Containerised but not constrained

  • With Adrian Pennington

Containerised but not constrained

From single channels to multi-language global networks, cloud playout solutions can scale to any operation and any desired level of automation - by Adrian Pennington...

The demand for cloud playout concepts is stronger than ever. Digital TV platforms enable broadcasters to introduce new channels, reach new niches, and establish new content strategies. The situation with fast growing OTT platforms takes it to the next level since pop-up channels and linear Direct-to-Consumer services are now playing a more important role. In short: cloud playout is no longer a hot topic for 24/7 channels alone.

“Qvest already have a product ready-to-go,” explains Frank Mistol, Managing Director at HMS, a Qvest Company. “With Makalu, we created a cloud-native playout automation for broadcasters and content providers of all types and sizes - as a one-stop product for a wide range of applications, for linear 24/7 live playout, event and FAST channels or as a disaster recovery solution. So, we can meet exactly these requirements of our customers from ingest, scheduling, graphics, ad insertion, and of course the playout itself.

“At IBC2022, we presented this versatile playout solution in its most recent version and received great feedback. Users benefit from a purely software-defined, cost-effective and highly automated playout solution that can simply spin up TV channels in the cloud, configure them and start distributing content once the assets are loaded - a process that can take as little as a few minutes. The system is scalable and expandable at will and also comes in combination with the integration platform qibb with ready-to-use building blocks for professional media workflows and cloud archive options.”

Media Gateway is the latest addition to the Playbox Neo broadcast management system which today powers over 19,000 TV and branding channels in more than 120 countries.

"Our industry-proven product range gives TV channel owners the freedom to select the features they need from a wide choice of solutions, software and cloud-based services," says Van Duke, US Director of Operations. "From a single channel running on AirBox Neo-20 up to a multi-language global network, we support any scale of operation and any desired level of automation.”

Media Gateway allows the entire process of playout routing and decoding to be handled in software. It can be installed on site or in the cloud and “eliminates” the capital cost, rack space, maintenance charges and power needed to operate hardware routers, codecs and related devices.

Integral software codecs allow signals to be converted between SDI, NDI, SRT, UDP and RTP. Video and audio content can be sourced directly from a desktop screen and delivered as live feeds. “The channel capacity is limited only by the capabilities of your processing platform,” says Duke.

With the rising cost of content, especially for live events, producers need to maximise the revenue generated by repurposing the content for multiple audiences. This can be audiences in different countries, speaking different languages, or just different demographics. 

“Live events remain the most popular content and the costliest to produce when factoring in distribution rights for top-tier events,” says Peter Abecassis, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Grass Valley. “As the cost of media rights for live events continues to grow, localizing events for multiple audiences helps offset that expense by maximising the revenue earned from both a broader appeal and a deeper connection with the audiences.”

Abecassis points to GV Playout X running on AMPP, Grass Valley’s media production and distribution platform, to help increase production efficiency, improve collaboration, and connects your content with more people.

“The distributed nature of the AMPP platform means events happening anywhere in the world can be produced by multiple teams to create multiple versions simultaneously and distributed wherever interest is highest. The ability to spin up new channels in a matter of minutes means pop-up channels for specific events, geared for specific audiences, can be created simply, maximizing revenue without dramatically increasing cost or complexity. “GV Playout X is being used today to broadcast major sporting internationally, seamlessly mixing control of live and clip playback with localised commentary, graphics, and advertising to simultaneously create multiple versions of the same live content with different branding, different commentary, and different delivery platforms whether for linear TV or OTT.”

At IBC2022, Aveco introduced ASTRA V (vee), its new core platform for production and master control automation in the cloud, on-prem and in hybrid operations.

“Aveco has been a cloud pioneer for a decade and with this new generation, supports multiple cloud platforms, better manages multiple physical sites, handles multiple operating systems and supports EBU R143 and other security standards,” says CEO Pavel Potužák.

