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Why the Cloud Matters More Than Ever for Playout Operations

Cloud
(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to linear playout, there has been growing interest in cloud-based operations for some time. But as we look forward, many broadcasters are taking more serious steps to embrace cloud-based workflows. In this article, I’ll explain what parts of the playout ecosystem are adopting the cloud, why the change is happening, and what it means for the future of TV.

If you’re a media operator, you never know what the day is going to bring. The crucial element to managing uncertainty is ensuring your operations are flexible enough to adjust to any circumstance. The cloud brings a new level of flexibility, which explains why many broadcasters are eager to move at least some of their operations in that direction.

On-premise vs. cloud, or on-premise with cloud?
Although playout operations are not on the verge of a wholescale migration to the cloud, I believe we have recently reached a significant milestone that will fundamentally change the way broadcasters look at using cloud technologies.

There are several factors that contribute to this. Cloud-based playout is provided on a pay-as-you-use OPEX model, as opposed to the CAPEX intensive deployment of an on-premise solution. The flexibility of an OPEX model makes cloud-based playout perfect for a number of temporary or occasional use-cases or where there is a need for low up-front costs, such as launching event-specific pop-up channels or disaster recovery channels.

I see cloud-based systems operating alongside hardware as a solution to specific challenges, and many broadcasters now are taking this route. So, rather than a battle between on-premise and the cloud, we’re seeing the two co-exist as providers recognize the unique advantages of one compared to the other in specific situations. And this flexibility of choice is what has compelled many media companies to look at the cloud, and in many cases, use it in new ways to augment existing solutions.

Cloud serving specific needs
Cloud-based playout adds a nimbleness to operations that on-premise can’t match, both in terms of launch time and cost. The pay-for-what-you-use nature of an OPEX business model and easy scale-up lends itself nicely to the following use-cases:

  • Rapid launch event-driven pop-up channels:
    For ad hoc temporary channels with fast deployment using IP-only workflows. Enables global access and mobility for full flexibility.
  • 24/7 long-term channels:
    Which can be localized but monetized globally without the investment risks of a CAPEX-funded project.
  • Disaster Recovery channels and 24/7 channels:
    Providing a cloud-based backup for a main hardware-based playout in the event of a loss of power for broadcasting. Short-term backup instances are easily converted into long-term solutions in the event of a major main site outage.

Another benefit of the cloud is its potential to help centralize broadcast operations. Hubbing is nothing new, of course, but the cloud does make the move of the tech core of a TV station a much more feasible process. And there are other trends towards the cloud that are linked to playout that are worth mentioning here. 

Even if there’s a centralized hardware implementation, the cloud is flexible enough to be deployed for some operational elements, such as file storage and collaborative video editing across multiple sites, for example.

Renewed focus on remote operations
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an immediate threat to media operators because an outbreak can spread so quickly and force a whole team to stay home at short notice. This threat has driven many to explore remote operations more seriously than they did before.

Broadcasters can benefit from having content in multiple places, and the cloud allows them to spin up backup operations quickly and easily from another location. The pandemic has turned cloud-based playout functions from a nice-to-have to a must-have. And I can’t see those who have invested in the cloud over the last 18 months or so turning back. Station groups who have adopted cloud playout will only expand on them from here. 

Also, there is now a sense of parity between cloud-based playout and on-premise. Broadcasters have more fully-featured, cloud-based solutions to choose from than were initially available. These cloud-based services are robust enough to handle the requirements of many operations.

Flexibility is key
The cloud provides excellent flexibility to broadcasters and has been a central facet in navigating the unchartered territory of the past 18 months. Over the long term, cloud-based operations will likely become dominant, but for the foreseeable future, a co-existing approach makes the most sense. 

Choosing the right tool for the requirements has always been part of the broadcast technologist’s job description. With the ever-accelerating capabilities of cloud solutions, that choice is becoming easier to support in many cases. For broadcasters, a mix of on-premise and cloud operations means they can thrive on the unpredictability of the job, and that’s a great place to be.

Sam Peterson

Sam Peterson is GM, Core Products Business Unit for Bitcentral