The multiplexity of moving playout to cloud

  • With Adrian Pennington

The multiplexity of moving playout to cloud

While the shift to cloud is inexorable broadcasters face a multiplicity of challenges from cost and integration to security and training. One constant is the need for a technical partner to guide the way. Leading vendors tackle the issues head on - by Adrian Pennington...

Transitioning to cloud playout involves several common challenges for broadcasters.

Mark Strachan, Head of Media Practice for Telstra Broadcast Services lists these as: 

Bandwidth and Connectivity: Sufficient and cost-effective bandwidth, both to and from the cloud, is crucial for file-based and live broadcasts. Availability and affordability of high-speed connections can be a hurdle.  Cost Considerations: While cloud playout offers scalability and flexibility, compute storage costs and data transfer expenses (egress) can be significant. These costs may impact the overall total cost of ownership, potentially favouring on-premise broadcast models. 

Vendor Management: Successful migration to the cloud requires seamless integration of multiple vendors. Managing these relationships and ensuring smooth collaboration can be complex. 

Monitoring and Quality Control: Cloud-based broadcast necessitates effective monitoring and quality control systems across diverse cloud resources to maintain broadcast standards. Real-time monitoring of multiple cloud resources, performance metrics, and content delivery requires specialised systems and skill tom implement effectively.  

Skill Requirements: Cloud-based broadcast operations demand a new skill set from traditional broadcasters. This requires upskilling or acquiring additional talent with expertise in cloud technologies. 

Strachan points to TBS’ cloud native Media Production Platform as a solution. This platform caters to various broadcast workflows, including playout, remote production, asset management, and media/standards conversion. 

“By leveraging TBS's extensive connectivity solutions, the Media Production Platform enables seamless transmission of live and file-based content from the source into the cloud and onward to its final destination. As a fully managed service, TBS acts as a single point of contact, handling integration with underlying vendors and mitigating complexities. 

“Moreover, TBS leverages its operational scale to negotiate reduced costs on various cloud components, helping broadcasters optimize their expenditure. With the Media Production Platform, customers can rely on TBS's expertise, minimising the need to upskill their workforce for managing cloud-based broadcast operations.” 

One of the key challenges of moving broadcast playout to the cloud is cost. Many broadcasters still invest in on-premises technology because they think the TCO is lower than cloud-based solutions.  

Like most things cloud, its application to playout will have different implications and benefits for each user. But if you are moving playout to the cloud, then it makes sense to consider moving the other functions involved in preparing content to the cloud, too. 

Explains Stephen Tallamy, CTO, EditShare, “Traditionally, you created content next to the point of playout: broadcasters had large studio complexes and multiple edit suites. While production and post may have become outsourced, the idea of completing projects close to the playout facility is still relevant in the cloud era.” 

Cloud editing is now a reality, he says, and it delivers the fundamental benefits of timeliness and security: there is no chance of content being delayed, corrupted or pirated if you are simply moving between cloud processes. 

“Perhaps the most important benefit of the move to software-defined architectures for media is the opportunity to take a completely fresh look at workflows. Take time to really consider what balance of on-prem facilities, remote working and the cloud will deliver on your creative and commercial goals. 

“It follows that, if you have content storage and workflows in multiple locations, you need to have a management layer that looks across all these sites and provides a single operational view. If you are an editor, producer or channel controller, you really do not care where something is stored, or where it is transcoded: you just want to know it moves through the workflow from ingest to delivery.” 

EditShare have extended its FLOW workflow and asset management platform to provide comprehensive multi-site capabilities, with a single view of everything in the system and, where necessary, accelerated file transfers between sites giving you as much as 60% boost in throughput when you need it. FLOW automates content management and movement and provides a view across all storage and workflows, wherever they are and wherever the user needs to access them. 

“Cloud usage is a lot lighter than when these workflows first migrated to the cloud,” says Rob Gambino, Head of Advertising and Personalisation Strategy at Harmonic. “Moreover, the cost of compute and storage has come down appreciably. Using a cloud-based playout solution is now cost comparable to an on-premises solution, or in some cases can be more cost efficient when using the latest playout technologies such as channel assembly. 

“Another issue is workflow support. Many broadcasters have complex workflows that have historically only been supported by on-premises solutions. Workflow support has been increasing year over year as cloud-based playout solutions have improved.

"Solutions like Harmonic’s VOS360 Media SaaS now support a wide variety of workflows, enabling video service providers to distribute to affiliates, over the air, or direct to consumers from a single channel origination workflow.” 

Scheduling is also a challenge. As broadcasters launch more D2C channels, scheduling can be time consuming and require substantial manpower. Modern, cloud-based scheduling solutions support many workflow automation features that make scheduling significantly less manpower intensive. Furthermore, new technology like AI/ML library categorization and automatic schedule generation can almost completely remove the need for human intervention in the channel origination process. 