This platform has always been written in microservices and we continually expand the largest library of interfaces to all TV industry hardware and software manufacturers, derived it says, from many of the most advanced automation projects of the world. 

Aveco's hybrid capability includes all on-prem, all-on-cloud, and any combination of both in one integrated design. On one operator's screen, local, cloud and remote channels are managed.

At IBC the company also showed enhancements to its new Gemini Media Asset Management system (launched at NAB in April). Rapidly growing in capability, Gemini is also able to be run from the cloud, from on-prem and in hybrid designs. Special tools in Gemini complement newsroom computer systems including ENPS, iNews/Media Central, Octopus, Open Media and others.

nxtedition has what it calls a very dynamic 'live led’ playout solution that consolidates much of the workflow into a single user interface. The area of adoption nxtedition sees the most is the recycling of content created through the day, either live on-air or to live streams, apps, VOD, web or social media. 

“Our latest development has seen nxtedition create a fully containerised, Linux version of our Caspar CG, allowing us to offer exactly the same playout functionality, flexibility and quality as an elastic, scalable, secure microservice in the cloud,” explains Adam Leah, Creative Director. “This delivers unlimited layers of video, images, audio, and html graphics all played out from the cloud. 

“In fact, we demonstrate this on our YouTube channel 24/7, with two live channels played from a single virtual Caspar CG dynamically populated and controlled by a nxtedition rundown. Both outputs are viewable on our YouTube channel. 

That approach allows sophisticated, added value features like localisation. Leah says the company’s technology can take in a single live sports feed - SRT, NDI® - and split it into two virtual Caspar CGs, creating four identical outputs, each with graphics and audio output in four different languages, all driven by metadata authoring from nxtedition. 

“In addition, nxtedition can also stream live timestamped metadata alongside the clean video stream allowing players on devices to accurately render subtitles and graphics on the device itself. This object-based broadcasting approach supports both personalisation and localisation services directly to the viewers device.”

“For ToolsOnAir cloud playout of course a topic that we watch carefully but our playout has run for many years on an Apple Mac Mini or now also Mac Studio,” says Peter Steiner, Head of Sales. “Hardware costs with our solution are so low compared to big server solutions that TOA customers still prefer an on premise playout.

“What we do from our side to support our customers is to implement sources like NDI, SRT and allow others to use into our playout solutions just:play and just:live as input and output sources. 

“Prices for a dedicated Mac Mini in the cloud are still too high for customers, but markets are changing fast so it's always good to have an eye on it.”

Telstra Broadcast Services (TBS) commenced a playout managed service using a full IP SaaS based system based in two private data centres (private cloud) running on common off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware.

The playout was SaaS and IP based providing some important benefits, explains Mark Strachan, Head of Media Practice, TBS. The playout system could be continually upgraded and improved through software updates, and not limited by static, bespoke hardware-based playout systems. A SaaS based playout system using COTS hardware can also deliver a 95% reduction in CAPEX costs, with a 79% increase in channel density, per playout node, as compared to a classic hardware-based playout system. Further benefits are increased flexibility, improved automation, and enhanced quality.

Moving the playout stack, which runs 24/7/365, into the public cloud was considered too expensive. However, not doing this and continuing to run the playout system on TBS-owned hardware in private datacentres does not provide the flexibility to easily increase, or decrease, the number of channels required by a customer; provide short (1-2 years) playout contracts for customers or quickly onboard new customers

“The financial solution to moving the playout stack to the public cloud, was to work collaboratively with the public cloud providers,” Strachan says. “This optimised the playout stack and workflows providing efficient CPU and GPU usage, which also reduced cloud costs. In addition, workflows and standing up new channels could be highly automated, improving both quality and flexibility. Further savings could be realised by migrating the SaaS operating system to one which is more cost effective when operating in a public cloud environment.

“Finally, public cloud vendors are open to discussing the pricing of services if a persuasive business case is presented. The result is playout in the public cloud, at no additional cost but with all the benefits of operating in the public cloud.”