Are cloud technologies receiving a warmer reception from companies today? Are we seeing greater cloud adoption within various areas of expertise, and how will this improve broadcast operations and workflows in the coming years? We ask industry professionals.
With their ease of set-up and access, cloud technologies have generated considerable enthusiasm among consumers. Companies, however, have traditionally been more cautious about implementing them – a trend that goes back to the software-as-a-service days. The question is whether companies can deliver the same reliable performance, functionality and security with outsourced cloud technology as they do on their own.
In the streaming video market, that question has significantly raised the barrier to entry. Emerging providers must not only use cloud technologies to ensure a successful market launch, they must do it while competing directly against industry giants like Netflix and YouTube. The main hurdles they face are cost, performance and reversibility.
The best approach to dealing with the cost is to commit to a sustainable business model from the jump. Most cloud solutions offer competitive pricing at first, only to increase costs as the service becomes more widely adopted. So for streaming service providers, staying vigilant with the budget is essential.
In terms of performance, verification is key. Providers can only improve what they measure, so they can only boost performance once they’ve verified it. They shouldn’t settle for meeting the bare minimum listed in their service-level agreements – they need to test the full scope of their service.
The most overlooked of all these challenges is reversibility. Companies don’t want to be locked into a cloud technology that relies on a single outsourced solution to provide their own service. They want to be able to choose the best of several third-party options and the ability to maintain internal control over their service.
While these three challenges need to be considered, cloud technologies have come a long way in the last few years. Companies that find innovative ways to use them will be highly rewarded.
The media industry is increasingly embracing cloud-based services and solutions. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2022 saw an uptick in real-world use cases where the cloud was adopted on a wider scale across media workflows. File-based QC and monitoring in the cloud, for example, have provided further flexibility and agility for verifying and delivering massive amounts of content, while reducing costs by enabling media operators to only pay for services they use.
Another factor driving cloud adoption has been faster media processing that scales dynamically with workloads. As more media workflows move to the cloud, multipoint monitoring with a single dashboard becomes a powerful tool, especially for OTT delivery. With access to real-time quality metrics from the contribution stage to the end-device stage, broadcasters and service providers have the power of data and the accompanying intelligence to identify and resolve problems immediately, as well as predict critical issues and even equipment failure.
Broadcasters and service providers are also increasingly turning to AI-/ ML-driven automated workflows and migrating their critical operations to the cloud. As a recent IABM report pointed out, AI/ML is supporting this migration by offering data-driven, automated workflows that include personalisation, metadata generation and data analytics.
The adoption of cloud-based solutions is especially true for streaming, where the ability to dynamically spin up and spin down content processing and monitoring systems at locations closest to customers is desired – paying only for what is used. Also helping the localisation of global content, today ML-based QC solutions include audio language detection and captions technologies that expedite the dubbing, caption creation and verification processes for many languages, enabling fast, high-quality content delivery to cater to a worldwide audience.
Finally, in today’s post-pandemic world, with work-from-home and hybrid working models, managing operations remotely is essential, and the cloud is instrumental in providing this capability. To consistently meet customer expectations for high QoE and QoS, broadcasters and service providers need to easily deploy and manage QC and monitoring systems within media workflows at any location and on any device. This can significantly expedite problem identification and resolution, which plays a crucial role in driving customer engagement and increasing profitability. So in 2023, finding and implementing the best cloud-based media QC and monitoring tools should be one of their highest priorities.
The biggest barrier to cloud adoption is risk. There’s still a lot of resistance to change out there, and this creates a technical debt between the first movers and the late adopters.
We live in a brave new world that’s moving fast, and those that don’t adapt will be left behind. Broadcasters need to accept that the decisions they make today are going to have an impact on their future.
With a skills shortage looming, it will be a better future if we involve more of the people who are going to have to live with and implement these inevitable changes, so we can minimise the negative unintended consequences and simplify the solutions. The choice is an illusion; we already know what we have to do.
Playout in the cloud is already established and makes total sense; the next challenge will be moving live production there.
