Using Cloud for Live Production

Firstlight Media
(Image credit: Firstlight Media)

Is live production in the cloud the safety net for the future? No, it’s better. Cloud connectivity is about many things: flexibility, de-centralized workflow, new and unique remote production capabilities, better team responsiveness, and greater scalability. Granted, due to the very nature of cloud computing, with robust storage and content sharing, there is redundancy and a bit of a safety net—but the cloud offers much more than these advantages. 

While on-premises systems are still central to production, the need for superior flexibility is increasing in demand, especially due to the need for producing for more formats (square, portrait, etc.)  and remote productions. Because of this, hybrid cloud solutions are becoming more popular. The cloud introduces a level of agility for production workflows that we didn't have previously, and its evolution has been accelerated over the past few years. 

In the broadcast business, production teams are event-driven but there is also the day-to-day news to cover the latest news across the globe and in specific industries, like sports. Sometimes there are several smaller local events and there are the regional, national, and world-class events to consider as well.

Traditionally, broadcast organizations had the mammoth task of planning and building facilities and studios without really knowing how they would utilize them. Critical questions to ask were: How many control rooms do we need? How many studios do we have to build? If we build up for a larger event, like global sporting events or elections, what do we do with the capabilities in the off-season? What about fluctuating staffing needs? Complex questions often with no concrete answers.

But, in the new digital era of live production, by leveraging cloud-based solutions, media organizations and broadcasters can answer these questions quite simply. Through the cloud, organizations can scale up and down capacity for control rooms when needed. 

For example, they can "turn on" another control room, or two, or three, or 10 (you get the point) to use for multibroadcast situations and then scale down again in the off-season. What may be needed to cover internationally acclaimed sporting events is undoubtedly not required on a regular, day-to-day schedule. 

Not only is this more productive for teams and tech, but it’s also much more cost effective. Cloud solutions bring near-limitless scalability to on-prem systems and are easier, faster, and much less expensive to establish than fully on-prem workflows.

Scale isn’t just a necessity for the big multicontrol room productions for major broadcasters and media organizations—it’s a critical component for any live production. There are advantages to be leveraged through the cloud for smaller and experimental productions as well. Cloud-based productions can allow for a higher rate of innovation and the faster development of new functions and features— a perfect combination for creativity and to encourage more stories, better told.

Let's say there is an idea for a new show, but the creators aren’t sure how well it will rate with audiences. The decision to move forward with a brick-and-mortar studio would be too cost prohibitive as a trial and perhaps without the buy-in from audience popularity ahead of time the production idea would dissipate. However, with the flexibility and value behind cloud productions, the barrier to entry is significantly reduced so creative teams can produce and test concepts themselves—and then stream trial content, (or even a new channel), out to markets in several inexpensive or even monetized ways.  

So, what needs to be developed?
A year or two ago, I would have talked about how system latency and other technical performance issues needed to be addressed, but these issues have all but disappeared. Powerful cloud and on-prem hybrid systems are now being deployed globally at a rapid rate with the need for flexibility and scalability as key drivers to enhancing existing systems.

Integrated hybrid systems will be the foundation of progression to all-cloud solutions—whether that's a year or five years from now. What needs to be developed is a complete shift in how we think about productions in this new technology landscape. The terms flexible, scalable, and connected only begin to convey the potential impact of cloud tools.

Take the NDI (Network Device Interface) platform, for example. NDI is a royalty-free software standard that enables video-compatible products to deliver high-definition video over a computer network that's suitable for switching in a live production. That means that any camera or video device—cameras, phones, tablets, Zoom calls, social media streams, broadcast feeds—on a network (the cloud) can be accessed or shared and brought into a production no matter where in the world it’s located.

Most broadcasters today have more systems that support NDI. When there's no time or it's not possible to use an OB van, multiple content streams can be quickly and securely shared, in real-time, across the web and through the cloud, into the production. Production teams can now pull video streams from virtually anywhere. Think about how difficult it was to get a single live feed into a control room just five years ago. The speed and rapid adoption of innovation are outstanding to witness and will progress even faster in the next few years—now is the time to reassess current workflows and adjust for the future.

In today's environment, it's easy to: start new channels; share production between different teams and locations; scale up and down for various events; as well as produce regionalized and personalized content but only with the right solutions tailored for the workflows that work best for an organization’s particular needs. 

Everyone is at different stages in their journey within this digital revolution and have varying needs when it comes to live production—whether it’s on-prem, in the cloud, or hybrid solutions a trusted partner can help determine the right solutions to transform and futureproof workflows. 

The pandemic forced the industry to re-examine how productions are created and we’ve advanced significantly over the past few years with no signs of slowing down. Many tech advancements and shifts in thinking have already happened and remote and hybrid productions are becoming the norm. The acceptance of cloud, remote, and hybrid productions aren’t the “new normal,” they are the “now normal.” 

Five or ten years from now, perhaps everything will be produced in the cloud. Thinking of cloud-based production as "just" a safety net is short-sighted. More innovations are coming and if you aren’t utilizing the advantages of the current technology—your competitors are. Don’t get left behind—open your mind to the possibilities of limitless storytelling and get ready for whatever the future of live production brings.