A bird’s eye view of the host of benefits cloud offers, for the synthesis of data and workflow functions

By Anisha Gakhar

There has been a gradual rise in the use of cloud solutions, and the M&E industry has witnessed an accelerated momentum in its deployment, especially in the past 6-12 months. The latest trends encompassing Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data aggregation, are pushing cloud adoption forward. Until now, broadcasters were looking to the cloud for traditional storage, play-out and editing functions. Now, they are starting to apply the benefits of the cloud to the consolidation of data and workflow functions.
Drastic technological shifts are usually instigated by typical drivers – to be on trend, inquisitiveness, fashion, and strategic planning for the future. In the last couple of years, our fraternity has witnessed ever-growing preaching on the thesis, that one day everything will be cloud-related and the faster you join, the faster you can reach out. This has had a definitive impact on peoples’ mindsets. Secondly, the need to transform the business model from CapEx to OpEx in certain organisations, has led to the consideration of imbibing an effective solution. And of course, never underestimate the power curiosity holds, over practitioners who just want to give it a try.

Alexander Stoyanov, sales director and managing partner, PBT EU.

The first decision a company has to make is whether they want their cloud operations to be public, private or a hybrid of the two. What one chooses, depends on the comfort level each broadcaster has, when it comes to security and relinquishing control to third parties. Ted Korte, COO, Qligent, said, “It is more difficult to deploy a private cloud in-house, as it means taking on the entire infrastructure build-out and ongoing management. It can get very expensive. Instead of a complete DIY approach, a hybrid architecture might renounce the build-out to an integrator or service provider, yet allow the broadcaster to manage the systems and aggregate the data.”
A public approach is the fastest route to a cloud operation, as the broadcaster can leverage systems and services that are already in place. When it comes to creation and management of content, cloud technologies enable centralisation and sharing of media, metadata, and functions. It also allows a significant amount of scalability and elasticity to handle peak loads, which are common in the content creation process.
Alexander Stoyanov, sales director and managing partner, PBT EU, advised to go ahead cautiously, albeit. “Such changes do not happen overnight, especially in conservative industries like broadcasting. The observation that content producers, owners and distributors are keener to make the step towards cloud solutions is accurate. However, it is in their interest to do so, in order to lower expenses, raise awareness and lower time to market. As content is still considered king, guess what broadcasters face? The need to adapt,” he added. The question is: how does one do it? By obtaining a transition period via hybrid workflows and installations, whilst working out the general idea on the tight spots that appear, perhaps.
The variables that appear in budgeting different business cases, often makes the bill one receives at the end – seem like the result of a weird science. Cloud providers need to pay attention to this side of the service, if they intend to go viral. “Well, here is the big enigma nobody wants to talk about. The ambiguity of the topic is huge. As modern, optimised and enhanced cloud technology might be, in the end, somebody has to pay the bill. ‘Pay per use, grow as you go,’ are wonderful marketing mantras, but how many users have real vision on the prices and cost they face for their particular project, task, business or venture? Pricing for cloud services has many aspects and layers, so it is surrounded by a strange mysticism; irrespective of whether we refer to the private or public cloud. My advice would be that when considering cloud-based business – think about the long-term game!” exclaimed Stoyanov.
That said, if the goal is to work faster, more efficiently and with greater agility, the cloud makes sense. If the goal is to take advantage of new opportunities enabled through AI, ML, and big data, then a fundamental shift in operational strategy caters to the requirement – not to mention, there won’t be much of a reference point for cost comparisons, since these are inherently cloud-based applications.

Ted Korte, COO, Qligent.

As more content is being created than ever before, content producers are looking to get their media out there – produce, test, collect feedback and modify, as close to real-time as possible. From the consumer’s vantage point, it’s about getting relevant content and advertisements quickly and efficiently. The trade-off is that quick doesn’t always mean high-quality.
“On the consumer side, it definitely increases the variety of choice, accessibility and practically breaks borders. Yet soon the overabundance arises, which is another issue that is underestimated,” added Stoyanov. At the other end of the supply chain, there is an advantage of providing a quick response to market need, diminished or no upfront investment, along with the freedom to experiment at almost no overhead capital cost. Cloud technology is an alternative option, and whether it might or not be a panacea, only time will tell.
Cloud improves the transferring of in-house or off-line systems within the online domain, which in turn improves access, interconnection, control, collaboration and thus, productivity. Data security, encryption and high speed broadband transfer additionally contributes to the process. The cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT), have both, made monitoring, analysis, compliance, troubleshooting, and everything that comes with these four pillars – much easier. “On the cloud side, we have our aggregation server in the cloud that brings everything together, with optimal redundancy. On the IoT side, we have our virtual probes that make data collection from multiple points much easier. And all of this can automatically scale to meet new requirements. We can launch a new service, or expand an existing one, in a very short period of time using these technologies. All of these innovations collectively amplify speed and quality of delivery for the consumer,” said Korte.

A hybrid approach is something people see as needed at the transition stage from traditional work to going virtual or cloud-based. Considering the entire globe, not everywhere on the planet is there web access or reliable internet connection, and it still is a commodity. “In a lot of places, internet is still a luxury. Enter: hybrid philosophy of PBT EU’s localisation platform, NEXT-TT. It practically brings two different worlds together, driving towards productivity,” asserted Stoyanov.
Korte, while explaining about Qligent’s projects, said, “We recently applied our new Vision SQM (Service Quality Management) big data analysis solution to help a large broadcaster quickly collect and analyse large amounts to last-mile and end-user data. It helped them provide real, tangible results around QoS and QoE performance, as well as compliance; on very short notice. By using actual real-time data, we eliminated all the speculation and assumptions around delivery performance that has been commonplace in the broadcast industry forever.”

A further evolution on the security aspect of using cloud, is certain. This is the number one element that is a barrier to its adoption, with costs being number two. “It is all about inspiring broadcasters to fundamentally change how they operate. I think that 2019 will unveil more strategic initiatives to secure the broadcast’s content and operation in the cloud, and will compel broadcasters to invest,” affirmed Korte. The companies might become more data driven and be able to test and launch new programs and services, swiftly and with unparalleled agility. While there will be new expenses, the start-up costs do not seem insurmountable. With the growing adoption of AI, ML and data aggregation, more broadcasters will want access to these technologies to navigate this transitional period in our industry.
The future depends on many factors of course, yet in its genesis it’s a binary thing. It is ultimately a balance between technological adoption and business moderation. “In my perspective, with time, there will be certain niche markets that will be crafted to opt for the full virtual/cloud path. Other areas will remain in the hybrid status and just fine-tune things when required,” concluded Stoyanov. We can only predict; which course this technology treads, will be marked by time!

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