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From hamstrung to empowered: Achieving broadcasting in balance with the cloud

Hamish Muiry, head of business development and partnership at M2A Media, explains how rights owners and broadcasters can augment their existing workflows with new technologies, deepening their offering to viewers without dislocating from their core business

As the world opens up, and we once again enjoy eating out and trips to cinemas, pubs and clubs with friends, the battle to grab our attention in the time we do spend in front of streaming services is hotter than ever. Add to this the global economic crises, and it’s fair to say that broadcasters now face perhaps the most competitive landscape yet in the battle for eyeballs. 

However, within this, live sports continue to be a growth area for broadcasters and live sports rights are still going for big money. The value is high because the rights seller and buyer both understand that a live sports proposition, for those who can afford it, is central to any OTT offering. A strong rights portfolio, however, also has strength in depth.

Sports come in all shapes and sizes, and often, broadcasters secure the rights to smaller sports as part of larger deals. However, the value of these rights often goes unrealised as they are unable to get the content to air, because the distribution cost is disproportionate to the likely viewership.

Further, the highly complex concurrent scheduling of events means that a broadcaster literally doesn’t have the bandwidth to run events through their on-premises infrastructure. As a result, an engineering department, hamstrung by inflexible infrastructure, may need to push back on a sports-rights team looking to realise the value of newly contracted sports-rights.

Empower broadcast operations 

Enter the on-demand delivery of IT resources over the internet on a PAYG basis, AKA the cloud. But clouds too, come in all shapes and sizes. Modernising broadcast video pipelines and the path to cloud adoption is different for every broadcaster. Adoption milestones evolve from low-risk development to mission-critical workflows to organisations ultimately becoming ‘all in’.

When it comes to media services for broadcasting in the cloud, AWS Media Services is widely regarded as the market leader. Yet it’s not just simply about choosing the right cloud infrastructure provider. Broader company strategy, engineering resource, and delivery timelines will dictate the decision to build or buy software to orchestrate the cloud media services for optimisation. Once businesses have built or bought, a decision then needs to be made as to which department is going to manage the service. It’s an M2A philosophy that any live service which needs to scale on-demand should be driven by the frontline operational teams and should therefore be intuitive to use. Importantly this also frees up engineering teams to work on technical strategy where they can add their real business value. When capacity in the sports schedule is peaking, or delivering live events isn’t core business but a new strategy, cloud services are the way to acquire, transform, and distribute additional events in a ‘pop up’ style, direct to consumer. 

Balancing act

This is not either or. If it were, I think, right now, on-prem would win and the industry would stagnate.  It’s about finding the balance where rights owners and broadcasters can augment their existing workflows with new technologies, deepening their offering to viewers without dislocating from their core business.

There are several key technologies with mature offerings in the cloud IP space that are changing the game. With quality and reliability of contribution encoders increasing versus cost, moving HD quality feeds direct from venue over the internet or public cloud opens up a range of options for ancillary feeds from top-tier sports or primary feeds from lower-tier. Once in the cloud, schedule-driven orchestration of event-based or ‘Pop Up’ channels enable media operations teams to apply slates and create on-the-fly transformations such as graphics overlays, commentary variants, and apply standards conversion. These technologies when applied together in a best-of-breed approach provide a business value that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Is cloud ultimately becoming a primary means of handling broadcast distribution? In my view, it’s likely inevitable that cloud infrastructure and software services will get close enough to on-prem in performance, that the flexibility and scalability gains will tip the cost-benefit in cloud’s favour. Don’t believe me, just compare where we were five years ago with today. The rate of progress is exponential. Certainly, for event-based sports broadcasting, switching on and off IT resources as a utility is a no brainer. Rights-owners and broadcasters will start with lower-value content and build into the premium space. They will try new cloud workflows, they’ll fail occasionally, but they’ll fail fast, understanding that small failures lead to big innovation.