Playout is the technology used in broadcasting to effectively transmit media content to target audiences. It has been gradually moving to the cloud for a number of years, as notably illustrated by Discovery Communications in 2018 when it moved playout of 300 channels to the cloud using technology from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Evertz. Many other service providers have followed suit since then.

The Covid-19 pandemic also further reinforced the need for playout solutions that allow for remote operation. In 2021, a report from UK-based media industry association DPP highlighted how broadcasters and service providers “were reporting fast and enthusiastic adoption of cloud playout technology, enabling a more agile and flexible approach to content delivery”.

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Cloud playout enables a more agile and flexible approach to content delivery

While working in the cloud helped operators to solve the immediate crisis created by pandemic-related lockdowns and other restrictions, the challenge now is to make this switch for the longer term.

Cloud benefits

Indeed, cloud playout is said to bring a number of benefits in terms of cost savings, flexibility, scalability and efficiency. According to DPP, the operational (opex) model of cloud technology makes it much easier to create popup channels and live direct to consumer streams for major events. DPP also cites the scalability of cloud solutions, and the ability to create resilient systems with appropriate levels of redundancy and failover.

Bart Lozia - CEO Better Software Group

Bart Lozia, Better Software Group

Meghna Krishna, chief revenue officer at Magnifi, agrees that the pandemic proved to be a turning point for content. “With more production teams working remotely, many brands, publishers, and broadcasters switched to a cloud-based playout. Having all their assets and workflows in a single, accessible location gave their teams unprecedented agility. They could create video content from anywhere, anytime,” Krishna says.

She adds: “Even with the pandemic behind us, most creatives have grown in remote or hybrid work arrangements. In this kind of environment, companies must keep their cloud-based playout, or switch to it if they haven’t done it already to remain competitive. These organisations will not only attract and retain the best talent, but they will produce content with greater agility than their peers.”

Bart Lozia, CEO of Better Software Group (BSG), has a similar view. “Without a doubt, the implementation of cloud services into the media sphere will increase. By just taking a look at the previous years we see that there’s been a huge move toward utilising cloud-based playback. Reducing structural complexities that can turn out to be problematic is one of the main reasons for such a change, not to mention the great extent of cost savings both upfront and in the long run,” he says.

Rick Young, SVP and head of global products at LTN Global, also observes that media companies “are embracing cloud-based playout solutions that provide greater business agility, flexible location agnostic workflows and drive ROI on high value content”.

Rick Young, SVP, Head of Global Products

Rick Young, LTN Global

In order to make it all happen, Young says, “low latency, time synced, live feed delivery to cloud environments and ultra-reliable, often multicast, distribution of channels from clouds are critical to success. We’re also seeing increased interest in solutions that help content owners automatically spin up multiple versions of a core linear channel to reach cross-platform audiences while serving diverse regional and demographic audiences with tailored programming. Simplified channel versioning and customisation in all forms is foundational to make it all work.”

He points out that media companies need to deliver more channels and more live events to audiences on more platforms and devices than ever before. “And they need to do this more efficiently while minimising capex and streamlining processes. The significant challenge for media organisations is to scale their content distribution across digital/ OTT platforms and FAST services to get their best content to viewers wherever they are watching, efficiently and at scale.”

Cloud challenges

As DPP noted back in 2021, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when switching playout to the cloud. “The approach for a broadcaster producing live and interactive content will differ to a broadcaster delivering only pre-recorded content, for example,” DPP said at the time.

Krishna from Magnifi said that beyond the need for adoption, “the greatest challenge with cloud-based playouts is technical. Providers must continue to innovate, enabling brands to tap into increasingly powerful features all from the cloud. At Magnifi, for example, we equip our clients with a comprehensive feature suite that includes meta-tagging, clip auto-generation, auto-flipping, personalisation, and more.”

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Video in consumers desired format

She adds: “Of course, this is only a starting point. To convert more publishers, providers of cloud-based playouts must continue to add to this feature set, so that it is exponentially better than what is available on-premises. For example, we offer auto-creation of Google Webstories with customised templates and multiple language options allowing for real time updates and higher engagement.”

According to BSG’s Lozia, “the biggest problems are the security threats as the used data and materials are often under strict regulations regarding the distribution processes. Fortunately, with the popularity of cloud-based playback comes the widespread knowledge and experience that is needed to deliver highly secure systems. Trustworthy partners during solution creation, the ones that seek, thoroughly test out and implement protective measures, are the key to success.”

Both Krishna and Lozia emphasise that industry players should continue to drive this kind of innovation in cloud-based playouts. For content owners that wish to invest in the management of their assets and future expansion of their service, Lozia says that the choice is obvious. “Get on board as quickly as you can or stay behind,” he advises.

Krishna adds: “The only question left is operational: When do we get started? The answer, now!”