Finally, monetisation is always a concern. Gambino says broadcasters are increasingly feeling the pressure to maximise the monetisation of their channels. Cloud-based playout solutions can integrate directly with ad insertion systems where they live and scale best - in the cloud - to deliver personalised advertising experiences directly to viewers.  

“Harmonic leads the charge in this area with its VOS360 Media SaaS and new VOS360 Ad stand-alone, server-side ad insertion SaaS that enables targeted addressable advertising at scale for video streaming.”  Broadcasters contemplating the transition to cloud need to address seven key questions says Pavlin Rahnev, PlayBox Neo CEO. 

  1. Does your proposed choice of cloud-playout system integrate easily with your existing ingest, production, post-production, scheduling, presentation and playout workflow? 
  2. Can the proposed system be operated within a unified graphic user interface rather than forcing your staff to work with multiple GUIs? 
  3. Do you gain the freedom to operate on-premises and in-cloud playout as an integrated hybrid? 
  4. Does your proposed cloud-based system support 24/7 automation? 
  5. Can the entire system be accessed remotely by a securely connected administrator? 
  6. Will the same system integrate easily with your existing back-up infrastructure or any desired reserve layer? 
  7. Is the proposed solution cost-efficient? 

He then talks about how PlayBox Neo Cloud2TV delivers on these issues.

“Cloud2TV can be configured to match any style and scale of TV media application from a single terrestrial, satellite or internet-streamed channel up to fully international networks transmitting in multiple languages. It is designed for fully automatic round-the-clock playout while retaining the ability for live content to be transmitted at any time. 

“Cloud2TV offers PlayBox Neo’s huge global customer base an easy and efficient way to supplement their Channel-in-a-Box-based (CiaB) and AirBox Neo-20 server-based systems. It also interfaces easily with third-party playout products. Extra TV channels can be added at very short notice. It has proved highly successful for channel managers seeking to accommodate start-up program channels and event-specific red-spot services.” 

Finding the fine balance between attaining the flexibility of the cloud together with the reliability of on-premises infrastructure is the challenge identified by Daniel Robinson, Head of R&D, Pebble. There is a misconception that the cloud is more cost-effective (you only pay for what you use) he says, but it’s not that straightforward. 

“Broadcasters may have content that is not time-critical, which works well at SD and even HD, and is available to OTT customers only. Channels like this can be made up of pre-prepared videos and pre-rendered graphics, with simple automation. It is feasible to operate these entirely in the cloud, where content is uploaded once and stays there.  

At the other end of the scale are channels delivering quality live content, both over the air and OTT - for example, sports or 24/7 news channels which are time-critical. Add in HD and UHD resolutions, a wider colour gamut for HDR content, or complex real-time graphics, and committing fully to the cloud may make less economic sense. Nonetheless, these channels can benefit from a hybrid approach, improving redundancy, analytics, or archiving via the cloud. For now, the flexibility of hybrid cloud workflows is likely to be the best route to take. Pebble offers its our own cloud-first “self-healing, service-oriented” broadcast technology platform, Oceans. Robinson says it offers dynamic scalability for workflow needs and is deployable on-premises as well as in the cloud.  

“We recognise our solutions need to serve customers who want to continue to operate with the confidence that on-premises workflows provide and Oceans offers that. There aren’t many broadcasters who are ready to jump into a full cloud solution. But they still want to leverage the benefits of working in the cloud in a way that suits them and their operations. That is the sweet spot of effective, reliable hybrid solutions, and it will remain so for some time.” 

According to Peter Wharton, TAG’s Chief Strategy Officer, the main obstacles to moving playout (or any traditional on-premises workflow) to the cloud is education and cost effectiveness.   

“Migration to the cloud creates operational agility and avoids CAPEX infrastructure investment in a media industry beset by change and uncertainty,” he says. “Linear channels, once thought to be dying, are experiencing a rebirth. But moving or launching these channels in the cloud only makes sense if the cloud is economically comparable with on-premises operations. So how do you create a cloud playout system that meets these objectives?” 

Wharton explains that, initially, vendors shifted from purpose-built master control and server hardware to CiaB architecture. This was software-defined playout running on COTS server hardware and a video card for I/O.  

“With the emergence of IP, these solutions adopted IP I/O and often ran in virtual machines. As cloud playout grew, the natural progression was ‘lift-and-shift’ this software to the cloud, which unfortunately is the exact opposite of a cloud optimized playout solution. 

“Cloud playout demands a highly deconstructed playout service with each component running optimally; running the core playout service in the smallest instance size possible, or even prerendering the content and not running any instance. It means using on-demand and serverless cloud compute for media management, live signal ingest, graphics redundancy and other components not essential in the core playout service. 

"Deconstructed playout reduces cloud costs by 80-95%, making cloud playout more economical that its on-premises equivalent.” 

TAG, a monitoring solution provider, has taken a similar approach to cloud monitoring.  The efficient and powerful solution supports all signal formats while matching instance sizes to workloads for optimal cost-effectiveness.  

