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Realizing the potential of the cloud for live video production

Thu 10, 12 2020

Robert Szabo-Rowe 

VP Engineering and Sales

The appetite for compelling live content is soaring, particularly live sports programming. Rethink TV has estimated that global sports rights will grow by up to 75 percent between 2020 and 2024, making it clear that live content remains king. This trend is particularly evident among younger audiences, with Nielsen figures showing that two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds watching linear TV preferred to watch live content. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the same proportion of all consumers worldwide is now streaming online coverage of live events. This demand is, in turn, putting pressure on broadcasters and other rightsholders to adapt their workflows to meet greater and more varied needs for high-quality live content.

The fact is the way in which consumers engage with live content is evolving and, as a result, the media landscape is rapidly fragmenting. Even before the lockdown and restrictions posed by the global health crisis, streaming services witnessed a surge in popularity. COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend, as audiences under shelter-in-place orders have turned to streaming platforms as their source of news and entertainment. Twitch, the leading esports streaming service, recorded an historic 83% year-on-year jump in viewing during the second quarter, according to a report from StreamLabs and Stream Hatchet. Social media is also emerging as a primary source of live content – 22 percent of fans now seek live sports via social media platforms, research from GlobalWebIndex shows.

The upshot of this media fragmentation is that broadcasters and other live content producers now face a fresh challenge: finding cost-effective ways to produce and deliver more content in increasingly dynamic formats – from shoulder programming to coverage of smaller and niche events. Efficiently filling the growing number of programming hours across an increasing array of platforms, while still meeting audience expectations for high production values, is the tough task content providers face today. In light of these developments, cloud-based production models have emerged as a compelling option.

Embracing a new era of content

Media organizations must move towards a future in which they can leverage new approaches and technologies to produce and deliver more live programming than ever to an increasingly diverse audience – and achieve this without overstretching resources. Cloud-based production answers the call to this need, enabling media players of all types and sizes – across all geographies – to remain competitive in an industry that is more dynamic than ever.

Basic cloud production tools enable workflow processes to be implemented via a hosted platform. To meet more comprehensive needs, cloud-based 'Production-as-a-Service' offerings, such as The Switch’s MIMiC platform, can deliver an end-to-end service that includes everything from remote IP video contribution and production to clipping and distribution. The on-demand production model enables the entire production workflow – including editing, graphics creation and comms – to be handled within the cloud. Then distribution via private fiber networks or over-the-top (OTT) services ensures that produced feeds can be delivered to viewers in any country on any platform.

The cloud approach to production offers clear cost advantages, but other benefits can be equally important to content producers. Next to cost, flexibility can be a critical benefit. With a cloud solution in place, content producers can quickly adapt to any circumstance, regardless of the event's location, crew members whereabouts, distribution method and target content. IP-based networks are increasingly becoming the dominant means of distributing new content, making it easier to adapt existing workflows to cloud-based technologies and software-defined architectures without making physical changes to the hardware.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen just how important adaptability has become. With crews forced to operate within lockdown conditions, social distancing guidelines and other safety restrictions, many editors have needed to be able to operate from remote locations – often using just a browser to tap into cloud production capabilities. Bringing together video, IP networks, and cloud-based tools on the same platform provides a powerful combination that allows production staff to support a range of content outputs, each with its own specific requirements.

Optimizing efficiency, speed and reliability

Cloud-based production delivers a quick pace and level of efficiency that is critical to successfully producing live or even virtual event coverage today. The cloud approach ensures proficiency by taking the complexity out of live event coverage. It makes it easier to staff crews and sort other logistics regardless of location, all while minimizing the need for travel, freight and extra resourcing on the ground.

The quick turnaround of highlights, replays and social media posts is another major advantage of the cloud approach. Near real-time production capability is becoming increasingly important as consumer habits evolve. For instance, 75 million sports fans in the United States regularly watch highlight packages, according to Ring Digital's 2020 Future of TV Survey, with many fans looking for instant summaries of the best action when they don’t have time to view whole games. Fans demand for packaged clips across all platforms for sports, and even other live events such as awards shows, means that a delay of minutes – or even seconds – opens rightsholders to the risk of losing out to rivals and pirated content sources. A cloud approach helps minimize such threats.

Reliability is also crucial for live TV. A cloud-based production environment can run transparently, securely and independently of the main broadcast feed from a major event, allowing existing workflows to run as usual. In cases where the cloud workflow is the primary production and distribution method, its highly virtualized and microservices-based architectures eliminate the risk of a single point of failure. Cloud production can also be architected to offer a pass-through backup that can go straight from contribution to encoding, then CDN distribution. This feature acts like an override switch to avoid a 'black screen' situation.

Kick-starting the industry transition

Broadcasters, rights holders and other content producers face many challenges in today’s live production landscape where new approaches are essential. In a world where consumers expect richer, more varied content experiences, cloud-based production has come into its own. It offers a cost-effective, flexible, efficient, fast and dependable way of enabling content producers of all types to meet consumer demand for professional quality across multiple platforms. Innovative broadcasters and production companies are already leveraging cloud-based production benefits as they seek to grow their content offerings quickly and efficiently.

Cloud production, like many internet-driven innovations, is easy to deploy and provides a technical architecture that works alongside existing broadcast workflows, without putting well-established processes at risk. With remote production emerging as the workflow of the future across a whole spectrum of live TV, streaming, and social media events, cloud-based production and services will play a growing role in transforming an industry moving progressively to an all-IP future.

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