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Moving to the Cloud to meet the growing demand for an array of content

The Switch's Robert Szabo-Rowe explores how rights holders, broadcasters and other content producers can fill a larger number of hours of live sports content across multiple platforms with Cloud-based production services.

From sports and news programming to awards shows and concerts, the global demand for live content shows no signs of fading – and broadcasters, rightsholders and other content owners are feeling the pressure. Five billion YouTube videos watched every day, Netflix hitting 139 million global subscribers and the cost of global sports rights expected to soar by 75 per cent over the next five years makes clear that content is king – especially live event programming. The power of live video is particularly evident among younger viewers, with Nielsen figures showing that, within the 18-34-year-old demographic, two-thirds (66 per cent) of those watching linear TV preferred to watch live content. A similar proportion (67 per cent) of all consumers worldwide are now streaming online coverage of live events, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

At the same time, the way consumers engage with this content is evolving and fragmenting. Even before the world faced lockdown and other restrictions, streaming services witnessed a surge in popularity. Covid-19 has only accelerated this trend, as audiences restricted to their homes have looked to streaming platforms for relief. Twitch, the leading esports streaming platform, saw a record-breaking 83 per cent 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 content – in the case of sports, 22 per cent of fans now seek live sports via social media platforms, research from GlobalWebIndex shows.

For broadcasters and other live content producers, there is a knock-on effect: they need to find cost-effective ways to produce more versions of more content – from shoulder programming to coverage of smaller and niche events. The big question facing most is how to efficiently fill the growing number of programming hours across an increasing array of platforms, while still meeting audience expectations for high production values. Many are now looking to new Cloud-based production models for an answer.

All set for a new content era

To remain competitive in this dynamic market, media organisations 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. This is where Cloud-based production is coming into its own. 

Cloud TV production tools enable workflow processes to be implemented via a hosted platform, while Cloud-based ‘Production-as-a-Service’ offerings can deliver an end-to-end service that includes everything from remote IP-video contribution and production to clipping and distribution. The on-demand model can enable the entire production workflow – including editing, graphics creation and comms – to be handled within the Cloud, while distribution via over-the-top (OTT) services or private fibre networks ensures livestreams can reach viewers around the world on any platform.

Cloud-based production offers clear advantages in terms of cost, but there are a host of other benefits too – the most compelling of which is flexibility. With a Cloud methodology in place, content producers can quickly adapt to any circumstance, regardless of the location of the event, staff, distribution method and target content. With IP-based networks becoming the dominant means of distributing new content, it is now easy to modify existing workflows to cloud-based technologies and software-defined architectures without having to make physical changes to the hardware.

The importance of adaptability has come to the fore during the pandemic. As they operate within Covid-related restrictions, remote editors using Cloud-based production can work from home with just a browser. Having video, IP networks and Cloud-based production tools accessible via the same platform provides a powerful combination that allows production staff to support a range of content outputs, each with their own specific needs. 

Boosting efficiency, speed and reliability

In the fast-paced world of live production, the efficiency that Cloud-based production delivers can also be critical in effectively producing live or even virtual event coverage – whether a big game, the red carpet, or a music festival. Cloud production optimises efficiency simply by taking the complexity out of live event coverage, reducing the need for travel, freight and extra resourcing on the ground.

A Cloud-based approach also helps with the fast turnaround of highlights, replays and social media posts, due to the sheer production speed it enables during delivery of live event coverage. Consumer 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 rights holders to the risk of losing viewership to rivals and pirated content sources. A Cloud approach helps negate such threats.

In the world of live telecast and streaming, rock solid reliability is also critical. A Cloud production environment can run transparently, securely and independently of the main broadcast feed from a major event, allowing existing workflows to run as normal. In cases where the cloud workflow is the primary production and distribution method, the highly virtualised and microservices-based architectures eliminates the risk of a single point of failure. Cloud production can also be architected to offer a pass-through ‘clean feed’ that can go straight from contribution to encoding, then CDN distribution. This acts like an override switch to ensure that a ‘black screen’ situation is always avoided.

Taking an industry into the Cloud

As broadcasters, rights holders and content producers take on the challenges of a new live production landscape in which 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 immediacy across multiple platforms. The benefits of Cloud-based production are already being leveraged by innovative broadcasters and production companies as they seek to grow their content offering quickly and efficiently.

The use of 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. As remote production emerges as the preferred workflow across a whole spectrum of live TV, streaming and social media events, Cloud-based production and services will play a growing role in a transformation of the industry to an all-IP future.