TAG uses adaptive monitoring that it claims reduces cloud costs by 80%. Its bridge technology ‘deconstructs’ traditional monitoring by separating inputs and mosaic outputs to further reduce costs while simplifying orchestration.  

Wharton explains, “Bridge enables multi-region, multi-cloud and hybrid ground-cloud monitoring optimised to customers’ workloads. In addition - our new Content Matching enables workflows to be monitored end-to-end by exception, improving accuracy and performance while simultaneously allowing far more channels to be monitored. This new technology dramatically reduces workflow complexity and eyes-on-glass and enables media companies to deliver quality content with fewer resources and more confidence.” 

Data Security, latency and infrastructure transition are the principal headaches challenging broadcasters according to Aveco. 

There are concerns about potential data breaches, loss of sensitive information, and compliance with data protection laws,” notes Product Manager, Martin Mach. “There’s concern that any significant delay in the live broadcast will affect the viewer's experience and of course, moving from a traditional broadcasting model to a cloud-based one can be expensive, time-consuming and requires careful planning.” 

Other industry issues Mach highlights include the skills gap, vendor lock-in and customer support from cloud providers “not attuned to the immediate needs of on-air operations.” That’s where Aveco’s more than three decades of experience in broadcast automation come into play. “Our technology has robust security measures, encryption, and audits to protect your data,” he says. “Our cloud management tools effectively manage your costs while ensuring resources are available as needed.” 

When it comes to skills, Aveco offers “comprehensive training resources” to prepare broadcast teams for the cloud era. “Having a DevOps engineer available means never having to lose sleep,” he says.  

Since Aveco is a device-agnostic company using open standards “we provide customers with complete flexibility. We also provide a hybrid approach, moving some services to the cloud while others remain on-premise, managing risk and ensuring business continuity during the transition period. With Aveco, your move to the cloud is more than a transition - it's an upgrade.” 

The same trio of Security, Latency and Flexibility are top of mind for Grass Valley when it comes to helping client shift to cloud playout. Systems must be secure and protect against unauthorised access offering the same security and compliance standards as traditional on-premises systems,” says Steve Hassan, Senior Director of the firm’s Playout Operations. “Solutions must be capable of delivering content with extremely low latency, to meet the requirements of live broadcast. True cloud playout should offer flexibility for deployment across public and / or private cloud providing the customer with the ability to build resilience as they require.” 

Grass Valley address these through ‘Playout X’ on the AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform) SaaS solution. “AMPP is built from the ground up to be secure, reliable, cost-effective and easy to manage and use, proving itself with Tier 1 customers around the world,” says Hassan. 

AMPP implements industry standard security measures including metadata encryption, identity authentication and authorisation, with independent testing of the platform. Customers retain management of their own media and channels.  

The system provides patented low latency streaming and timing, supporting live dynamic events in Playout X and, when it comes to flexibility, AMPP leverages cloud technologies and a micro-service-based architecture.

Hassan explains, “Broadcasters can easily self-deploy channels and upgrades without downtime, choosing placement of processing, enabling them to adapt to changes and only pay for what and when they use. 

“Playout X enables true site, region and platform diversity, with remote operations via HTML5 based user interfaces. Elastic scalability supports any size operations, across a mix of channel complexity and formats - including UHD, HDR, compressed and uncompressed I/O. Grass Valley enable the biggest live broadcast events in the world and Playout X customers are not investing into a limited ‘point product’, so can easily add other AMPP or Alliance Partner solutions to their system.” 

Qvest is concerned for the human resources involved in cloud integration. Frank Mistol, MD Qvest Stream says unfamiliarity with the system can leave people feeling overwhelmed by navigating and operating a new user interface. Additionally, there is concern about limited flexibility when integrating with existing systems and workflows.  

“At Qvest, we empathise with these concerns and are dedicated to addressing them head-on. Our approach involves providing independent and service-oriented cloud solutions that ensure a seamless integration process. Moreover, we go the extra mile to maintain and enhance flexibility for broadcasters, ensuring they can adapt and optimise their operations according to their unique needs.” 

With makalu, Qvest have developed a cloud playout product that is specifically designed to overcome these concerns. “makalu offers broadcasters a user-friendly interface, making it easier for them to transition to the cloud environment and operate the system effectively, even if they have no prior experience with cloud-based systems,” says Mistol.

Furthermore, makalu ensures a seamless integration into existing systems, empowering broadcasters to effortlessly adapt and customise the solution according to their specific requirements. Our focus is on scalability and cost-effectiveness, providing a solution that seamlessly aligns with the financial capabilities of any individual company.” 

Mistol adds that the company has been delighted by the outstanding feedback from experts following the release of the latest comprehensive functional upgrade of makalu in April.

“We strive to meet the needs of broadcasters while ensuring a smooth transition to cloud playout, ultimately maximising productivity, minimising concerns and costs."