CLOUD CITY

As cloud technology holds the reigns in the media industry, we analyse how this advancement has proven its mettle over the years

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Cloud technology has been anchoring content operations since times immemorial now—right from creation and transformation, to distribution and archival. It has empowered broadcasters, studios and service providers with unprecedented scalability and on-demand processing infrastructure. Content providers like Netflix, Amazon and Spotify effectively employ cloud computing, which, in turn, allows them to provide tons of content to users across the globe—with revenues multiplying every second. The Video on Demand (VOD) offering is at the forefront of the M&E industry, adding thousands of users on an everyday basis.
Today’s consumers of content expect flexible choices and custom-made experiences. In addition, with spikes and surges in viewership that have to be dealt with in real time, media companies have to accommodate the changing consumer dynamics and patterns. The on-demand characteristics of cloud computing provide the levels of scalability and flexibility that the M&E sector needs to cost-effectively meet volatile demand, automatically spinning servers up and down as demand ebbs and flows.
In order to stay competitive, content creators are under pressure to churn out original content more frequently and faster. Viewers are streaming gigabytes of content and they expect endless high-quality content, anytime and anywhere, across multiple devices. This is where cloud technology proves effective. It helps store, manage, and deliver large libraries of digital content in an agile, dynamic and cost-effective manner. Hybrid and/or multi-cloud deployments can provide an even greater measure of flexibility, allowing workloads to be shifted seamlessly across structures. High streaming quality, minimal delays and downtime, is critical in terms of user experience as well as advertiser expectations. A five-second delay in streaming an ad for a hit show, for example, can cost a media company hundreds of thousands of dollars that they have to then compensate for, to the advertiser.

THE PREREQUISITES
Since most media companies make considerable investments in technology infrastructure, adopting workflows need to be based on a robust strategy that integrates their existing infrastructure with cloud computing. A few imperative elements to be taken into consideration before employing the same are private, public or hybrid, invested capex and renew cycles, potential risk factors, content security, migration strategy and lock-in period. The entertainment industry is likely to drive the demand for hybrid architecture-based software that can accommodate distributed workflows and lower costs, by enabling content ownership on local assets, while workflow applications run on the cloud.

Foremost, M&E enterprises need to analyse their prevailing products and custom applications, in terms of fitment, integration, adaptability, with the cloud workflow and the digital landscape. Merely exporting existing libraries to the cloud may be infeasible or even counter-productive, negating potential cost benefits. Also, companies need to opt for cloud migration, cloud native development, substitution with cloud product or application, or third-party SaaS integration. Media houses should ideally adopt a hybrid approach for improved productivity and cost efficiency. Moreover, a holistic approach to the supply chain, organisations can enable synchronised workflows, which ensure scalability, speed, reliability and cost efficiency. It makes them better-equipped to handle volume fluctuations. With traditional broadcasting losing its bread and on-demand content becoming the new norm, M&E companies can’t escape cloud computing anymore.

BENEFITTING FROM THE CLOUD
Software-defined architectures—whether implemented on premises or in the cloud—might be the future for the media industry. The key challenge lies in making an orderly transition from existing systems to IP-connected, software-defined technology. Adopting cloud technology does not necessarily require a complete upheaval of a company’s existing technology systems.
Advancements in this sector ensure interoperability, allowing companies to integrate their as-is systems into leveraging existing investments. Transcoding, archiving, auto QC, and file acceleration become easy due to these tools. Users benefit from operating a single software with media management capabilities across global sites—thus helping them integrate production, distribution, broadcasting and OTT related business activities. It helps content enterprises digitise media management processes (mastering, compliance etc.), handle clip-based workflows, distribute screeners, manage and version on-air promos, and collaborate seamlessly across the process chain.

The essence of a virtualised micro-services architecture is agility. Instances of specific functionality can be spun up when needed, and consequently released when finished. It means practically any tool can be created in just a few moments. In production, that might mean a need for more logging and editing workstations. For instance, during the IPL season, a production company might need twenty or more logging stations, but not need them for the other 45 weeks of the year. A web-series production house might need to exchange content between editors in a post house and the director and producer on location. Enter: cloud. It can set up viewing and commenting functionality on set with precisely the tools you need.


This sort of pop-up functionality can be extended to whole pop-up channels if required. Major sporting, cultural and religious events can have their own multi-channel coverage using virtualised production, asset management and playout running on cloud hardware. For the consumer, this translates into more specific content. New services, like delivery to mobiles or OTT channels, can be added in an equally swift manner, making the broadcaster attract viewership, and in turn boosting revenues.

