Broadcasting is now a global business, encompassing increasingly complex and expensive operations. The complexities of global team distribution, joined by the challenges of technological diversity among content channels and viewer-fragmentation, act as deterrents to cost-effective functioning. As broadcasting responds to the existing market dynamics of global content access and to the Internet as a distribution platform, cloud computing infrastructure is the only option for TV networks and content owners to scale their business and make it competitive in terms of ROI. By embracing the cloud, broadcasters can render their investments and businesses future-proof in the coming decades.
Cloud broadcasting is considered as the silver bullet for the broadcast industry – it enables global operation scaling, worldwide distribution, and an overall reduction in infrastructural expenses. It is possible to upload broadcast quality content direct from a production location, edit it remotely, review and approve it by global teams, add metadata, transcode it into different formats, and play it out as a channel – all in the cloud. The technology exists and is available now.
Major Indian broadcasters and other media companies have begun to move segments of their core operations into the cloud. This revolution is allowing media companies to take advantage of the scalability, global availability, and inherent robustness of this emerging technology.
Last year, Emerald Media acquired a minority stake in India-based Amagi, which works in the space of targeted television advertising and cloud-based TV broadcast infrastructure. A virtual platform, as is self-explanatory, requires no physical infrastructure. It took Amagi two years to prototype the software-based system before launching it a couple of years ago.
The technology also makes a strong case for pop-up channels, basically allowing broadcasters the opportunity to experiment with their channels without the fear of steep costs.
Clearly, cloud-based broadcasting opportunity allows for a quick turnaround time, including the ability to create and dismantle channels quickly. Lastly, it also makes remote management and transparency possible. User can be anywhere and monitor the channel on a browser. It democratizes the whole thing. Cloud technology will transform traditional broadcasting as cloud-based feeds of TV channels come at a meaningfully lower cost.
Broadcasters Leveraging the Cloud
Cloud is bringing innovative solutions for broadcasters, production and post-production houses with anywhere access, time saving, and reduced resource cost. Cloud brings platform and services to realize live broadcasting for non-linear networks and takes content to the viewers irrespective of their location.
Some of the cloud computing advantages for broadcast businesses across a wide spectrum of business functions include:
Content creator to broadcaster workflow. High-resolution content is sourced from multiple locations into a broadcaster's content store for processing and distribution. All of these can be managed over cloud networks, where content creators and broadcasters can be connected over a secure cloud platform to transfer media content. This enables broadcasters to commission content creation across the globe and have instant access to early versions of the content for quick feedback.
Postproduction workflow. Postproduction of content has always been a large-scale content-transfer activity. With cloud technology, many companies are innovating on this workflow, where the master content is uploaded to a secure cloud. Once the edits on the low-resolution version are reviewed and accepted, these changes are pushed back to the cloud, where these edits are applied on the master content in a batch process. This workflow provides extreme flexibility and agility in getting post-production activities completed. Moreover, all master content is secured in one location. The same workflow is now getting extended to subtitle and voice-over services, which allows work to be undertaken in parallel, and the final master file is prepared in the cloud with all the edits, tracks, subtitles, and metadata for playout and distribution.
Content delivery to distribution platforms. Traditionally, all content delivery on linear feeds uses satellites. As TV networks started expanding across the globe, they faced several challenges. While broadcast regulations and content rights were country-specific, advertising needs were regional in nature. These issues translated into a requirement for multiple linear feeds for different countries. Delivering these linear feeds on a separate satellite meant that the ROI for such country feeds was elusive, almost non-existent. With the advent of cloud computing combined with edge playout devices, it has become possible to air linear TV channels worldwide without satellites altogether. In this model, edge playout devices are placed at multiple distribution head-ends across regions. All of these playout devices are connected to public Internet connections, and are controlled, monitored, and fed content through a secure cloud infrastructure. For TV networks aiming to expand globally, cloud-based broadcast infrastructure delivers tremendous benefits in terms of cost-savings and worldwide manageability. Multiple networks across the globe are leveraging this model to either augment their existing satellite feed with a few hours of local content in specific geographies, or to completely adopt an edge-channel playout infrastructure.
Direct-to-consumer distribution model. With increase in bandwidth for home Internet connections and the rapid proliferation of mobile devices, TV networks and content owners have an advantage of reaching consumers directly with their content. Multiple TV networks and content owners are creating their own portals and mobile apps to distribute their content directly to consumers. The content owners and TV networks can now host their content on the cloud, and leverage OTT infrastructure providers to create linear, on-demand video catalogues, and distribute content through their own branded apps and web portals.
Will Cloud Reign?
Media companies appear to be rushing into cloud video storage and processing at a rate of knots. But before ditching in-house solutions, some of the challenges need to be considered.
One of the major concerns for broadcasters is content security and broadcast service levels (SLAs). The prevailing sentiment in the broadcast industry is still somewhat tepid when it comes to cloud-based broadcasting and production. In some cases, broadcaster opinion may be impacted by lack of exposure to the cloud. Some cloud software make it easier for broadcasters to transition to the cloud with a step-by-step approach that moves functions like playout away from strictly physical implementation to a virtual implementation and then a cloud-based implementation. Some broadcasters are adamant about not placing all production in the cloud, while others plan entire migrations of production to cloud. Moving to a private cloud environment, with virtual mirroring of both data and applications for complete failover is more common.
Over time, industry is likely to see a hybrid on-premise and cloud-based approach to production where sites create infrastructure so they can easily move between the two for maximum efficiency and highest quality of operation.Several cloud services vendors advocate transitioning the entire broadcast workflow to the cloud, from content preparation to storage, archival, playout, delivery, and monetization – but the majority of TV networks are principally using cloud for playout, storage, and archiving. Broadcasters like the scalability, flexibility, and reduced costs of the public cloud, but they also like the direct control that is possible with the private cloud, where they can build a virtual system that they can operate themselves. By using a private cloud, they believe that they can obtain better performance in areas like network quality of service, security, bandwidth, and latency.
Another approach is to outsource all production to a public cloud, which works well for pay-on-demand pop-up experimental channels, and for the video content archiving. For micro-broadcast pop-up channels and major events, broadcasters can leverage pay-as-you-go and deliver broadcasts to specific groups of customers. Regardless of how broadcasters use cloud, the move to cloud-based production is not predicated on how broadcasters have done business before, but on how they must appeal to Gen X and millennial customers.
Future of TV broadcasting is the personalization of content and advertising. Regardless of viewing devices, be it on OTT multiscreen or traditional TV, broadcasters need to gear up to deliver personalized content. Service providers are observing viewers defining the content choices on their own, managing the playlists, and watching content seamlessly as they switch devices, putting them in total control at all times. This calls for scalable broadcast solutions with high computing capabilities to orchestrate workflows, playout, distribution, and ad insertions targeted to each individual. For this transformation to take place, cost-effective, reliable, scalable, and secure platforms are required. Cloud can check all the boxes, and is therefore the most important technological shift that broadcasters need to embrace. Service providers will continue to take pivotal position in this transformation, equipping broadcasters with future-ready technologies.
Based on a white paper by Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder, Amagi Media Labs Pvt. Ltd.