Flexible, modular, hybrid: Cloud playout solutions

  • By Adrian Pennington

Flexible, modular, hybrid: Cloud playout solutions

The principle of cloud playout is now well established. A number of major operators, around the world, rely on cloud implementations, either for primary playout or for very agile disaster recovery - by Adrian Pennington...

A hybrid approach may work best as broadcasters can deploy cloud technologies on site at a pace that suits them and take their first step in the migration journey to an eventual cloud deployment, minimising the risk.  

Pebble recently joined the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Network and completed the Foundational Technical Review program for its Virtualised Playout solution. This enables the company to identify and implement AWS well-architected best practices and ensure the best possible customer experience. 

“We know broadcasters have multiple types of channels under their umbrella, such as non-time-critical content made up of pre-prepared and pre-rendered graphics, with simple automation, where content is uploaded once into the cloud and stays there,” says Daniel Robinson, Head of R&D. “On the other end are channels delivering quality live content, that are time-critical with HD or UHD resolutions, complex real-time graphics and even HDR content. So here, committing fully to the cloud may make less sense financially. 

“Our hybrid solutions have been developed for easy deployment of our software with an emphasis on remote web-based operations, management and solution monitoring. This makes it easy to reconfigure to adapt to its surroundings and evolve at the newly accelerated pace of cloud iteration.  

Robinson continues, “We provide enhanced visibility and control of playout infrastructure wherever it is located and, regardless of scale, it enables broadcasters to expand their deployment as new services are released. Broadcasters can also write and integrate their own functionality using open and secure APIs, providing flexible and modular solutions that encompass numerous use cases from single channel infrastructures to multi-channel, multi-site, geographically dispersed operations.” 

The latest version of Cinegy’s Channel-in-the-Cloud combines the Cinegy Air PRO playout and automation solution, Cinegy Multiviewer and the Cinegy Capture acquisition and transcode system in a single bundle. Available via AWS and Microsoft Azure marketplace, it gives customers a straightforward way to rapidly spin-up ad-hoc and pop-up channels, extending playout for one-off events therefore saving on the cost of maintaining spare capacity.  

“Making the solution available on public cloud platforms means customers benefit from a simplified sign-off and authorisation process, with security vetting already completed by AWS,” explains Michael Jacobs, Head of Professional Services.

“In effect, anyone with a valid credit card can now instantly get single or multiple channels of SD, HD and/or Ultra HD 4K playout running in the cloud in minutes.” 

Cinegy is also looking at making all its products cloud native - “customers now want to know that they can run solutions on the cloud as well as on-premise” - but cloud has different flavours depending on who you speak to. Cinegy’s approach is to create applications that sit in a ‘stateless’ way in containers, using microservices standards, providing customers with the flexibility to deploy solutions in the way that works best for them.  

“Our cloud native approach means smaller footprints and smaller deployments,” expounds Jacobs. “Cloud makes tasks repeatable, making deployments much more straightforward, with the same deployment mechanisms for either cloud or on-premise. In tandem, we are making our solutions Linux compatible, which has the added benefit of reducing the cost and overheads that come with managing large Windows environments.   

“In short, we are creating we are giving customers a far greater degree of flexibility and choice than ever before - they can decide how, and in what way, they deploy our solutions.” 

The migration to cloud playout has been hindered by concerns about cost and performance, says Peter Wharton, Chief Strategy Officer, TAG. To overcome these obstacles, true cloud native playout solutions provide the needed efficiency and economy. TAG is a critical part of these solutions that enable media companies to confidently migrate to cloud playout.

TAG assures the performance of these playout systems and end-to-end integrity of the playout signals from live feed ingest through encrypted OTT and broadcast delivery.  TAG’s deep inspection and analysis of these signals at every point of the workflow identifies problems in realtime and gives operators the ability to visualize in full quality the signals at each of these points providing rapid recovery from errors. From packet errors and jitter to ad-insertion monitoring, TAG probing provides insights that enable performant cloud playout. TAG supports all of the needed formats in these playout applications including AWS CDI, JPEG XS, Zixi and SRT, and forward-looking capabilities such as Dolby Atmos audio. 

TAG also provides operators with realtime, full-quality, ultra-low latency multiviewers to monitor these signals, including hybrid cloud, multi-region, and multi-cloud playout sources. With TAG’s Bridge Technology, systems can be deployed while integrating all the desired signals on a single multiviewer screen from any of these points of origin anywhere around the globe. 

TAG’s cloud-native architecture minimizes the cloud footprint and cost with right-sized instances, distributed architecture, adaptive monitoring that reduces cloud utilisation by up to 80%, and dynamic OPEX and hourly pricing that minimizes the cost of highly resilient multi-cloud deployments.  The breadth of capabilities and cloud cost savings have made TAG the leading cloud monitoring solution for media companies, whether it’s a few or several hundred channels. 

“The idea that playout infrastructure should be standalone, whether in traditional hardware or virtualized, is falling from favour,” says Andy Warman, SVP playout products, Imagine Communications. “For a media enterprise to succeed in reaching audiences in any way they may choose to watch, it needs to adapt to a new way of thinking, from planning channels and brands, through acquiring and managing content, delivering it to audiences, and - most important - monetizing the process.” 