CUTTING COSTS
All the above advantages, with cost benefits. By eliminating the need to purchase expensive hardware, cloud reduces capital expenditures, driving significant cost savings. Upgrading to cloud allows users to pay by transaction, per month, per quarter, per user, in a way convenient to them. Companies no longer have to invest in multiple MAMs for each location and bear associated expenses like upgrade costs, system and software support costs, hosting, help desk, subject matter experts to manage and administer etc. This reduces the total operation cost significantly.
A pivotal driver for the change is the move towards commercial off-the-shelf computer hardware. This dramatically reduces the cost of the equipment, and perhaps focuses the investment on functionality: what you are paying for is the application-specific software. Virtualisation and the cloud transform the economic basis of media technology, away from capital expenditure, you run processes only when they are needed, releasing the hardware for other tasks when you do not need them. Cloud enables allocation of processor cycles and their cost to specific tasks, to each service one offers to viewers, making it easier to determine profitability. It shifts the costs to OpEx from CapEx, and provides a swift implementation path, which in turn enables early enabling of services to the market, bettering competitive edge.

With regard to execution, most broadcasters will have some legacy investment which they will need to maintain alongside software-defined services until its end of life. Managing the transition, and ensuring that legacy and new technology work seamlessly alongside each other, is a critical part of planning for success.

THE NITTY-GRITTY
Security has always been considered the biggest challenge associated with the use of any technology. M&E enterprises, back then, were hesitant to use cloud technology as they feared the risk of piracy and misuse of their assets. However, the industry is witnessing a radical shift in this tradition. With the advent of cloud-enabled augmentations, which offer watertight security with a host of features including multi-factor authentication, integration with OKTA, secure streams, instream/forensic watermarking, Just-in-time access to content, secure desktop player and more, security is more of a reality than an expectation.Hybrid cloud-enabled media ERP solutions make content ingest from multiple global locations easier and faster, enhancing efficiencies across production, post-production and distribution operations. They also help streamline metadata tagging and cataloguing operations, so that users can search and find assets of interest at lightning speed, which in turn helps increase monetisation. Such solutions bring all stakeholders including third party vendors on to the same system, facilitating seamless collaboration, and enabling faster time-to-market.  Most importantly, it can greatly reduce the hassles of logistics management, enabling M&E players to focus on what they do best—creating compelling content for viewers.

Latest to add value to cloud, are AI-enabled media ERP solutions, which facilitate easy content discovery from vast libraries, and reduce the time and effort involved in cataloguing content. IP is the talk of the town. It allows computer processes to communicate directly to each other, and run each task down to a fine granularity, as a separate micro-service which can connect to any workflow at any time. These micro-services run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware under well-proven virtualisation management techniques. They can run  in the broadcast machine room, in a corporate data centre, or in the cloud. The cloud provides virtually instantaneous scalability, allowing systems designers to minimise the investment in hardware, and tie the costs of providing a service directly to the revenues accruing from it. There is no doubt about the fact that broadcast and media companies are increasingly looking to the cloud to provide some or all of their workflows. M&E organisations are building a connected ecosystem by adopting centralisation, and implementing one software across the enterprise.

FUTURE SCOPE
Broadcasters and production companies are finding reassurance in the many proof-of-concept projects which have shown that cloud implementations can provide the performance and resilience required for mission critical applications. The security concerns which were raised around storing intellectual property in the cloud have also been eased. For its flexibility, agility and ability to manage costs, the cloud is all set to pave the way for a large part of the broadcast production and delivery infrastructure. It will become a primary platform very soon, given its rapid advances in AI and ML are fast re-defining the capabilities, opening up concrete possibilities to help M&E players improve efficiencies, tap new revenue streams or simply gain insights for better, data-driven decision making. Native media recognition AI platforms available that build Machine Wisdom from intelligence to deliver contextual, meaningful search results. Such platforms, integrated with cloud-based MAM solutions can be used to search digital media and easily extract relevant content for multiple use cases across the content lifecycle—right from creation and post production to distribution and marketing.
Endorsing the future scope of cloud technology, it is easy to say that cloud technology has already proven its mettle as a powerful game changer in the M&E domain, and the future holds endless possibilities. And this is just one example of the myriad possibilities that cloud offers!

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