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Microservices are Key to Staying Ahead of the Curve

(Image credit: iStock)

The rapid evolution of the media industry means broadcasters and content producers are striving to deliver more content, rich viewing experiences, stunning images and access across all screens. As a result, we have a situation whereas in some instances, broadcasters’ revenues are growing more slowly than their costs. Against this background, the big question facing all broadcasters today is how to create more first-class content more efficiently.

Timescales to market are also compressing; from conception to launch for new services is now weeks or a few months, compared to the years it would have taken in the past. Services today must also evolve very rapidly to keep pace with their core audience demands and need to be able to spin-down as fast as they are spun up.

On an operational level, a vast amount of content is now being produced, ingested and managed. Entrenched models and traditional broadcast architectures can no longer be relied on to take on the challenges of this new mediascape that requires high levels of scalability and adaptability.

LOOKING BEYOND VIRTUALIZATION

The media industry needs technology and commercial models that can support highly nimble operations and today, vendors must deliver platforms that can be deployed at speed and rapidly evolved. Looking ahead, broadcasters are going to need to be more agile than they’ve ever been, delivering services that can stay ahead of the shifting needs of the consumers.

The move from CAPEX to OPEX and workflows virtualized on commodity hardware are steps in the right direction, giving broadcasters the flexibility to add and pay for additional capability and capacity as needed. 

A cloud-native, or microservices, approach is the next logical evolution to the virtualized software-based approach, enabling broadcasters to make the necessary step change. Microservices separate processes into smaller, more autonomous functions, allowing multiple services to be combined to deliver specific applications in an ultra-agile way.

Not only do microservices add greater degrees of inherent flexibility to existing IT infrastructure, they deliver the inherent nimbleness and flexibility needed to shape successful media businesses for the future. This approach also opens up new ways to build, maintain and operate services and provides the capacity to scale these services—up or down—in a very compressed time frame. 

LIVE HARNESSES THE TRUE POWER OF MICROSERVICES

While new technologies always create a buzz, the challenge for the broadcast industry is not to get sidetracked into replicating old workflows or business models; shoehorning an existing approach into a new paradigm means you miss all the benefits that new technology brings. It’s critical to look at where these technologies can make the biggest impact. For example, while playout is technically the easiest thing to implement in a cloud environment, it’s typically a 24/7 service, running with very high utilization of the underlying infrastructure. This doesn’t make the best use of the nimbleness that microservices deliver. 

Live production—and particularly live sports—is where the power of microservices has the potential to really come into its own. Furthermore, they are willing to pay for this type of content—PWC estimates that over 90% of sports fans subscribe to services for access to live games. 

Rapidly spinning up temporary, subscription services like a pay-per-view event or targeted, seasonal sports packages—all New England Patriots games for instance—fast and cost effectively is hugely valuable to broadcasters. Leveraging microservices, capabilities can be fired up just before a game then be turned off after the final post-game analysis wraps up. In short, you are only paying while the infrastructure is in use.

As the technology matures, we can expect microservices to be central to delivering transitory, live services, where very “bursty” capacity is needed. On a technical level, live is undoubtedly more challenging to do due to the time constraints, but it’s certainly solvable and we’ll see solutions hitting the market this year. 

THE ROLE OF VENDORS

The onus is now on the vendor community to develop applications that use microservices, rather than taking our existing products and reshaping them for the changing market. While broadcasters have a real need for solutions that underpin new business and operational models, our customers tell us they want technology adoption to be largely hidden from them. The applications and operation should be familiar and work as they need to.  

As customers face real-time pressure and need to rapidly change business models, we, as technology providers, need to create technology to facilitate that for them. Just as broadcasters will have to rapidly conceptualize and deliver new services, vendors have to increase innovation velocity, delivering fast iterations of microservices architectures, that help customers to keep running successful, agile businesses.

The internet has really shaken up the broadcast industry, shaping the way consumers access content and throwing down the gauntlet to traditional broadcast models. While this has presented a challenge for the vendor community, at the same time it’s provided the solution. Here at Grass Valley, we can now put our unique intellectual property and expertise in media and live production on internet platforms. Furthermore, we can now leverage technologies that allow us to exploit our intellectual properties in a way that just wasn’t possible before. 

We’re seeing long-held beliefs about what a broadcast facility looks like, or how content is created and delivered, really opening the industry up to new possibilities. Our customers need partners that can understand the shifting dynamic and deliver solutions—regardless of technology—that allow them to adapt and scale at speed.

Neil Maycock is senior vice president, strategic marketing and playout for Grass Valley.