our ICE product.

We do know of content owners who would jump at the chance to put all their playout solutions into the cloud today, if they could trust that the level of service would be what they want. The fact that these businesses have yet to find a solution they can commit to today should indicate what they believe the state of the industry is at today.

BroadcastBridge: What are the implications of a shift to cloud-based playout for playout service providers?

KM: Some playout service providers will embrace it and others will most likely choose to ignore it. It should be a huge opportunity for those that have the technical skills to understand it and the R & D teams able to assess the new technologies for themselves. Being a Service Provider means much more today because its not just about linear, but all the other associated and ancillary services such as VOD, Live to VOD, OTT and enabling the personalization of content on any and every platform. Virtualized platforms, possibly in the cloud, are enablers to all of this brave new world and its where the future is heading and needs to be embraced by those in the service provision game. The other implication for playout service providers is companies offering Software as a Service, this could eat into their revenues, ultimately though, the level of “service” that customers of SaaS systems would receive would be significantly reduced.

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