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Drive efficiencies in news broadcasting

May 21, 2021

By Baskar Subramanian

The ability of cloud-based platforms to provide an efficient and versatile basis for news production is being recognized by broadcasters worldwide

Like so many areas of broadcast, news production appears to be on the cusp of a technological shift. IP production and cloud workflows are already delivering greater efficiency and scalability for broadcasters, as well as supporting the growing trend for remote production and smaller local operations. In this interview, Amagi co-founder Baskar Subramanian discusses why news could be one of the greatest beneficiaries of cloud production.

Why is news broadcasting so complex and in what ways can the cloud help to streamline this area of production?

From an Amagi perspective, we see that two areas of news broadcasting are evolving around the world. The first is in the US, in particular, with a very high number of local news stations moving into a new era of production. Historically, because of local advertising and the way that stations operated, there was a requirement for a complete production set-up at local level. But now you see plenty of organizations exploring the possibilities of IP infrastructures and remote cloud-based workflows to do things differently. For example, where you have a local or regional broadcaster, it is now possible to house all systems and suites in one centralized location, as opposed to maintaining lots of separate sites.

This whole area of development is one that really lends itself to a cloud infrastructure, allowing you to have everything as a software-centric and evolving workflow in the cloud. Then you can have remote locations and some additional stations as and when required, all using the same cloud-based platform.

The second area of change is that, thanks to OTT, a lot of viewing activity has moved onto iPads and other devices. Consequently, broadcasters are thinking about how they can extend their existing news capacity and bring in an OTT infrastructure. This means there is a trend towards the creation of a unified capability; once again, this is something to which the flexibility of the cloud is ideally suited.

How has Amagi responded to these changes with solutions such as Amagi CLOUDPORT Cloud Playout, which provides a broadcast-grade channel playout platform for both TV and OTT services?

We have been working in this space for a few years, and have learned a lot from news broadcasters wanting to move away from on-premise operations towards more centralized infrastructures – on the basis that they can dramatically reduce both costs and complexities. As a result, we are able to provide news broadcasters with a single unified workflow in the cloud that can dramatically reduce the costs and complexities of their operations. Moreover, we can deliver this across different platforms – for example, IP-based, cable or satellite services – from a single operational environment. That is where news broadcasters are seeing the greatest value in our system today.

Which aspects of the news workflow are most suited to virtualization at this point, and how might that develop in the future?

The first step in terms of virtualization for stations is going to be the MCR environment. Technically, many of the elements required to deliver low-maintenance, multi-camera operations in a virtualized way are now in place, and within the next 12 months I should imagine that the industry will be all the way there. 

One thing we will see is broadcasters virtualizing their OTT channels first, so they can learn the environment and become comfortable with it. Once that has happened, virtualizing linear channels will seem like more of a logical next step. Beyond that, more people will probably be asking the question, ‘Can I virtualize my PCR too?’ But that is more complex, of course.

To summarize, a lot of the technology for full virtualization will be in place very soon, but for a variety of reasons – including broadcaster decisions being dependent upon long-term investment cycles – it could take five years for it to take place across broadcast production. 

Choice of cloud platform is going to be critical for broadcasters moving forward, so what characteristics should they be looking out for?

We are talking here about potentially long investment cycles of up to 1.5 decades, so choosing sustainable vendors is very important. One of the best ways to ensure you have a future-proofed infrastructure is to avoid being connected to only one cloud platform. What is good today might not be so good in the future, meaning it’s advisable to hedge your bets across multiple cloud solutions. 

Latency is definitely a very important factor, too. The service you choose already needs to be low latency, but with the awareness that there will be further improvements as time passes. Similarly, the ability to utilize a very sophisticated graphics environment in the cloud is vital, including best-of-breed graphics and real-time graphical information and rendering. Therefore, a powerful graphics engine is essential.

Of course, you also want a solution that is effective and good value for money in general terms. So it can be a difficult call for broadcasters to make – there are always lots of aspects that customers need to think through carefully.

What are your final thoughts on how news production in the era of the cloud is likely to evolve?

There is going to be a lot more growth in connected TV, not least because of the emergence of FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming) TV platforms. More and more there will be services that look and feel like TV, but which are being delivered via OTT. As a result, it won’t make sense for broadcasters to have different workflows for linear and OTT – they will want the ease and capability of unification.

The pace of adoption will vary, and there will be broadcasters who want to move OTT to the cloud first, before migrating the rest of their operations. But I would forecast that, in five years, most news production will be running on the cloud.

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