After a few years of uncertainty and caution, broadcasters and production companies that serve them are beginning to have a better understanding of what “the cloud” is and how it can help produce and distribute content internally and for consumer use. We’re seeing many success stories.
In its latest 2013 Big Broadcast Survey, Devoncroft Partners found that cloud-based technology (that is, remotely located servers and transcoding/render farms) and services are becoming increasingly important to broadcasters, “as evidenced by several recently announced end-user initiatives and many discussions about creating a ‘virtualized broadcast infrastructure’ in order to drive greater efficiencies.”
Technology vendors that cater to this space all offer software and strategies for using virtualized technology to its fullest potential. And they are beginning to find ways to make it affordable, via some type of subscription model.
The different types of cloud services can be boiled down to two basic industry terms, “Cloud Washed” and “Cloud Formed.” Cloud Washed, the most popular and easiest to deploy, gets a broadcaster up and running very quickly, but can be vulnerable to network failures. Content is entirely hosted on a remotely located service, and if your service goes down, so does your business. Cloud Formed is also built to take advantage of the flexibility of cloud services, but includes locally stored content and customized software algorithms for redundancy so that if the remote server fails, or the entire region where that server is located fails, it transparently flips over to another redundant service and data is not lost or you are not denied access.
Streamlining workflow processes
Rogers Media in Canada has been using Quantel’s cloud-enabled QTube software, QTube Browser and QTube Editor for the past two years across Canada, from Victoria Island to Montreal. Using Quantel servers, it will soon add a series of generic IT storage for expansion and archive. QTube software enables content creators, administrators and managers to interact with their assets wherever they are and wherever their content is located. It provides worldwide access to media, including growing files and supports a full range of production workflows, including viewing, logging, sub-clipping, frame accurate editing, voice-over and approval.
The goal at Rogers Media was (and still is) to streamline workflow processes across its locations and share and collaborate via the cloud as much as possible. For example, Rogers Winnipeg has no feeds and uses an Avid Media Composer to edit content.
Until QTube came along, technicians would watch the feed from Toronto's City TV news and if they saw something they liked, they called Toronto and asked for the material, which was either sent via FTP and/or a feed back to them for their edits, according to Mark S. Northeast, vice president of sales at Quantel. This could often take two to five hours, depending on availability of staff.
“With QTube, they come to work and — using their web browser — they can review the live feeds and other recordings in Toronto from their PC, and then either have it delivered to themselves as an MXF file, which they drop into their Avid, or include it with their regular feeds,” he said. “The benefit is they are now in control of what, how and when they receive material. In effect, they now have 1000 hours of resources available because they have the rights to see and use what they want.
Accelerating large file transfers
Time and lost productivity has also been an issue. Some of the issues surrounding the time it can take to complete large file transfers (up to the cloud and back down again) are now being overcome with a “hybrid cloud” approach, whereby some of the content is stored on a local server or network while other parts reside in a distant location. This allows a company to maintain instant access to file material, overcoming data security concerns, and streamlines the production workflow for the benefit of everyone involved.
This is the case at Dallas Audio Post, a company that produces and prepares for delivery a number of high-profile programs, such as Animal Planet and HGTV's "Home Strange Home." Earlier this year, the company deployed Signiant’s Media Shuttle file sharing, control (e.g., adjusting bit rates) and tracking solution — a hybrid Software as a Service (SaaS) approach that leverages the remote services from Amazon Web Services along with special software and local hardware. This gives them a faster, easier way to exchange full-resolution audio and video files. Dallas Audio Post Company owner Roy Machado explained that within four weeks time, Media Shuttle had displaced the use of numerous other file delivery options and became its clients’ preferred approach for moving content.
“The user interface is what sold us on Media Shuttle, and the ability to eliminate the additional time it takes to both upload and download files is what sets it apart,” Machado said. “We did a highly rushed project for a major British broadcaster that, because of the time required to send us two full-resolution TV show files, we never could have completed it if we had to both upload then download each file with a fully cloud hosted solution.”
He said there’s no need for to send out e-mailed instructions on how to use the software.
“I send a link, the client clicks on it, they retrieve the file from our branded portal, and the transfer is done,” he said.
A hybrid cloud approach
Using Media Shuttle’s (patent-pending) hybrid SaaS architecture, the user interface is delivered from the cloud, but the storage cache resides within the post-production facility’s own network — enabling its customers to upload and download files directly and eliminating the “round-tripping” problem.
Signiant’s embedded acceleration technology, with transfer speeds up to 200 times faster than FTP, further reduces the time it takes to move files.
“When someone accesses the product, they select their destination and hit ‘send,’ and the connection is automatically made between their browser and the file server on their custom network behind their firewall,” said Rick Clarkson, vice president of product management at Signiant. “So security is addressed and ease of use is ensured, moving the data in and out of their own server.”
This hybrid SaaS approach enables users like Norway’s NRK and A+E Networks UK (which both use Media Shuttle) to store their content wherever they want and still have the workflow accelerated via the cloud. The server could be remote and accessed on the network, or they could use a “private cloud” of locally installed rack-mounted servers.
Like other similar services, Media Shuttle is marketed with a subscription-based pricing model that starts at $49/month for unlimited use. Media Shuttle offers customizable portals (channels) that can be branded and quickly configured in one of three modes — Send, Share or Submit — to support the needs of any project. A system could be configured to include all three modes to address different workflows within the same broadcaster or production company. “Send” is person-to-person, “Share” targets collaborative team workflows, and “Submit” moves content to an automated process.
Once someone signs up for the SaaS service, Signiant provides all of the software required to manage and accelerate file transfers. The customers must buy a standard IT server to run the software and store the media files.
“Many media companies are not comfortable putting all of their assets in a cloud environment,” Clarkson said, adding that media companies are certainly comfortable with enterprise-level software architectures. “With a hybrid approach, they get to take advantage of all of things that the cloud has to offer —scalability, redundancy, easy upgrades — but still maintain complete control over their content, which is the hybrid piece on their in-house network. It’s their security blanket.”