The advantages of a cloud-based future, says Crystal CEO Roger Franklin

The cloud

Public and private clouds present a unique opportunity for the broadcast and post-production industries, and one which hasn’t gone unnoticed. Already we see several segments of the broadcast chain moving towards the cloud and gaining significant benefits in doing so. I see this trend as something particularly effective in terms of monitoring systems. Having access to important data and being able to make adjustments from anywhere on the globe is clearly an attractive benefit, given broadcast corporations and post-production houses are such global, collaborative enterprises nowadays.

Making the Move

Content providers are being forced to operate within an increasingly competitive environment; whether it be a broadcaster competing with the popularity of VoD services, or an OTT provider trying to stand out amongst the crowd. For post-production houses, there is a pressure to deliver final versions for broadcast much quicker than before to keep pace with this change. As a result, many are looking for ways of maximising return on investment, while at the same time providing a quality service to their customers. One solution is the movement of broadcast operations to the cloud. There are many advantages to this, aside from a cost-saving measure.

The deployment of broadcast systems within a cloud environment can be relatively quick in comparison with traditional systems. Better still, they don’t require racks of on-premise storage, nor vast amounts of expensive hardware. There is little need to invest in equipment which will inevitably depreciate in value and which may not be sufficient during periods of high demand.

Cloud-based broadcast processes are cost-effective; a benefit which greatly appeals to a competitive broadcast industry struggling to monetise content which consumers expect free-of-charge. Furthermore, running processes in a public cloud is even more economical than building a private cloud from scratch.

Aside from cost, one of the most appealing features of moving broadcast processes to the cloud is the flexibility to scale on demand. Cloud systems have a very fast time-to-market, which means they can be rapidly deployed in response to a surge in demand for a service, whether that be a live event or a popular series. This extra capacity is only needed for a short while so it can be scaled down when unnecessary, making considerable savings. If the traditional broadcast workflows are the trusty, but slow, horse and cart of the industry, cloud-based workflows are the sleek and rapid Ferraris.

Monitoring in the Cloud

The global reach of video today requires a significant level of cross-border collaboration, which can sometimes be complex and difficult to track. In the case of monitoring broadcast operations, it can be very costly to employ engineers to man every on-premise site. With a cloud-based system, however, global companies can monitor entire networks from one central monitoring site. Generally, this would involve a hybrid approach, whereby some of the monitoring is done in the cloud and some on-premise, but everything is monitored from the central site to alert operators to any issues on the network as a whole. Errors can then be solved and business can continue.

In the post-production world, video content needs to be shared and distributed globally with clients and colleagues, and, with entire workflows in the cloud, processes are inevitably streamlined and made more efficient.

Broadcasters have multiple options as to how they implement a cloud-based system. They can run monitoring software on virtual machines in their own data centers, or access them via cloud services like Amazon Web Services (AWS). Just as they would with an on-premise system, engineers can review collected data, including errors and analysis, and make appropriate adjustments to equipment, all from anywhere in the world, as long as they have access to the internet.

Metadata in the Cloud

The underlying technology making all of this possible is metadata embedded within the video feed. The right metadata is essential for post-production. It not only describes the video content, but also defines what processes must occur during post-production. Metadata embedded in the content itself can also be used to automate post-production activity.

Furthermore, the correct application of metadata enables many primary revenue-generating activities, such as the rapid formatting of content for OTT, dynamic ad insertion and viewer personalization.

With a virtualised system, operators can insert metadata markers in the cloud, and format linear programming for VoD, off-premise, from anywhere in the world. This is essential to frame-accurate timing, which makes possible everything from better customer experiences to new revenue streams. In OTT as in life, timing is everything.

Beating the Mindset

The move to the cloud will be a slow, laborious task. Fortunately, there is no need for broadcasters to immediately migrate all processes and workflows to the cloud, completely decommissioning valuable hardware or interrupting their primary revenue-generating operations. A more practical approach would be to adopt cloud-based processes over time, consistently moving segments to the cloud-environment piece-by-piece.

Ultimately, it will take time for the broadcast industry to place their trust in the cloud. When an entire business depends on control of content, that trust needs to be earned. A few frontrunners are already taking up the gauntlet and showing how beneficial cloud-based broadcast processes can be. As concerns about security, robustness and reliability ease, other will follow in their footsteps. Much of the media production and distribution industry is looking at the cloud as a significant and beneficial shift in the way they work. Broadcasters and those providing broadcast and monitoring systems must catch up and develop the tools ready to embrace the cloud, or risk getting left behind.

Roger Franklin is CEO of American company Crystal, which provides software to automate the monitoring, control and metadata management of the broadcast operation.