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Why networks are retiring broadcast video playout servers

June 27, 2022

By VinodKumar Ramachandran, Senior Director - Product Management, Amagi

While content owners large and small are moving to the cloud in droves, some broadcasters are still wary of cloud-based playout. Much of this reluctance comes from lingering fears and misconceptions about the capabilities of cloud broadcasting software versus traditional, on-premise broadcast video playout servers.

Backed by our award-winning, broadcast-grade cloud playout solution, Amagi CLOUDPORT, we've helped many companies make the leap to cloud playout (like A+E Networks UK and ABS-CBN Corporation). ABS-CBN reported a nearly 30% savings in operational costs by transitioning their global channels to Amagi.

Many of the companies we speak with have the same concerns and questions about cloud playout: Will the video quality be good enough? Are the trade-offs worth the financial and operational improvement? In this post, we hope to answer those questions for you. We cover…

  • Two common misconceptions about cloud broadcasting software (and why they're no longer true).
  • Six benefits of cloud playout solutions over on-prem video servers.
  • How to distribute, manage, and monetize your channels with Amagi.

We’ve helped over 700 content brands launch their channels across 40+ countries and work with clients like CuriosityStream, Discovery Networks, Fox Networks, Tastemade, Vice Media, and Warner Media in addition to many smaller creators and brands.

We deliver channels to connected TV platforms, direct-to-consumer apps, cable and satellite TV, and more. We currently manage over 2000 channel deliveries at significant cost savings over traditional methods. Contact our team to discuss how to move your channels online and distribute your content to as many platforms as possible.

Two common misconceptions about cloud broadcasting

When cloud broadcasting first became an option, most broadcasters were turned away by the poor video quality and tech-adoption barriers.

But the functionality of and technology behind cloud broadcasting has evolved (and continues to improve rapidly).

1) Lower video quality

In the past, cloud playout technology pitted quality against speed. In order to stream video at an acceptable speed, video quality had to be greatly reduced (think CCTV cameras used for security).

But as we just discussed, developments in streaming technology enable cloud playout solutions to stream video quickly without sacrificing quality. Amagi can stream video in SD, HD, and 4K to OTT platforms, websites, and cable networks.

2) Tech and knowledge barriers

One of the most intimidating aspects of switching to cloud playout from on-prem is the natural aversion to change. Producers who work in a traditional on-prem broadcast environment are used to their current operational workflows and worry that switching to cloud broadcasting will require learning an entirely new system.

While that’s a legitimate concern, it fails to take into account a few facts:

a) Cloud playout tools evolved from traditional playout tools. Ultimately, they're not that different. Switching to cloud broadcasting enables you to take the same actions on a very similar interface.

b) Cloud playout tools are built with ease of use in mind. Take Amagi PLANNER, our program scheduling tool. You can easily build EPGs using a simple drag-and-drop user interface. Plus, all of our tools can be configured to your liking. We intentionally simplify most cloud playout processes so your team doesn’t have to have significant technical expertise in order to manage your operations.

c) Cloud playout platforms automate many of the processes involved in broadcasting, which reduces the complexity of your operation. For example, Amagi CLOUDPORT automates quality control. It identifies black frames, loudness and/or audio silence, and asynchronous video and subtitles, and reports it to your QC team for correction. It does so using complex computing operations in the cloud which are not otherwise possible with on-prem systems.

d) Amagi offers a Managed Services add-on through which we can remotely manage almost any aspect of your channel. We can ingest and prepare your content, create program schedules, develop and insert promotional graphics, provide 24x7 channel monitoring with look-ahead playout services, and monetize live programming with ad insertion. We provide you with end-of-the-month reports, and you can check on the status of your channel anytime.

Six benefits of cloud vs. on-prem broadcasting

The benefits of cloud playout have made it hard for broadcasters to resist. And the adoption of cloud broadcasting was spurred on even more by the COVID-19 pandemic, since it allows teams to work remotely.

