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Broadcasting in the cloud: what’s the hold up?

April 14, 2015

Richard Craig-McFeely   

Business Development Director of Media Services

Right now, the broadcast industry press is full of stories about broadcasting in the cloud, and the NAB show in Las Vegas has turned its attention to this topic. From a sector perspective, we’re seeing a lot of innovation across broadcasting especially in sports – something that is hardly surprising given the number of high profile sports at the moment, such as the Six Nations, where fans demand the best possible viewing experience. So what role could the cloud innovation play in the future of delivering broadcast television?

Traditionally, broadcasting was a very capital-intensive business, as the technology required to set up a TV channel was so specialised and expensive. A huge network of masts to broadcast the signals was also required. This explains why early broadcasting was state-funded (think of the BBC, a model established in the UK in the 1920s that was coped throughout much of the world). This resulted in engineering-led organisations that were slow to change. Remember how long the transitions from B&W to colour and then from SD to HD took?

Today, the broadcasting landscape is very different. New technology such as cloud based services and streaming video mean traditional broadcasters have new competitors while they transition to video delivered onto devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Broadcasters have embraced the trend for delivering multi-platform content, as it gives the consumer a sense of a broadcaster who is using the internet and cloud at the core of their business operations.

Many broadcasters are making this happen via investment in additional equipment and recruitment of digital media teams. This has proved a successful approach over the last decade but is not scalable.

The cloud has allowed new entrants into the broadcast market who have lower investments in equipment, lower operating expenses and smaller teams to deliver their channels. These broadcasters are achieving this competitive edge by using the cloud. Benefits (as in other business sectors) are low cost of entry, low risk of launching new services, low opex charges, ability to benefit from the latest technology trends etc.

Broadcast cloud technology has developed very quickly over the last five years. 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.

If I was starting out as a new broadcaster (or should I use the modern term ‘aggregator’?) then I would be looking at the cloud and thinking about the following six factors:

  1. Content security. The biggest concern in the media space is security of highly valuable and sort-after content. Compared to giving a tape to a courier, data centres are extremely secure. (Remember, your bank account is likely to be in one.)
  2. Reliable access. If you are happy to keep your content in a data centre, then you need reliable access to it from anywhere in the world. In fact, it’s not just access to the content, but access to the media services that your team will be using. Deterministic access to cloud services over the internet is currently a hot topic for all businesses.
  3. The media business is often project-driven, less so for broadcasters, more so for production companies and those providing services. One minute the resources are scarce and another costs are carried for little-used resources. The ‘pay as you go’ nature of cloud services is ideal for handling these fluctuations.
  4. Known technology. The broadcast community can be almost evangelical about the technology that they use in any aspect of the production, post-production and delivery parts of their businesses. It is now possible for broadcasters to use the technology that they’re accustomed to, but implemented as a cloud service, as opposed to previous ‘on-premise’ installations. In fact, hybrid solutions are also common.
  5. Your people. Experienced staff are hard to find so you will want to move the technology to the cloud with all its benefits but keep your best people. This means that you can implement your existing workflow (or ideally an improved one) in the cloud and have your team operate it as if it is ‘on premise’. A win-win situation.
  6. Finally, you need access to the cloud at all times, the cloud needs to work 24/7, and you need to media services providers to be available and existing at all times. Possibly the biggest barrier, even if it is only a perceived one.

So what’s stopping us moving to the cloud for broadcasting? Not much!

Let’s see how content owners, aggregators (including broadcasters) and service providers transition to the cloud and all its benefits. I know I’ll be keeping a very close eye on how this space develops, and will keep you all updated as it unfolds.

In what ways could cloud-based software change your business or industry? Leave a comment below.