Live cloud production takes off, but obstacles remain

Despite this challenging time for the industry, the switch to remote production – used only sparsely a year ago – is near-universal and permanent. The move goes hand in hand with the ability to streamline costs and yet deliver strong and sustained engagement with viewers across all platforms from social to OTT to TV.   

At Net Insight, we’ve seen a significant number of customers move more aspects of their live production workflow into the cloud. Esports and live sports producers, in particular, need flexible and robust solutions that deliver quality and scale. There’s been a huge acceleration in this space for Tier2/Tier3 content with full integration of end-to-end workflows for OTT and social media distribution.

Another segment largely impacted by Covid-19 is the Enterprise streaming market that has been adopting end-to-end workflows for both their internal and external market communication. Enterprise players have realized the quality and efficiency benefits of doing remote productions with a broadcast quality architecture and workflow using cloud and reliable internet communication. While the cloud production checklist might expand with additional adjustments when coming out of the pandemic, these new ways of working are here to stay.

Workflows in cloud computing

“You have to learn to walk before you can run.” In other words, to be able to fully grasp the importance of cloud production, it’s important to know the basics; what is the workflow in cloud computing, and what is the purpose of a cloud workflow application/system?

What is a cloud workflow?

No matter the workflow, it will always involve a series of fixed or conditional tasks, a group of stakeholders, and heaps upon heaps of confidential data and information. When all of this is handled manually, there is a high risk of tasks slipping through the cracks, and employees making an error or completely missing vital steps. This could lead to much more severe problems down the road, for example, compliance issues, policy violations, and more. 

Cloud workflows automate many of these repetitive tasks reliably, converting manual processes to web-based digital workflows, thus eliminating paper forms and circumventing the risks associated with manual data entry. Cloud-based workflows solutions allow organizations to reduce the amount of manual work required and improve the overall efficiency of their workflows rapidly at a considerably lower cost. 

In the end, workflow management is potentially one of the most overlooked strategies when it comes to improving productivity. But as manual techniques and legacy systems keep crumbling steadily, the advantages of adopting a cloud workflow system, moving your workflow to the cloud, are stacking up so fast that by ignoring it, you will be at a disadvantage.

Benefits of cloud production workflows

Cloud-based video production and cloud-based music production workflows provide a very high degree of flexibility and ability to work from anywhere in a distributed production environment and will continue to grow in the coming years. OTT workflows of 6-12 cameras already work very well in the cloud. Pay-as-you-use price models are a perfect fit for live events, where you typically only want to use and pay for the resources for the few hours the live event or game lasts.

Cloud workflows are:

  • Scalable
  • Customizable
  • Distributed 
  • Easy to integrate
  • Secure
  • Accessible anywhere
  • Reliable
  • Hassle-free
  • Collaboration-friendly

The challenges of end-to-end cloud workflows

Cloud is a broad term, though, and native cloud technologies can also be implemented in servers and data centers. While the computer resources are here today to handle large-scale productions, end-to-end cloud workflows are not yet cost-efficient and fully optimized for the highest profile, highest quality productions. 

The obstacle lies in the cost and quality of bringing the feeds into the cloud for broadcast-quality productions. Handling 40-camera productions, even if compressing them down to a few hundred Mbps, means a redundant 10 Gbps feed into the cloud per event. The price models and architectures of public clouds are not optimized for that today. 

The future of cloud live production

The largest Tier 1 production is likely to be produced in the large production studios for some years to come, but developments move very quickly. We will see those studios move toward becoming more of a large private data center, using cloud production technology with dedicated architectures and 100G links to allow for live remote productions at scale.

Net Insight was actively supporting cloud-based production solutions, offering network solutions for cloud production, before the pandemic accelerated the transition. We’re now seeing broadcasters who would not have even considered moving to remote production doing so very quickly, either out of necessity or from a desire to reduce costs and maintain quality. 

In the future, we expect even more complex aspects of live production, traditionally handled on-premises, will be possible in the cloud. This will require integrated network solutions that enabled seamless interconnection between event sites, data centers as well as locations where the human resources and talents will be situated. When we’ve reached that point, all the infrastructure needed to run a live production in the cloud will be created on-demand at the touch of a button via a web interface. In this future, live production professionals will have to worry less about resource planning since they will be able to launch as many control rooms, edit suites, and playout engines as they need, choosing the exact configuration they require from a broad catalog of options, all interconnected through IP network. 

Perhaps more importantly, features and capabilities will no longer be tied to hardware refresh lifecycles, allowing content producers to flexibly swap out production tools, re-design the architecture, and innovate with very little risk. That freedom to experiment will likely result in the automation of mundane tasks using Artificial Intelligence across the production and distribution chain. 

This freedom also means productions and broadcasts can be replicated at scale, enabling localized presentation and programming, or the option for multiple participants to create their personalized version of the event.

Moving into 2021, sports broadcasters will continue to pivot their technology stacks – and then production itself – to virtualized environments and the cloud. Critical partnerships with vendors are expected to develop features that enable solutions to support the evolution of remote production, helping to create both broader and more targeted, and more compelling content for consumers.  

What is the difference between live streaming and live broadcasting?

While the question “What does live broadcast mean?”, and how it differs from a live stream might seem trivial, it is an important distinction to make. Live streams and live broadcasts are very similar in the sense that they both are used to stream live events to a large audience. The main difference is how they send out their signals. 

A live broadcast is the sending of one signal across a broad area that can be received by anyone tuning into the frequency. 

In comparison, the host of a live stream sends out separate signals simultaneously to every single device that’s receiving the stream.

To make the difference between them clearer, let’s use the example of live sports.

People watching a live sports broadcast receive the same signal that’s being transmitted to ALL viewers of the broadcast. However, if people are watching the event by live webcasting on social media platforms such as YouTube, every single user receives the stream through a different pathway determined by the streaming platform.

For more information about cloud-video production and live broadcasting and streaming, contact Net Insight today.

Interested in learning more? Reach out to our specialist.