NAB 2019: How Can You Leverage the Cloud for Professional Video?

For professional video applications, our understanding of the cloud has definitely progressed in the past few years, though not as much or in as many ways as you may think. Remember, the cloud is an IT technology. It can be a very effective tool for certain video workflows—but not every workflow.

Opportunities to use cloud tools and workflows continue to develop and improve, but the public cloud itself is not a magic solution for efficiency. Like any technology rollout in the broadcast and video production markets, users need to examine the cost benefit and explore all their options. Content creators also need to make sure assets are properly secured to avoid unauthorized access and distribution.

On the consumer side, the cloud has obviously come a long way. Just look at the success of Netflix and other streaming services. A recent study from Cisco showed that video will account for about 80 percent of internet traffic this year.

Other than video streaming, however, real-time cloud applications in media and entertainment continue to be a challenge. More than anything, the roadblock is still bandwidth—the “last mile” problem, as the telcos say. Connectivity continues to improve, but it still limits many workflows that organizations would like to have in the public cloud. Plus, a new roadblock has appeared: Pricing structures are not always as cost effective as some marketing messages would lead you to believe.

One successful example is Discovery Networks. Back in 2017, they transitioned master control playout to the cloud, a move that created a huge cost savings. What Discovery is not doing in the cloud is real-time video acquisition and post production.

Production video assets are larger and require more bandwidth than almost any other asset. For media companies to properly leverage the cloud, they need to adjust their workflow to get to a certain level of cost savings and/or time gain. That target is different for every company.

That said, there are definitely cloud-based workflows that are working, particularly for organizations that have shared resource requirements. More and more content creators are managing archives and other content through cloud-based shared repositories like AWS, Azure and Google. Other services including Wiredrive, Sony Ci and Avid MediaCentral are cloud platforms that specialize in asset management and collaboration.

One of the biggest cloud media success stories is its use for large render projects, such as VFX and animation. From small graphics shops to studios producing blockbuster motion pictures, companies use cloud compute for rendering because its ability to scale instantly represents such a large cost savings to the production when compared to owning fixed assets. The most successful example of this is Google cloud rendering, which was developed from its purchase of Zync back in 2014.

Closed captioning has been another big win for cloud-based workflows. Through our work with EEG, we’ve seen how the cloud enables content providers to deliver cost-effective captioning for a variety of clients, providing greater accessibility for viewers than ever before.

At the 2019 NAB Show, it’ll seem like every exhibitor has a cloud play. Expect to see more cloud integration for graphics, scheduling, master control and traffic. Again, these types of tasks don’t require real-time video, so a cloud-based solution could benefit an organization, particularly if it has offices geographically spread across a large area.

Any vendor that preaches that cloud technology will solve all your problems with no downside is simply not being realistic. Remember, for the video and creative community in general, the cloud is a tool, one of many that creative people can use to create great content. If it’s not the right tool, there’s no reason for you to use it.

I’d give broadcasters a variation on the same advice I have offered with every technology change that has emerged over the years: Think about the problems you need to solve and look for products that address those issues. Specifically, do you want your solution to be on-prem (local) or off-prem (cloud), or do you need a combination of the two?

If you’re looking for cloud-based storage solutions at NAB, be sure to visit Qumulo, NetApp and Quantum. These companies have done a remarkable job allowing on-prem file systems to work in the cloud, which creates a seamless integration between on-prem and off-prem systems. This is a revolutionary-level achievement because it helps organizations maintain a single workflow despite having storage systems in multiple locations.

Dave Van Hoy, president of Advanced Systems Group in Emeryville, Calif., will attend his 40th NAB Show this year.