While a full discussion of the benefits of cloud playout would require its own article, the following six benefits stand out among the rest.

1) Outsourcing infrastructure

With cloud playout, you don't need to build or manage your own broadcasting infrastructure. Cloud playout solution providers manage playout servers for you. Your content is still delivered to viewers quickly using CDNs.

2) Affordability

Buying on-prem servers requires a large, up-front capital expenditure. Maintaining and upgrading your servers is also costly.

But with cloud playout, there are no up-front costs. Instead, you make monthly payments that match the demands of your broadcasting operation.

By eliminating the need to maintain on-prem servers, as well as automating broadcasting processes (such as quality control), cloud broadcasting solutions significantly reduce your staffing needs and the expense that comes with it.

3) Scalability (both up and down)

With cloud broadcasting, you pay only for what you consume. Your monthly payments and resource usage can be reduced or scaled up, providing you with the flexibility you need to adjust your operation as needed.

Cloud playout also provides the unique ability to create and tear down pop-up channels around special events. For example, the Discovery channel could create an entire channel devoted to "Shark Week", then eliminate the channel when it ends.

4) Improved reliability and availability

Broadcasting on the cloud frees up other resources that you can use to create a primary, secondary, and even tertiary infrastructure for redundancy and reliability. In the event of a natural disaster, for example, you're not stuck with broadcasting tools that are limited to your area. But you also don’t have to foot the bill for full on-premise operations in multiple locations purely for redundancy’s sake.

You can also set up redundancy for specific events, such as for a high-value live event like the Superbowl.

5) Flexibility with regional delivery

Cloud broadcasting makes it easier to deliver content temporarily to specific regions for certain times/events. If, for example, you wanted to stream a major sports event to multiple regions, you could use Amagi's existing network of CDNs to stream it anywhere you need.

Using traditional methods, you'd need to find a data center near the area you want to broadcast to, send your device over, install it, test everything, then play out your content for the event.

6) Access your content anywhere

With on-prem servers, you must be on site to access your content. But since cloud playout solutions are accessed through a browser, you can access and manage your content anytime, anywhere.

Distribute, manage, and monetize your channels with Amagi

While cloud broadcasting is better than using on-prem servers in the ways we just described, choosing the right cloud playout system provider is still critical. The tool you use will significantly impact the quality, cost, and profitability of your broadcast operation.

Amagi is the best cloud broadcasting solution for most broadcasters because it enables you to handle asset management, multichannel playout, playout automation, ad monetization, and live broadcasting for all of your channels using unified broadcast workflows. We offer key capabilities that help you minimize costs and maximize revenue.

Unified management and delivery

With Amagi CLOUDPORT, you can ingest your content into our system once, then deliver it to any FAST, VOD, or mVPD platform (as well as cable and satellite TV). We can work with any file storage system you use, whether it’s a video asset management system (VAM), media asset management system (MAM), or a physical hard drive.

Amagi automatically transcodes your content to meet the tech specifications (i.e. metadata requirements, codecs, etc.) of each platform you deliver to. And when those platforms alter their tech specs, Amagi updates your content.

In addition, Amagi automatically detects quality errors during ingest and reports them to your team. Through automation, Amagi eliminates the need for manual content tailoring and error detection, saving you time and money.

Broadcast-grade playout

Using Amagi CLOUDPORT, you can generate broadcast-grade playout for hundreds of playout feeds with unified workflows.

Amagi can:

  • Generate output streams in multiple formats (such as HLS, RTMP, and UDP).
  • Handle US, EU, PAL, and NTSC frame rates and perform frame rate conversion.
  • Stream video in SD, HD, and 4K Ultra HD and deliver output in whatever video file format (e.g. MFF, MOV, MPEG-2, MXF, etc.) is required by your partner platforms.

Amagi also supports dynamic platform delivery. In other words, you can deliver channels to different platforms in different stream/file formats and at different video quality levels.

Subtitles, captions, and graphics insertion

Many competing cloud playout solutions don't include native graphics or subtitle support. Amagi offers both.

