Implementing fully cloud-based supply chains is becoming increasingly workable, but data transfer costs and latency concerns mean they are not yet best for all environments, writes David Davies.

The possibility of building complete media supply chains in the cloud has been hanging in the air, tantalisingly, for some time now.


IBC returned to the RAI with a busy IBC2022 show

As the volume and complexity of content production and distribution has increased, the discussion has only become more intense – exemplified, for instance, by the current IBC Accelerator project Cloud Localization Blueprint, which seeks to establish a roadmap for fully cloud-based media supply chains that support the ever-escalating requirements around localisation.

So, it seems an opportune moment to consider whether the notion of end-to-end cloud solutions is now crossing over from theory to workable reality. And the answer appears to be a cautious ‘yes’, albeit with some important reservations, as neatly summarised by Dalet’s director of product marketing, Mathieu Zarouk.

“We believe cloud will become the first choice of infrastructure going forward, especially after on-premise investments are amortised,” he says. “However, today there are still use cases for which fully cloud-based deployments are not necessarily the best solution. Workable in most cases, yes. But options should be carefully evaluated depending on business requirements.”

People recognise the advantages of cloud

Karsten Schragmann is head of product management at Vidispine, whose offer is led by VidiNet, described as a cloud-based platform that provides a “robust footing for the complete content chain”. He depicts an industry where confidence in having a cloud platform at the core of the entire content ecosystem is continuing to grow.

“There are a lot of factors in the mix,” he says of the trend. “On one side you have the fact that the pandemic sped up a lot of companies recognising the benefits that the cloud brings. Then you also have [broadcasters] considering the use of the cloud with a certain [project-based] approach” – for example, to deliver individual services or pop-up channels.

“What we are finding is that [media companies] are at the very least planning, or working on a plan, to transition to the cloud.” - Dan Goman, Ateliere

Schragmann also indicates that storage-related “inbound and outbound costs” are giving some broadcasters cause for concern, especially where large volumes of content are involved. “Storage is really the main issue at this point,” he says. “There might be various modules that need access to high-resolution content in terms of transferring or transcoding. Combined with traffic costs and bandwidth [issues] this can be recognised as a challenge.”

Nonetheless, Vidispine appears in no doubt about the industry’s overall direction of travel, with VidiNet as well as MAM solution and developer interface VidiCore described as the company’s “building blocks to go further into cloud”.

Next on the agenda for Vidispine is an expansion of VidiNet’s positioning, which has “primarily focused on SaaS services and applications, but we are going to extend this, [including to] on-cloud systems that are fully automated for dedicated pipelines.”

From content to consumer

Ateliere Creative Technologies is among the media supply chain specialists to be explicitly pointing out the end-to-end capabilities of their solutions. Its key products, Ateliere Connect and Discover, are described as cloud-native, multi-tenant SaaS solutions that enable customers to manage media assets and the media supply chain ‘from concept to customer’.

Operating on AWS and connecting directly to cloud services, Ateliere solutions are said to benefit from ‘core technology assets’ such as Deep Analysis and FrameDNA, which enable automatic deduplication of large content libraries and archives, reducing storage needs, cloud costs and carbon footprint.

Dan Goman, founder and CEO at Ateliere, comments: “What we are finding is that [media companies] are at the very least planning, or working on a plan, to transition to the cloud. There is a relatively small number who have actually started making the entire transition, and they have been working with vendors such as ourselves. But it’s still fairly early days, so the hybrid, stepped approach [is more commonplace].”

Although he suggests that most organisations now planning a brand new media facility would likely opt for a fully cloud-based approach, there are “still gaps to be addressed” in perfecting the newer operational models.

As Goman notes, it’s important to remember that “on-premise has been around a long time. Massive broadcast centres have [long-established] machines and processes, and that of course includes software solutions.” In some cases, a “lift and shift approach to the cloud” is not straightforward, with the absence in some areas of cloud-native solutions inhibiting the customers’ ability to “dynamically scale up and down” as required.

Like other observers, however, Goman implies that it’s likely only a matter of time before these challenges are minimised. In the meantime, developments showcased at IBC 2022 include the leveraging of cloud parallel processing that means customers can “onboard massive content libraries in a matter of days as opposed to months, as well as scale to support bursts in workloads at a moment’s notice.”

Pathway to new operating models

IBC2022 also promises to be significant for workflow and technology management specialist Three Media, which will present its XEN:Pipeline cloud-based SaaS media supply chain management platform, designed to automate and optimise content and metadata management workflows and business processes.

Debra Slater, founder and managing director of Three Media, hints that there are significant benefits to be accrued from a carefully calibrated migration to the cloud. “Done intelligently, moving from the ground to the cloud and adopting a media supply chain business model creates [a] competitive advantage, retaining audiences, controlling costs and maximising revenues.”

Taking account of a “re-imagined” industry landscape in which cloud and hybrid operational models are increasingly ubiquitous, XEN:Pipeline provides an orchestration layer sitting autonomously above all the technology being used by the customer. Its support for “consumption-based choices” means that customers can “start leveraging the benefits of the cloud” in the manner, and at the pace, they require.

Ideally, this migration should avoid simple replication of existing operations. Craig Bury, CTO of Three Media, says: “Our position is that the cloud is very much about new ways of working. It’s a massive transformational opportunity for companies.” In the next “10 or 15 years”, virtualisation will be the “only game in town, and as such you are going to see more and more organisations commit to the cloud wholeheartedly.”

The ongoing need for hybrid

In the meantime, Dalet – which showed products including its Dalet Flex media logistics, Dalet Pyramid next-generation news and Dalet Galaxy broadcast workflow platform solutions at IBC2022 – is also among those stressing the need for cloud adoption to be driven by individual customer needs.

Zarouk comments: “Providing cloud-based solutions is a key aspect of our offering, and the majority of our products – such as Dalet Flex, Dalet AmberFin and Dalet Pyramid – are now, most of the time, deployed entirely in the cloud by our customers. However, we believe that the need for hybrid operations remains a reality in specific cases, for instance in territories where Internet connectivity can be unstable or do not offer high bandwidth.”

He goes on to cite two specific issues which mean complete cloud deployments may not yet be right for all. “Performance is a first concern; latency for live production is a good example, but also bandwidth, especially for organisations working with heavy production formats (e.g., coming from camera cards).

“Cost is the second challenge. Depending on workflows, cloud costs can add up very quickly, especially data transfer. Post-production workflows, for instance, can generate significant costs with a fully cloud-based solution, especially if editing needs to be done using high-resolution materials.”

And whilst web-based editing using proxy files is now common for “fast-turnaround editing – typically for news or sports – moving a whole post-production process to the cloud is still a challenge.”

But whilst there is still much to be done, it’s important to acknowledge the pace of progress and the recent “step forward in the cloud ‘maturity’ of both suppliers and buyers. Buyers better understand benefits brought to them by the cloud, and have more confidence on the level of quality that a cloud solution can deliver. Suppliers have made great progress to really optimise their solutions and make the most out of what the cloud can offer. […]

“We believe that cloud will become the norm, but the iterative learning and transformation process for the industry to get there is still in progress.”

Listen to DAZN, Radagio, Altman Solon, TV3 Group and OTT Consulting talk about the challenges of content supply chain, online video platforms and direct-to-consumer streaming technology. Watch the Supply Chain and Streaming webinar.