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Broadcast playout: seeing clearly through the cloud

December 21, 2015

Phillip Neighbour   

Chief Operating Officer of PlayBox Technology

I remember hearing the phrase ā€˜change is the only constantā€™ at an NAB convention years ago, and it resonated with me as a perfect summary for the electronics and telecommunications markets. It was in fact originally said by a Greek philosopher Heraclitus, around 2,500 years ago, but still rings true today.

From tape-based playout to file-based servers
While my broadcast industry tenure doesn’t date back 2,500 years, Iā€™ve certainly witnessed a great deal of change in that time. From dedicated panel-per-device hardware and video tape machines, through a succession of later product generations culminating in today’s wide range of software solutions controlling largely file-based content on ‘enterprise’ computer platforms. Each successive generation tended to be more cost-efficient, IT-centric, accessible and come with a heightened sense of ease-of-use for the user, building on the features of their predecessor each time. This was particularly clear with the great leap forward into browser-based user interfaces. In short, the level of change in the broadcast industry in recent years has been close to complete transformation.

Defining ‘the cloud’
In the last five years, an increasing number of broadcast equipment manufacturers have surfaced, promoting their ability to operate in the cloud. What has been unclear is what this reference to the cloud enabled, few ā€“ if any at all ā€“ elaborated on what they meant, except for the added ability to accept purchase orders over the internet. The development of cloud-based services has meant that a television station can control its entire operation in partnership with an established broadcast centre. The actual control process, including scheduling and even near-live inserts, is achieved via the public internet regardless of distance. As no two broadcast operations are alike, each installation is configured to match the customer’s specific needs in terms of operating features and desired level of primary/secondary protection. Hundreds, if not thousands, of customers today use PlayBox Technology to control playout servers based at data centres and head-ends around the world.

Cloud playout, with graphics and branding, allows broadcasters to introduce new channels on an operational expenditure basis rather than investing in dedicated hardware. Established broadcasters who have already bought their own playout systems will naturally want to get the maximum possible life from that investment before considering any change to a new mode of working.

Ā The rise of the cloud
Cloud-based operation completely rewrites the financial model for broadcasters, allowing new channels for tightly specified subjects or regions to be introduced quickly without demanding up-front capital. The cloud model allows entirely new broadcast operations to be activated without the need to configure existing hardware, let alone order new equipment. At the same time, it gives broadcasters the freedom to conduct their entire operation, from content acquisition, refining and archiving, right through to playout, via a single highly reliable media ecosystem which can be accessed and managed from practically any location, at any time. In terms of a 24/7 channel starting on the cloud playout model, an efficient telco should be able to get these live in little more time than it takes to send an email or make a phone call.

The full benefits of cloud-based playout are still being realized, with niche channels able to become established within tighter budgets than ever before, and larger players able to introduce channels aligned to specific events, or special-interest supplementary programme feeds. The industry as a whole will benefit from what has been one of the biggest developments the broadcast market has ever seen, bringing to players old and new a means to enhance their offering with greater control and freedom.

What are your thoughts on the role of cloud in the broadcast industry? Leave your comment below. You can alsoĀ connect with PlayBox on Twitter at @PlayBoxTech.Ā