We can meet the captions and subtitles requirements of any market. We support up to six captions in the U.S. and unlimited subtitles in the EU. For live events, we can generate captions using voice-to-text software or human translation services.

Amagi also offers native support for dynamic graphics. You can add dynamic and static overlays, dynamic lower-thirds, picture-in-picture (PIP), and other advanced secondary graphics to your content. You can even add graphics (such as logos and countdown timers) in real time during live playout. For example, we offer HTML5-based graphics using Chromium Embedded Framework.

Content scheduling

Amagi PLANNER is a program scheduling tool available to all Amagi CLOUDPORT users.

With Amagi PLANNER, building schedules to export as playlists and EPGs is easy. You can:

  • Build program schedules with a simple drag-and-drop interface.
  • Create scheduling pattern rules and playlists that automate program schedules.
  • Automate ad breaks.
  • Export your schedules into CLOUDPORT for playout.

Ad monetization

Amagi THUNDERSTORM is an SSDAI (server-side dynamic ad insertion) tool that can be used to deliver highly personalized ads, improve ad performance, and maximize ad revenue.

Our ad insertion platform is superior to competing tools in three key ways:

1) Enhanced ad delivery

For content owners to get paid for an ad impression, the ad must be delivered in its entirety. Many ad insertion tools suffer from frame inaccuracy and low ad fill rates.

Frame level accuracy refers to when your ad begins and ends. Your ad should begin immediately upon cutting to an ad break, and it shouldn't stop until every last frame of the ad is delivered to the viewer. If even one frame doesn't get delivered, you won't earn revenue for the impression.

Low ad fill rates can also harm your ad revenue. When ad insertion tools request ads from ad servers, the servers may fail to deliver an ad from time to time (for technical reasons).

But Amagi THUNDERSTORM delivers frame-accurate ads and, by requesting multiple ads per ad break, delivers ads more consistently than other SSAI tools. Some of our customers have noted a 35% increase in their fill rates after switching to Amagi THUNDERSTORM from other ad-insertion tools.

By delivering ads accurately and consistently, Amagi enables your channel to earn more revenue. We also provide ASRUN reports so you have proof of which ads played all the way through and which didn’t.

2) Deliver highly targeted ads

Amagi THUNDERSTORM uses viewer data to deliver targeted ads that generate more conversions and facilitate a better viewing experience.

Ads can be targeted based on:

  • The type or genre of content a viewer is watching: For example, viewers watching cooking shows can receive ads for food or cooking products.
  • The viewer's location: Viewers can receive ads that are specific to their location, like an ad for a local gym.
  • Targeted ad decisioning: You can choose to deliver ads for specific products (or types of products) on specific programs.

3) Optimize your ad strategy with real-time analytics

Amagi THUNDERSTORM provides real-time analytics into ad performance, including:

  • Which content yields the best ad performance.
  • What time of the day yields the best ad performance.
  • Which audience segments your ads perform best with.

You can use ad analytics to optimize your ad strategy and inform content and scheduling decisions.

Live broadcasting

Customers who deliver live content can use our live streaming orchestration tool: Amagi LIVE.

We can deliver high-quality streams with low latency. But Amagi LIVE also includes other features and capabilities that make it the ideal solution for your live streaming needs, including these:

  • Amagi LIVE automatically tailors your live stream to the tech specs of the platforms you deliver to.
  • Amagi LIVE supports streaming in SD, HD, and 4K.
  • We can create and tear down cloud-hosting instances for you, so you can create temporary pop-up channels for special live productions.
  • Amagi LIVE provides VOD recording, so you can automatically record your live events and deliver them as a delayed playback, replay them on your channel, or offer them on your VOD platforms.

Learn more about how NBC Olympics used Amagi LIVE to provide UHD cloud playout for the Tokyo Olympics.

We’ve helped over 700 content brands launch their channels across 40+ countries. Want to bring your broadcasting operation onto the cloud as well? Contact our team today to discuss your channels.

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