Broadcasters are becoming more comfortable with cloud-based media transport for all kinds of production, including live events.
It’s arguable that one key marker of how deeply a technology has become enmeshed in the M&E landscape is the confidence with which people use it for live events – especially those involving premium content for which there can be no margin of error. In terms of the cloud and media transport, it seems that a tipping point is not too far off as companies everywhere begin to grapple with the serious questions underpinning that transition.
“I think the industry is presently at a kind of crossroads,” says Johan Bolin, CTO at Agile Content, which acquired video content development and distribution specialist Edgeware in December 2020. “There is a consensus view that people want to move towards cloud infrastructure and towards being IP and internet based. But there is also still a degree of head-scratching going on about precisely which is the best approach to take.”
Although it might take a while for the mist to clear, he expects customers to retain a strong focus on seeing what extra the cloud can provide on top of their existing workflows. “The whole idea is that it should be possible to leverage the innovation that happens on the internet to our advantage,” says Bolin, “so it seems reasonable to anticipate [customers wanting] fresh capabilities” as a result of migrating to the cloud.
Simon Harrison is head of product at M2A Media, a media services company specialising in online live event orchestration via public cloud.
He depicts an industry in an interesting period of change in which “significant portions of broadcaster infrastructure have been migrated to public or private cloud for years” – while elsewhere there is some evidence of companies “taking comfort in the familiar”, which is perhaps unsurprising given the “uncertain times” we are living through.
“The whole idea is that it should be possible to leverage the innovation that happens on the internet to our advantage,” Johan Bolin, Agile Content
Where companies are moving more live production to the cloud, it tends to be in a phased way that begins with one or two specific requests. Harrison explains: “You asked about interest in the migration and I’d say that it tends not to be general but targeted interest. So it might be along the lines of, for example, ‘given that you can handle insertion of localised ad-breaks to the stream, can you also…?’ or ‘given you deliver that format in that territory, can you also…?’. We find that one scenario leads to another and that’s the real beauty of working with public cloud resources: it allows you to work in that way.”
M2A’s services portfolio includes not only the creation of live B2C streams, but also the supply of localised variants through audio shuffling, local playlist insertion, dynamic ad insertion and more. Harrison adds: “We provide global transport and syndication of live broadcast-grade streams, with secure down-to-the-wire authorisation. All resources are dynamically allocated and scaled to schedule instruction.”
Specific solutions geared towards live content include the streaming product M2A Live, which “started off as an available-as-necessary, flexible, scalable solution to provide resilience on tap, but it’s developed into something with a really rich feature set. Working with global OTT players has been great for extending our cloud offering into new territories, so on top of providing the ABR output for all the global regions, we’ve worked to localise via audio shuffling, inserted regional playlists and advertising into the live streams, and also built hooks into Google for the serving of user-specific ad content.”
Looking forward, Harrison also has high hopes for the M2A Connect product for content owners and takers, which allows broadcast-grade streams to be aggregated, distributed and transported globally through AWS regions: “We’re very happy with the ease of distribution which we’ve already delivered to our content owners and their partners, and over the next few months we’re going to be handing more and more control of what were previously complex tasks to our UI. The standard set-up time quoted for new connectivity has been 90 days for years, and our aim is to get that down to minutes.”
Hybrid cloud demand
For media asset management solutions provider Tedial, CTO Julian Fernandez-Campon portrays a “significant level of interest” in adopting a hybrid cloud solution since the pandemic began in 2020.
The “multiple use cases” that support the use of the hybrid cloud include “multisite workflows where operation is split between different locations; the use of AI tools to enrich local content; remote operation; maximising content accessibility; and substantial content distribution – using cloud services to scale up and down as required, without the need to dimension the platform for peaks in operation.”
He agrees with the suggestion that both advances in transport standards and cloud security are helping organisations feel more confident about making the move: “SRT [Secure Reliable Transport], SMPTE ST-2110 and any other IP protocols are going to play a key role in live events, as they offer a way to acquire and process the video coming in live from different sources. We can say it ‘opens’ live production by moving from the old SDI approach where it was all done on premise, into multiple use cases where the content is produced and distributed in the cloud by accessing the IP streams.”
In terms of security, this has “become a key issue for broadcasters and it can definitely accelerate the transition into the cloud as cloud vendors offer a high level of security”, says Fernandez-Campon. “They have dedicated teams and are continuously upgrading and securing the infrastructure to fix any vulnerabilities. In addition, a well-architected system in the cloud includes all the best practices to minimise the security risks. For this it’s key that the solution is well-designed. Tedial’s Microservices infrastructure follows standards in security and minimises any risk. This is extensible to a hybrid environment where all the microservices can be secured in a similar way and where the external and high-risk access takes place in the cloud.”
“A well-architected system in the cloud includes all the best practices to minimise the security risks,” Julian Fernandez-Campon, Tedial
Meanwhile, he indicates that Integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) will play a major role in progressing this more fluid, hybridised approach to transport and other processes. “iPaaS is a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution and governance of integrations and connecting any combination of on premise and cloud-based processes, services, applications and data within individual or across multiple organisations,” he explains. “A media-centric iPaaS-based solution is designed to support projects requiring high availability/disaster recovery, security, service-level agreements and technical support from the provider.”
Secure and reliable transportation
As the original developer of the SRT protocol, Haivision has undoubtedly made a major contribution to the future of video transport, with its own SRT Gateway scalable broadcast solution available as a dedicated appliance or for deployment in the cloud.
Its most recent development, however, is Haivision Hub – made available in June 2021, it provides an easy-to-use video network service for securely and reliably transporting live IP video from event locations to on premise or cloud broadcast production with end-to-end, secure video routing.
- Read more: The complexities of moving to the cloud
Utilising Microsoft Azure cloud services, Haivision Hub is aimed at “simplifying the process of getting content from a live event to the broadcast resource and then to sharing it beyond that as required”, explains Haivision VP of Product Marketing Marcus Schioler.
“It’s all about simplifying processes to do with connectivity. So, for example, you could have one input as an SRT stream, then send that across an Azure backdrop to a number of different outputs, including an SRT output. There are lots of other options too.”
Haivision Hub features include integrated device control, stream optimisation, and status and monitoring, all from a single browser window. As well as news and sport applications requiring on-demand low-latency video contribution, Schioler says the product is resonating with corporate and other event customers.
Some organisations will inevitably feel more comfortable than others with moving full-tilt to the cloud for live contribution. Hence a hybrid approach is likely to be prevalent for the foreseeable future, although the overall direction of travel towards far greater use of the cloud is clear.
Schioler is not alone in suggesting that we are in the midst of a transitory arc “lasting about three to five years, in which there is still a lot more to come. At the moment there are plenty of broadcasters trying to figure out what they will need long-term” – a point of reflection that is meaning many are “working out how to manage a hybrid environment while preparing the way for what will eventually be much more ‘cloud-forward’.”