The broadcast media enterprise is facing extraordinary change across several dimensions. Some of the disrupters are: over-the-top (OTT) methods and providers; anyplace/anytime viewing; transitioning the media infrastructure to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment; moving to all-IP media transport; operating in new geographic markets; and possibly ultra-HD (UHD) video and/or high-dynamic range (HDR) support. Top off this list with the ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. This last driver is reason enough to rethink how workflows are implemented. Adapting to meet these challenges will require more than a facility equipment upgrade; it will require a new strategy for managing, acquiring, processing, and delivering media assets.

Workflows may be local or geo-distributed. The islands of source/distribution partners, disparate databases, content storage locations, workflow control, facility locations, and more will hobble workflow functionality. The new reality is that the enterprise must integrate the silos of media workflows, or new business opportunities and improving operational efficiency may never see the light of the day.

The Virtual Supply Chain

The end goal of any media enterprise, large or small, is to have an efficient supply chain for its programming or services product. A supply chain is, "A system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer." There are many moving pieces in a supply chain. With the advent of ubiquitous data networking and the compute cloud, the supply chain is being reimagined as the virtual supply chain. How is this different from the traditional model?

The ability of a supply chain to quickly cope with change requires virtualized resources and not static, fixed, hardcoded processes. The virtual supply chain is underpinned by global networks and fungible infrastructures that enable systems, employees, and partners to work anytime and anyplace. A well-designed virtualized supply chain is key to a smoothly run and profitable media business.

There are several approaches a facility designer can take to upgrade an existing system to create a virtualized supply chain. One approach is to create or modify on-premise workflows inch by inch. Another is to build entirely new standalone, in-house solutions, unencumbered by existing workflows. Both of these techniques may perpetuate silos of operations, do-it-yourself infrastructures, and the CapEx model of business accounting. A better approach is to step away from the traditional methods and reimagine the entire workflow chain using cloud-based service components with tight integration into the legacy environment. Using hybrid methods, end users get the best of both worlds – local asset storage/processing and security coupled with coordinated cloud-based media services, and networked partners.

Cloud-Based Media Services to the Rescue

Any cloud-based approach for implementing an agile and functionally rich media virtual supply chain should support the following requirements:

  • End-to-end control and management of operations (few or no silos)
  • Heavy reliance on automation (orchestration, efficiency)
  • Reduced content acquisition, processing, and distribution costs (better ROI)
  • Faster time-to-market for new products (business agility)
  • Geo-diverse networked operations
  • Support for legacy product integration
  • Support for small, medium, and large systems
  • Leveraging of virtualized cloud services, e.g., software-as-a-service (SaaS), storage, processing, security, reliability, pay-as-you-go accounting (OpEx not CapEx accounting)
  • Rich APIs for customization as needed

What strategy can be applied to meet these requirements? A media ERP suite would meet the requirement here. Its software modules (SaaS) and services would help broadcasters, studios, brands, sports, and digital organizations enhance ecosystem efficiencies while reducing operational costs and enabling agile workflows not possible before.

It would provide the means to execute workflows more efficiently by removing the surface friction between operational silos. At the core are the applications execution engine, control logic, dashboards, and master metadata database. This functionality should cover the requirements in the bulleted list above.

Media ERP does not replace traditional business ERP systems but may integrate with them to provide a real-time, holistic view of all business operations. In the early days of ERP, the execution hardware/software was located in company controlled, non-virtualized data centers. Client-side ERP software was installed on many enterprises' desktop computers. Today, ERP SaaS user apps and processing are being executed from both public and private cloud centers. On-premise servers dedicated to ERP are a dying breed. The use of browser-based SaaS apps and mobile platform apps improves geo-diversity with near-instant access for distributed users. A major advantage of SaaS compared to traditional desktop apps is the centralized software execution and management with no end-user software patching/upgrading.

One advantage of services-based ERP is that end users pay only for the services and scale they need, knowing they can move up or down the functionality/scale ladder as necessary. Need a media asset management (MAM) app for a few users at a remote location or a company-wide solution? Cloud-based media ERP can scale accordingly. Popular commercial ERP services can be found in private data centers or in a public cloud.

Only a few years ago, there were loud objections voiced by end users about adopting cloud technology for mission-critical operations. In 2016, the cloud has gained respect from all corners of business. Gone are many of the criticisms about reliability and security. Companies such as Netflix, Hertz, Time Inc., Coca Cola, General Electric, Best Buy, and others depend on the cloud for most if not all critical business operations. Frank Gens, IDC senior VP said, "New solutions born on the cloud and traditional solutions migrating to the cloud will steadily pull more customers and their data to the cloud."

This shift is due to the benefits (SaaS, agility, security, scale, OpEx accounting, ROI, etc.) that the cloud provides to businesses. Bottom line, the media enterprise can leverage cloud services without jeopardizing programming assets while improving operational performance.

Achieving Cloud Migration Success

According to Gartner, "By 2020, a corporate no-cloud policy will be as rare as a no-Internet policy is today." This may be a wakeup call for those who are still insecure about cloud usage.

Here are four Gartner guidelines to consider:

  • Revisit your organization's assumptions if it avoids the cloud on principle, as cloud deployments become more widespread and their benefits clearer.
  • Give preference to vendors that are strategically investing in cloud computing models and attributes.
  • Design on-premises architectures with off-premises interoperability in mind when possible – in terms of governance, integration, and migration.
  • Consider public cloud service as a destination for mission-critical applications, performing a thorough evaluation of its merits.

After getting over the barrier of no-cloud thinking, develop a strategic cloud policy (including governance). Encourage designers to adopt a cloud first viewpoint. That is, look first for products and solutions that leverage the cloud and its values. Migrating to cloud-based media solutions can start with small steps. Start learning, then expand over time and add more features.

The hybrid cloud is ideal for media workflows. Designers can partition workflows across the private side and the public side, based on a variety of drivers, and achieve the security, reliability, performance, and reach that are needed. Remember, too, that cloud adoption may not always save money immediately. But it can improve workflow agility and functionality leading to an improved return on investment.

Luck Is the Residue of Good Design

New business opportunities do not follow established timelines. They can pop up at any time, in any place. The ideal facility design should be able to rise to the occasion to meet new business challenges head on. This will happen if the facility is rooted in a virtual supply chain methodology with agile and scalable means to provide the supporting workflows. It is not luck when workflows can be quickly implemented to meet a business need. It is not luck when 5 more storage is readily available or 10 more processing power is primed to go. It is not luck, it is good design.

TV Technology. The author, Al Kovalick is an active speaker, educator, and author in media technology. He has presented over 50 papers at industry conferences worldwide. Al holds 13 US patents and is the author of the book Video Systems in an IT Environment.