That is the thinking behind Imagine Aviator, a new unified management platform running in the public cloud. Aviator binds together the critical capabilities of scheduling, rights management, playout, live events, VOD, ad sales, ad placement, ad serving, campaign management and more into a single, cloud-native platform. It enables media companies to deliver linear programming and video-on-demand content with ads and triggers for local and dynamic ad insertion. Most important, it ensures they can successfully monetize broadcast, OTT, FAST, pop-up and VOD content on a single platform. 

“It builds on Imagine’s expertise in media technology, ad fulfilment and campaign management, as well as playout and media management,” Warman explains. “Reflecting the growing trend for consumers to choose to view programs and channel brands on any device, Aviator ensures that media companies can efficiently plan and deliver content across all available platforms, and audiences receive a high-quality viewing experience however they watch.” 

Aviator is designed to be hosted in the public cloud, either as a SaaS managed by Imagine or running in the broadcaster’s own public cloud account. Aviator software licensing is OpEx-based, with costs directly tied to usage, outputs and revenues. 

PlayBox Neo’s Cloud2TV is complete cloud playout solution, now in its third year of refinement. Designed for standalone operation or to extend both the capacity and functionality of server-based systems, it is available on a subscription basis and offers many advantages over traditional modes of playout.

Cloud2TV allows new transmission services to be launched at very short notice, ranging from event-specific projects such as sports tournaments to permanent channels. Playout staff retain the full freedom to update schedules or switch to live feeds for late-breaking news.

Cloud2TV can be operated on any desired scale, virtual, cloud-connected or in any desired hybrid combination. Specific applications are assigned to content ingest, graphic editing, media browsing with metadata handling and clip trimming, QC and verification, transcoding, playlist management and audit logging. These can be coordinated to provide a full set of broadcast resources supporting the workflow of an entire TV network.

Cloud2TV is configurable for terrestrial, satellite or CDN-based playout under full IP control. It also forms a robust platform for secure media asset management and archiving, accessible by accredited staff anywhere in the world. Software updates and PlayBox Neo 24/7 global support are standard.

Cloud2TV is available in three forms:

  • Platform-as-a-Service deployed on a private cloud with CDN for global reach.
  • Software-as-a-Service deployed on public clouds such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google.
  • As an on-prem turnkey system for deployment by a broadcaster or service-provider.

“Our strategy has long been to offer network managers the greatest possible freedom in the way they choose to work,” comments Pavlin Rahnev, CEO. “Our products and services continue to be the preferred choice of TV channel operators, telco service providers and playout facility companies around the world. PlayBox Neo customers also have complete freedom in how, when and where they migrate from SD to HD and/or 4K-UHD transmission.” 

nxtedition is an integrated playout solution, designed from scratch to use virtualisation. The nxt|cloud is a logical and relatively easy to realise step. It is already widely in use, both for primary playout and for business continuity, ensuring that channels stay on air and users can access all the functionality from any location.  

“We have implemented a new replication feature to mirror an on-premise implementation of nxtedition in the cloud, which can take over automatically and virtually instantaneously in the event of any disruption to the main output, like a power cut,” says Creative Director, Adam Leah. 

Its most recent significant development is to add a virtualised CasparCG, the widely used open source broadcast graphics platform (nxtedition’s CTO led the development team on the original CasparCG project for SVT in Sweden). This has been converted from Windows to Linux then containerised it for the cloud, to achieve some really agile functionality. 

Explains Leah, “Each virtual CasparCG instance supports two output channels, each of which can contain unlimited layers of video, HTML graphics and audio. That means we can provide very sophisticated localisation or personalisation: a user can prepare a single playlist, but with two virtual CasparCGs that can be split into four channels with graphics and commentary in different languages, all driven by metadata authoring within nxtedition. That is a huge boost in productivity, allowing broadcasters to reach extended audiences with no investment in hardware or operating costs beyond the processor cycles for the virtual CasparCGs.”

Muvi Playout has enabled thousands of users to schedule live and schedule streams of their existing on-demand content in real-time. Comments Swagat Kumar Mishra, Senior Product Manager, “Offering a comprehensive end-to-end playout solution, Muvi Playout, helps you plan your content, stream across multiple linear and OTT channels, and even broadcast live to your audience, all with a few clicks.” He highlights two recent updates: A revamp of the user experience of the ‘Drag and Drop’ Scheduler feature. This update allows users to manage the schedule of their 24x7 channels using a drag and drop interface which previously was being achieved using the traditional click, select and upload methodology. 

Another landmark in terms of feature updates is the integration of Muvi Playout as a feature into Muvi’s key product offering ‘Muvi One’. “This update benefits the users as they no longer need to create a separate account for playout and can use the same login credentials and enable the Muvi Playout feature from the CMS dashboard,” says Mishra.

“Muvi Playout gives you complete control of your streaming needs. You can run and manage your online streaming channel without any hassles, and treat your audience with the best features the industry has to offer.”