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The Evolution of Multimedia Cloud

Karl Paulsen
(Image credit: Karl Paulsen)

Multimedia creation and its content distribution are prime candidates for cloud. Already a rich source of information, creativity and complex media generation capabilities—leveraging the cloud for its production, assembly and migration to the user is helping the industry create things such as apps, messaging, advertising, blogs and most anything requiring multiple steps or iterative processes.  

Cloud-based multimedia can be useful when addressing global challenges, telling stories, linking commercial content with programs or for any combination of those or similar elements. While in the almost-distant past now, videotape was a widely adopted and accepted methodology for packaging multimedia elements into a cohesive and linear format. That model has obviously changed.

Post-videotape, users transported content (as files) through a facility’s ecosystem and then on to the home via various continuity assembly and transmission mediums—including the internet and web. Today, even those processes are dimming because of cloud.

CONTENT CREATION
Prior to the rapid evolutionary adoption of cloud services multimedia content was constructed in segments that consisted of a conglomeration of audio, video and other data. Each of those processes, prior to the exclusivity of desktop content creation, were essentially individual steps with conversions, handoffs and usually manual transfers and tweaking just to get from one stage to the next in the process.

Elements were usually created by selecting from myriad applications, video and audio slices, software-sequencing components, entire packages and extensions to suites of applications, and from hybrid sets of non-professional, consumer and professional computer-centric solutions. Assembled elements took many paths, which essentially terminated at a storage solution (tape, disk or other) where the materials waited for a linear path to “on the air” or other transport.

PRE-ERA CLOUD
None of that era’s activities needed “the cloud.” There was no cloud in those days, despite facility operators who tried to develop the concepts in their own central equipment rooms or in later cases, maybe a “CoLo-data center” that they owned or rented.

Even before that era the interchange of the content was fairly uniform across the entire industry. Sans a few pirate formats, linear videotape or file-based servers became the marketplace winner for the storage, playout and distribution of content. Gradually segments of those endpoints (storage, for example) moved to the cloud and the backup/protection took up roost in an archive that no longer lived “on prem.”

Although, at that time, the primary release medium for such content was a television transmitter stick, other distributions still happened via microwave, satellite or ground-based transport on copper or fiber-optic mediums. Eventually cable/satellite took a foothold. Until video-on-demand became possible, live linear playout and home recording from OTA or cable was the foundation for the storage and replay of library and real-time content. Once mobile devices emerged, even VCRs, CDs and DVDs lost their popularity.

Web-services changed that model once again. Private services became repositories that stored and hosted similar activities, and—although not necessarily referred to as “cloud”—essentially this was the foundation for a multitude of cloud-like storage and/or playout services. 

BROADCAST PLAYOUT
Playing content, from a broadcaster’s perspective, has followed a constant evolution of applying elements on an end-to-end basis. Take for instance how the video server evolved not only in physicality but in the performance, acceptance and the many applications possible because of the nonlinear basis of the video server.

Program content would leverage the sequential playout of files from a storage bin to the MCR or continuity playout platform. It took one file, linked it to another smoothly and completely, and delivered it to an encoder which prepared the content for the end user. Such workflows turned into a “channel,” which was consistent, repeatable and reliable. Yet this still didn’t “leverage” the cloud beyond a method for storing completed content or its elements as a protective backup medium.

LOCKED AND CONSTRAINED
Much of these workflows were generated using a set of individual discrete components housed in a broadcast station’s central equipment room or network center. Hard, physical connections made this happen. Software elements were then tightly coupled to devices to achieve precise timing sequences according to a “log” generated by another entity. 

The model was not unlike what occurs in a CDN (content delivery network), yet broadcast playout still had not made it to the cloud as a whole. Unshared, physical datacenters owned by content creation entities started to see an emerging web-based distribution capability—but not for long. Outsourced cloud services were not far behind. 

MOVE TO INTERACTION
A common thread in this model is linearity, but it lacked any other form of interaction. In the past (pre-home video VCR or DDRs) viewers enjoyed a program without distractions; without the ability to stop, rewind or replay; and without the ability to interact, comment, change or alter the conveyance. Cloud and web once again would change that model.

Legacy playout models have since “left the dock” and will likely never come back to port. Enter the next generation of content playout.

Cloud playout services are now pretty well flushed out. Cloud now offers numerous options, is flexible, and is in use by many content providers besides just those local or network entities such as broadcast stations or networks.

Cable and satellite service providers saw new workflow support needs and seized the opportunity, but still didn’t address the next major transition—that of the cloud. After years of building gigantic equipment spaces to support playout/distribution, providers would eventually pare down the enormous capital equipment costs and the physical space (and infrastructure) requirements to the point that, for some providers, there is little if any amount of “creative” production hardware left in their facilities other than for live-studio like productions—which are also now “moving to cloud” as well.

CLOUD EVOLUTION CONTINUANCE
Individual entities that produce interstitial content (advertising) used by the multichannel video programming distributors have seen the cloud handwriting on the wall for a longer period than the MPVD itself, but that too is taking a serious directional change.  

Like the multimedia workflow chain described earlier, the cloud has been enabling the harmonization of interstitials with program content at a steady pace. Like the move to remote capabilities brought on full-strength by COVID-19, the ability to create and manage end-to-end requirements is now being molded into the cloud, and by a workforce that can in many cases “not be in the physical facility” to do so. Cloud is helping reach such capabilities at a rapid pace. Discrete steps in the workflow now became “services,” which users and non-service users could access in a variety of ways (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 (Image credit: Karl Paulsen)

Putting all the content elements together is possible because of numerous paths, options, speeds in processing and the multitude of extended capabilities brought about by cloud. Service providers can now manage the workflows, becoming automated and intelligent along the way.

Organizations now deal with both the workflow and workforce factors in real time. Change is more than upon us and flexibility is now a daily reality.

As end users have found, legacy workflows that required the merging of applications to generate a single foundation discovered it could take longer to execute those combinations than it took for the entire creative process of developing the multimedia content message itself. Once users and owners became familiar with cloud workflows, capabilities and proficiencies there was no turning back.  

Karl Paulsen is chief technology officer at Diversified and a frequent contributor to TV Tech in storage, IP and cloud technologies. Contact him at kpaulsen@diversifiedus.com.