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The cost of the cloud

14 September 2014

A straw poll in the session on ‘The Cloud and Broadcast TV’ found that only a handful of broadcasters are not yet using some kind of cloud capabilities, but the weight of the usage is in preparation and distribution of content and not on production, particularly for live events.

“We use cloud throughout the production chain. We aren’t religious about it,” said Paul Clark, technology controller, online, pay and interactive at ITV in the UK. However, ITV has “stayed away” from using the cloud for file asset management, which the company is moving to entirely this year. All content files will come in DPP format at 120 Mbps.

“If we were to try and manage those master assets in the cloud the time it would take would be prohibitively expensive for us.”
This is particularly crucial for big live entertainment shows like The X Factor and I’m a Celebrity… shows that need to be turned around and available for a range of platforms including the ITV Player. So ITV transcodes them on an owned site and distributes from there. “This is the hardest nut to crack,” said Clark.

Sky also uses mostly a hybrid strategy in relation to the cloud. Some 50% of Sky’s set top boxes are connected and there is a big focus on monetisation services and serving live content to its subscribers. “Our customers love our content and they tend to love it at exactly the same time,” said Matt McDonald, director of broadcast services, BSkyB.

“Scaling in live sport for example is massively important to provide that elasticity. And we don’t want to build for the peaks of usage, so we use private cloud for normal throughput and public cloud for the overflow and the big (usage) peaks. It’s very important from an economics perspective.”

Sky, ITV and Viaplay in Sweden all see demand for their services from a growing number of devices. “People’s expectations are extremely high right now and so we have to decide where the cloud is applicable,” says McDonald.

Solving these demand problems is going to get more important as broadcasters move toward 4K quality video and the economics and the capacity of the cloud are still issues. “Moving a lot of what we do today into the cloud would be horrendously expensive,” says McDonald. “It’s all well and good building out cloud native applications but for vendors they have to find a commercial model that takes advantage of that.”

Total online traffic for the World Cup rose 71% between 2010 and 2014, underlining the rampant growth in online video, according to statistics from streaming provider Akamai and that rate of growth is something that is not confined to live football.

“This is the kind of growth rate we see across our platform in general,” said Tom Leighton, CEO of Akamai. “Quality, at scale and at low cost are real drivers and we have a lot of our company working on that. We call it the ‘grand challenge’.”

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