It’s not the end-all, be-all answer for every production-based scenario. But according to some, it’s getting there.
Its capabilities to connect, streamline, produce and deliver have brought cloud-based production into the mainstream, with more cloud-based components being designed for the production ecosystem and more broadcasters using public cloud providers for high-value events and channels.
The reasons are plentiful, with two key issues taking the lead: the ability to save on infrastructure costs and the desire to accelerate change in an ecosystem that seems ready-made for innovation.
“Cloud technology enables broadcasters to spin up multiple environments/systems, tinker with new production workflows and then have a template for reuse or tear it all down—wash, rinse, repeat as needed,” said Dave Norman, principal sales engineer for Enterprise Products for Telestream. “Leveraging [the] cloud drives this pace of innovation by orders of magnitude.”
When comparing cloud-based workflows with on-prem environments, the velocity at which teams can experiment increases massively, Norman said, and the cost of innovating a new workflow with a “never done before” approach is minimal. Cloud production is rapidly becoming the great enabler of “doing more,” he said.
Cloud production should be seen as a step change in the speed of production, “whether that is across different shooting locations or just the speed of getting content edited, reviewed and to the consumer very quickly on social media platforms,” said Paul Scurrell, senior vice president of product for Atomos. “Productions just become more ‘real-time.’”
Another reason that cloud-based productions have taken off? Cost. From the start, a product cost is minimized because the focus of a production is on infrastructure that is managed and supported by a third party. As a result, broadcasters and content creators are able to spend fewer resources on infrastructure and can instead focus on production technologies at the event itself.
Cloud-based production is also being touted for its flexibility. After all, the ability to scale up and down and switch services on and off is easy to do when all the components are virtualized in the cloud, Scurrell said. “You basically use them—and pay for them—when you need them.”
The limit on a business’s production capacity is typically determined by the resources or equipment available. However, the use of cloud-based technology seeks to eliminate this restriction and allows resources to expand as demand for capacity increases, according to Harry Sampson, product manager of Cloud Production Solutions for Ross.
“By facilitating businesses to scale up or down based directly on their production requirements helps enable greater utilization while also reducing large upfront costs associated with building additional production facilities,” he said.
The efficiencies don’t stop there since cloud-based production also trickles down to staff and equipment efficiencies too.
“Engineers, production staff and editors can support and work on a cloud-based production from anywhere, therefore expanding the scope of a production and access to talent, Telestream’s Norman said. “Cloud-based production also allows a previously unseen level of flexibility—as needs increase and decrease throughout the lifespan of a production, additional resources can easily be allocated or scaled-down without the historic hindrance of capital expenditure, coordination and facility management.”
This is indicative of where the industry is headed.
“Deploying and managing a traditional on-premise production facility requires dedicated resources such as an IT department, commissioning and support teams as well as physical equipment rooms with air conditioning,” Sampson said. “By leveraging cloud-compute, businesses can benefit from increased efficiency by simplifying operations, automating tasks and minimizing manual intervention.”
When deploying in a cloud environment, significant time and cost savings can be made, with no need for shipping, installation or cabling, he added. “As a result, turning on and off a production environment can now realistically be a quick and simple task.”
“Remote production and the ability to create content from anywhere is now a permanent fixture,” he added. “Cloud-based technology allows businesses to deploy live production resources globally across multiple regions at the click of button and give operators immediate access from anywhere with an internet connection.”
The tools that facilitate those features are also maturing in capability.
Technology such as the Ross Production Cloud is designed to enable gains in efficiency, flexibility and scalability, which should result in improved costs while also simultaneously ensuring that customers have access to familiar user interfaces.
There are also technologies that can now quickly and cost-efficiently increase record channel capacity with cloud-deployed software. Telestream’s Lightspeed Live Capture software, for example, can run unshackled from physical hardware, meaning a user can increase their record footprint by sending contribution IP streams to a public cloud provider for recording sources that were previously not being recorded due to a lack of physical space at a venue. “As soon as the event is complete, you can simply sunset the cloud environment,” Norman said.
For some time, content creators have successfully turned to the cloud to send files of significant size during a production. Media Shuttle from Signiant, for example, allows a producer to leverage cloud storage and other cloud services in this way.
Adapting a New Mindset
As with any industry wide change, challenges remain—including concerns over security, availability, speed and access. It’s also important to note that cloud-based production requires a different skill set than those held by typical engineering teams who otherwise support on-premise technology.
“Production teams need to also adapt their mindset to embrace cloud-based productions,” Norman said. “There is some lack of tangibility, for instance, that exists in a fully cloud-based production that does not exist on-premise. Moreover, object storage is not file- or block-level storage, and there are some rough edges surrounding immediate access to objects that live in object storage.”
Other concerns remain too. “When working on A+ grade productions with HDR/SDR heterogenous color profiles, as an example, cloud production becomes challenging today, and on-prem gear/tools play a critical role,” he said.
Other roadblocks include concerns over network latency, bandwidth, interoperability, audio hiccups and transparent pricing. “It is important to acknowledge that production in the cloud may not be the ideal solution for all applications, and traditional hardware will undoubtedly continue to play a key role — let’s face it, some things have to stay on the ground,” said Ross’ Sampson. Yet despite these challenges, there are meaningful gains to be realized by leveraging cloud technology in live video production.
“Historically, cloud technology has always evolved at pace and I see our industry moving in the same direction; many of the current hurdles won’t be around for long,” he said.
What continues to draw interest, despite lingering challenges, is the flexibility and low cost of entry, said John Wastcoat, senior vice president of Strategic Alliances and Marketing for Zixi. “Broadcasters are starting to adopt these models because it allows them the flexibility to produce more content and events, something that would not fit legacy production budgets.
“With the changes in viewing habits and the proliferation of IP networks, cloud-based production models are certain to take over traditional production models,” he added.
Even the significant investment in legacy equipment won’t necessarily keep broadcasters from considering some type of cloud-based model. Enabling hybrid on-prem and cloud-based production environments is a key milestone to full cloud migration, according to Telestream’s Norman.
“If a broadcaster or content creator needs to run any type of production and they already possess premise-based equipment—as well as the staff that knows how to operate and support it — there is no need to swap this model for a cloud one instantly,” he said. Cloud-based production enables additional options for doing more than they can currently offer on-prem.”
What else is ahead for cloud-based production? In the next year or two the industry can expect to see cloud production use cases trend upwards, with broadcasters continuing to experiment with more events/channels and the leveraging of public cloud providers. Some high-value productions will continue to leverage on-prem technologies while more cloud-based components will appear in the production ecosystem — and perhaps become the standard approach.
While the industry is not quite ready today for full-time production in the cloud, the future looks to be bright.
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Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.