|One of the largest high-profile deployments of the cloud in a broadcast environment is Fox Sports 1’s
use of a cloud video production platform developed by Aframe.
SAN FRANCISCO—At its simplest, cloud
technology is seen as a straightforward
means to a wondrous end—place media
up into the Ethernet, and then with a few
clicks, see it pulled down by someone
else half-way around the world.
The reality is much more complicated, of
course. The cloud craze that made headlines
in 2013 was overshadowed by a long list of
concerns: Copyright fears, format struggles,
redundancy and security woes.
Looking at those big events over the
last 12 months that relied on cloud technologies,
it’s clear the industry is still
struggling with issues like architectural
limitations and workflow bottlenecks.
“There’s still a perception in the industry
because of these failures, that maybe
online streaming is still a risk, that there’s
still too much drama. Will it work or will
it not?” said Kurt Michel, director of product
marketing for Media Solutions at Akamai.
“We need to make sure people understand
that [this technology] is robust,” he said.
The first place to start is by asking questions.
How robust is the solution? What is
the strategy for redundancy? How do you
make sure that this is going to meet 100
percent of my availability requirements?
The recently wrapped 2014 NAB Show
tried to answer some of those questions,
sprinkling cloud-focused sessions and
speakers across the convention and showing
ways that broadcasters can begin to
rely on the cloud.
“Cloud services have enabled media and
entertainment companies to tackle distribution
challenges and the complexities of
offering consumers content anytime, anywhere
and on any device,” said Mark Ramberg,
general manager of Media and Entertainment
for Amazon Web Services, who
offered the keynote address at the convention’s
two-day “Media Management in the
Expanding beyond the original business-to-
consumer scenarios that first lit up the
cloud, the technology is maturing to a point
where it has begun to be leveraged for professional
media workflows in both broadcast
and post productions.
If you combed the NAB Show floor, it
seemed that every other booth was touting
a cloud-this-and-cloud-that. But in discussions
with experts and manufacturers, the technology
is beginning to show a maturity that is
capable of handling large-scale content like
3D, HD and 4K, as well as more complex scenarios
like second-screen distribution and
complex content personalization.
“Media industry companies are realizing
that they can’t keep up with the IT needs
[required to handle some of these next-generation
offerings], and are looking at
the scalability and elasticity of the cloud,”
There are certainly benefits: scalable
bandwidth, open storage opportunities
and transcoding solutions, to name a few.
In response, the real-world examples
continue to expand. One of the largest is
the high-profile cloud solution being used
by Fox Sports 1, a cable channel launched
by Fox Sports in the summer of 2013 that
includes football, baseball, NASCAR and
soccer programming. To handle a number
of basic workflow issues—dozens and
dozens of freelance stringers submitting
hundreds of video files in a range of disparate
formats—the network created a news
media submission system that allows contributing
videographers to upload content
to a cloud video production platform developed
by Aframe, a U.K.-based developer
of cloud technology for media enterprises.
“Broadcast workflows today still contain
steps where manual intervention,
such as transcoding, is essential, [but] in
competitive TV formats like sport, that
simply can’t exist any longer,” said David
Peto, CEO of Aframe.
The Aframe platform is being used to
automatically transcode formats at the
time of ingest, and then converts media to
a DVCPRO format for editing or playout.
An H.264 proxy viewing copy is created
that can be viewed by stringers or editors
in the field.
“[It] provides an easy mechanism for
making content easily accessible for people
who need it immediately, in a self-service
model,” said Wendy Allen, vice president
of media engineering at Fox Sports.
“It’s a new paradigm shift that will save
Fox time and money.”
The approach makes it feasible to use
a global set of freelancers, many of whom
are contributing media files with different
professional equipment. The solution also
allows the network to save bandwidth
because a proxy is created at the time
of ingest, instead of requiring all material
to be downloaded prior to transcoding.
At the NAB Show, the company released
Aframe 3.0 and announced partnerships
with Sony and Panasonic to integrate
cloud capabilities directly into new wireless
cameras and adapters, allowing for a
completely wireless workflow.
IS THIS THE YEAR?
Companies like Signiant are pointing to
cloud technologies as a key reason for its
recent success: an uptick in customers is
directly attributable to the adoption of Signiant’s
hybrid SaaS solution, said Margaret
Craig, CEO of Signiant.
Cloud technologies have taken off for
a number of reasons, she said, including
improvements in storage, advancements
in speed and upgrades in security. Companies
are also leaning toward the cloud’s
track record on redundancy issues. “That’s
one of the things that the cloud is good
at: allowing you to keep multiple files and
keep them safely,” she said.
“This is really the year that [cloud adoption]
becomes very real,” Craig added,
whose company has seen adoption of
cloud technologies all around the world,
most vociferously in the United States. The
company recently introduced the new
software application CloudSpeX, which
validates media file formats prior to transfer,
and introduced file sharing capabilities
to the company’s Media Shuttle file transfer
Perhaps nowhere has the cloud been
more impressive than when it’s flexing its
muscle as both a video processing engine
and a delivery platform. There was a long
list of companies who showcased such
options at NAB—Envivo showcased a virtualized
software and end-to-end cloud TV
solution; Vizrt displayed the Viz Engine 3D
compositing engine in the cloud; Akamai
and Aspera showed off a high-speed option
for uploading content to the Akamai
NetStorage cloud-based online storage
Akamai also addressed other issues that
have swirled around the cloud, from digital
rights management to format issues.
“More and more live content is sitting
‘over the top’—the Super Bowl, the Olympics,”
said Kurt Michel, director of product
marketing, Media Solutions, at Akamai. The
company worked to stream 98 live events
at the Winter Games, he said, “and one of
the things we did learn is that there’s not
one format to be delivered to all the different
Addressing the importance of high-quality
streaming was the goal of a 4K demonstration
with Elemental at NAB. Partnering
with Akamai, the company streamed a live
4K 60 fps HEVC-encoded video stream
with MPEG-DASH packaging, which they
claimed was the first-known display of live
video in this format video over a content
delivery network. “The combination of 4K
content at 60 frames per second offers the
best quality available in deployable streaming
video,” Michel said.
Regardless of their background, a singular
refrain came from a number of different
experts: the cloud is the way the future
is headed. “Media companies are looking
for ways to increase agility and get content
distributed to customers faster and faster,”
said AmazonWeb Services’ Ramberg. “That
requires companies to develop new strategies
to address their needs in scalable, nonlinear
ways [and that is one reason] that
the use of the cloud for professional media
workflows is accelerating significantly.”
The industry seems ready, according
to Mark Overington, president of Aframe
North America. “There’s been a seachange
in the last 12-18 months,” he said, as more
media companies warm to the idea of using
the cloud to automatically transcode
media, to review and approve video such
as dailies, and to catalog and tag media
with metadata early in the creation process.
One of the remaining challenges: changing
the industry’s reliance on his current
“But the majority of the time, people
find [the cloud] to be incredibly powerful,”
he said. “There’s a wow factor here.”