Guest Comment: The benefits of virtualised playout

Don Ash, PlayBox Technology

Don Ash, PlayBox Technology

Cloud has forever changed the IT landscape – from storage to virtualised machines, writes PlayBox Technology president Don Ash. And as the IT industry slowly merges with broadcast, it stands to reason that cloud will have a tremendous role to play in the production, storage and transmission of quality content. While it is already being adopted in various areas of the workflow, it is slow and is being held back by a number of concerns. These include network performance and storage requirements.

While it is true that historically broadcasters have been conservative when it comes to the uptake of new technologies, the broadcast industry is moving into telco territory where these companies have experience with cloud, virtualisation and IP – all aspects that are set to change the face of how we capture, process, store and distribute content.

According to a report by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), cloud is most likely to be adopted in distribution first, and then production. This is certainly true considering cloud has been in non-linear or OTT distribution for several years already.

Automated playout, in particular, is realising the benefits of using cloud services. And when it comes to capital intensive ventures like outside broadcasting (OB) or live production, this is even more true. Looking at sports broadcasting, typically large-scale and expensive, automated playout using cloud can be a cost-effective and efficient option, especially for one-time or seasonal events.

Often broadcasters send OB trucks and a staff of engineers to a site, whether it be for an annual tennis tournament or a high profile once-every-four-years athletics gathering. This requires a significant investment in equipment, the hiring or relocating of staff and complicated logistics. The process becomes even more complex and cost-intensive when the broadcast needs to be aired across multiple regions. If a broadcaster wants to transmit an event in the UK, to the US and Asia, for example, at the same time, rather than playing out straight from source, the content needs to be uplinked to a satellite, downlinked to studios on both locations, repackaged and then played out.

Cost-saving potential

When you introduce cloud into the ecosystem the cost-savings are tremendous. The content is only uplinked to the satellite once and broadcasters can use a fibre network, instead of having to establish a transatlantic link. Essentially, when using cloud playout, broadcasters can give the relevant content and schedules to the ecosystem where the servers are based using a fibre network. The content can then be repurposed and uploaded to satellite only when it’s ready to be delivered to the home.

Apart from the fact that broadcasters don’t need to ship equipment to site, or hire it, because everything can be done in the cloud, the whole process can be down in near real-time with no latency from satellite up and downlinks.

The industry is in transition – there’s little doubt about that. We’re moving more and more towards a service-based offering, and away from hardware-intensive solutions. And as broadcasters and content providers realise the benefit of new technologies and convergence with IT continues, cloud will most certainly dominate. Historical obstacles, like issues around security, have been sufficiently overcome (again, aided by the experience of telcos) and now all that remains is for broadcasters and even service providers to take further steps to cement the use of cloud throughout the broadcast workflow.

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