There’s a lot of inconsistency in what cloud actually means in reality. There’s a difference between operating in a browser (virtual machines) or operated by a browser (microservices). Add to that the complexity around integrating the services from different vendors, the glue that holds it all together, and there’s some significant challenges for live production. The biggest challenge of all is cost. There is a fear of the cost of cloud; the prices have always been somewhat unpredictable but now ‘cloudflation’ must be priced in.
This could lead to a degree of ‘cloud repatriation’ – shifting away from the cloud to on-premise infrastructure running cloud technology. Cloud repatriation could result in one-third to one-half the cost of running equivalent workloads in the cloud, with predictable costs.
There is a more mature response to cloud technologies from our customers and prospects than there was a few years ago. Cloud is no longer seen as an instant solution to improving efficiency and facilitating more flexible business models, though it can achieve both benefits with the right partner and change management approach.
The earlier concerns around security, availability and content location are no longer seen as show-stoppers, though outages on public cloud platforms are a reminder why redundancy across more than one availability zone and/or region is desirable for premium services.
For some content creators and owners, their own facility is still seen as the only safe place to process their assets, so for them at least public cloud is not an option. This thinking also applies to many national broadcasters, where their responsibilities for public service announcements under government direction precludes the use of third-party cloud infrastructure.
The economics of public cloud are also a challenge for many customers; for 24/7 channels a broadcaster needs justification and motive beyond operational cost to consider migrating to a cloud-first approach. Where corporations are adopting a cloud-first strategy, it is often driven by what the future holds for delivering content to the consumer; more and more non-live content is consumed via VOD platforms which deliver over public internet, so public cloud is a natural fit for processing and orchestrating that content.
Overall, we see two approaches being adopted. One is a hybrid approach, with on-premise virtualised or bare-metal infrastructure for 24/7 workloads augmented by public cloud for event-based pop-up channels or peak workloads. The second approach is to go all in, cloud-first – content is created, stored, processed and delivered from the cloud. The more dynamic broadcasters or service providers lean towards the second approach; more traditional public service or national broadcasters still value the on-premise infrastructure. Whichever approach is taken, software-defined virtualised solutions which can be deployed anywhere give content owners and broadcasters the freedom to evolve as consumers needs change.
As of early 2023, the broadcast industry has learned the value of IT-based solutions and Cinegy has installed many such solutions for global providers. IT itself has moved many operations to the cloud, but broadcast was always constrained by the old model of ‘a virtual server somewhere else’, which was never intended for the broadcast use case.
However, modern cloud-native broadcast solutions make use of more recent innovations. Service-based installations that run from containers offer a radical new way of providing broadcast infrastructure, and the SRT protocol provides a safe, stable output stream deliverable anywhere on the public internet.
As the IT supply chain woes caused by the Covid pandemic have led to difficulties sourcing server and peripheral components for on-prem installations, so more and more broadcasters are seeing the advantage of systems which do not need to be bought, can be expanded infinitely and take advantage of recent developments that have been proved to be robust and reliable.
With the possibility of removing capex from the equation, it becomes possible to specify larger systems. With the possibility of adding servers and services with a few mouse-clicks, it is trivial to upgrade installations. And using the SRT protocol for distribution brings a new range of signal management and distribution possibilities.
Overall, there is a growing interest in cloud solutions in the broadcast industry. However, there will continue to be a rationale for running certain processes in data centres. For example, if broadcasters are using legacy platforms and dealing with predictable loads, the public cloud may not have an immediate business justification, as is the case with long-running IPTV technology.
We envision a hybrid future where broadcasters will adopt platforms that can run on-prem, in the public cloud, the private cloud and multiple clouds. The key driver is the implementation of cloud-native architectures in hybrid environments which offer broadcasters automatic scalability, encompassing DevOps, DevSecOps and other processes and practices.
Beyond the overall opportunities that cloud-native architectures offer the broadcast industry, there are also several real challenges to consider, like the need to adopt an industrial approach to security, leverage automation and AI to streamline operations, and systematise platform deployment observability.