Alibaba Cloud head of international product – media telco & sports – Glyn Stewart Smith looks at the complicated cloud market for media and broadcast companies 

Cloud for broadcasting

Cloud: Broadcasters looking to the cloud to help meet current challenges

The cloud story for broadcast, media and entertainment has many different characters and more than a few plot twists.  

Broadcasters see the value in cloud environments, either hybrid mode or all in. The media ecosystem companies who specialise in transcoding, digital rights management, OTT video and all the other specialist services, are re-architecting their products to meet their customers’ demands. 
They want to provide access to a new value chain by using a cloud platform in order to offer clients streamlined processes and better services. Those same customers want to be on the cloud to reduce costs and make content ready for new markets.  

New value chain 
For firms servicing the content owners, especially those smaller and medium sized businesses, cloud challenges are not always what they seem.  

Some have found that when pivoting their business to the cloud, what they thought would be a pure technical hurdle in fact presents greater commercial and cultural challenges.  

Broadcast clients are used to operating a complex supply chain of best of breed domain expert partners in fields such as postproduction, VFX, Codecs, video transcoding, media asset management and digital rights management. Today, what many companies have in common, whether they are independent software vendors or other technology providers, is the need to re-architect solutions to sit on a cloud. What is clear is that the broadcast production value chain is becoming more software and services based. This is exposing some companies to new commercial realities because broadcast and content owner clients see cloud as an opportunity to move from capital investment to Opex spend.  

Selling, installing, commissioning and servicing dedicated on prem hardware or software could result in booking tens (or hundreds) of thousands of pounds in revenue. When this level of investment moves to a pay as you go subscription service, say at £3,000-10,000 per month, it can be very painful in cash flow terms. While long-term subscription based recurring revenues are healthy (and often preferred by investors) it can present short term commercial pressure. The change to a services model can be a big culture shock to the people and the business that is used to booking revenues in large lumps.  

And the challenges don’t end there.  

Client-side broadcast companies are demanding the better service levels delivered through cloud, but with much less exposure. So instead of signing a cloud-based service contract for 24 or 36 months, they want the flexibility of expanding and contracting in response to their needs on a pay as you go basis.  

A CTO from a UK public service broadcaster told a recent conference audience of technology partners that he was happy to invest in cloud so long as what he was being offered was real cloud. The message was that if a solution was pitched to him as cloud, it needed to have true cloud attributes.  

Running an API (Application Programming Interface) is different from a software solution; instead of just managing the code your company has written, now the full stack has to be documented, operated and managed. Instead of relying on a pool of resellers to be the interface to customers and handling most support requests, is the ecosystem willing to own the whole solution? As cloud-based solutions become easier to use, it’s a far less onerous task than it sounds. 

So, what’s the imperative for moving to cloud?  

Glyn Smith - Alibaba - bigger file requested

Glyn Stewar Smith: Head of International Product at Alibaba cloud

Why cloud? Why now? 
Content owner clients are becoming alive to the opportunities of cloud to meet the challenge of going global. And in the current pandemic business conditions they are looking at cloud to help meet the challenges of remote working and remote access. They see the benefits it provides of faster, more efficient, more flexible and secure services and the value of using it to open up new markets. But content owners must move to the cloud while maintaining regulatory compliance. They must also find new markets without cannibalising existing revenues.   

It is not simply a case of choosing a cloud and migrating content. Processes, people, policy, security, and compliance considerations cannot be afterthoughts. They are the basis for successful cloud use.  

Compliance is a massive factor for any move into the cloud. The first thing content owners must do is to look to the regulators and say, “I’m going to be safe and am I going to be compliant. And I can prove it, the cloud offers a way of tracking everything, and providing data (in real time if needed) on all activities and how this is within the confines of a ‘policy’. 

For businesses who are used to operating digital infrastructure within owned and managed environments, the cloud presents new considerations.  

Can the cloud be said to be inherently more secure than owned infrastructure? The short answer is yes. But that does not mean broadcasters can simply outsource 100% of the risk to the platform operator. A cloud platform provider should be a partner for whom security is key. Yet to a regulator, responsibility for the content remains with the owner. The fact that a partner happens to be on the other side of an API, rather than being at the end of a cable doesn’t alter the fact that security and compliance is a shared responsibility. Security is, and, will remain the first job and in the cloud that requires new set of processes and new oversight regimes to ensure compliance.  

The platform operator is a provider of tools. How those tools are used and how educated a user content team becomes, is the responsibility of client. The operator can provide the methodologies and best practices and when followed, what is done in the cloud will be more secure than on premise operations.  

Architecting best practices into a ‘cloud’ platform, requires the same skills as traditional on premises, networking, security, operations etc. Now though being able to do this ‘in code’, with the required upskilling required.  

To take the example of migrating content to a cloud. The content must be securely ingested to the cloud. Consider, can your platform provider securely store content for access from the client side? With server-side encryption in the cloud, it is more secure than doing it on premises. This is not about doing everything the same, but about doing it better. 

Cloud relationships are deep and broad 
Broadcast solution choices come down to best of breed versus single source. Cloud infrastructure may be becoming a level playing field in terms of availability and cost, but accessing and availability of specific solutions that sit on scalable platforms, provide real competitive advantage. 

Broadcast has always been about ecosystems of partners developing new solutions across the value chain. As these solutions are increasingly digital and software based, new value is being created on cloud platforms. Partner expertise gravitates to the platforms which aren’t monolithic, and which don’t compete on services. This is creating true level playing field opportunities for partners, based on transparency and flexibility while enabling customers to stay agile and move fast. It also allows the content owners and their partners to industrialise the media supply chain, taking full advantage of scale, agility etc. 

For owners – when done properly – the cloud means grabbing global opportunities and audiences from anywhere in the world, and it is in this new media landscape, that new relationships are being built; and these will require deep engagement between the broadcaster, platform provider and ecosystem of domain expert technical partners.

Join IBC’s virtual event IBC SHOWCASE (8-11 September). Online and on demand, the IBC SHOWCASE provides you with a flavour of IBC. Register free to join your community.