The cloud is proving to be one of the technologies that have a potential to change a broad range of industries for the better, as the cloud has applications – both practical and functional – for just about anything that relies on data and its access. The TV Industry has only recently started to realize the benefits and advantages provided by the cloud, but it doesn’t really matter at this point because they are showing so much enthusiasm for the technology that the adoption is going faster than normal, and they are finding all sorts of creative ways to employ cloud technology for their businesses.
Benefits of the Cloud for the TV Industry
When the improvements in bandwidth and latency made streaming of high definition video content over the Internet possible, the broadcast industry saw the first ever threat to their industry. Unlike traditional broadcast content, which ties a person to their couch and in front of their TV (not to mention requires them to watch their favorite shows according to schedules set by the stations), video over the Internet allowed consumers to watch content anywhere they want, anytime they want, and on any internet-capable device. For a while, the TV industry tried to compete through various means but eventually realized that they have to adapt in order to avoid becoming obsolete.
Now that the TV Industry is well on its way in embracing the concept of “TV Everywhere,” it stands to benefit from the technical advantages provided by a cloud-based infrastructure. However, the transition from conventional broadcasting platforms to IT-based ones will not come easy, as the complexity of delivering multimedia content, especially high definition ones, will consume a large amount of bandwidth – something that traditional media didn’t have to worry about. They can send out any content they want and be confident that it’s going to show up on TV sets exactly as they wanted it, and in the same way for every viewer (barring a few minor inconsistencies on the part of the viewers).
Additionally, there’s also the fact that TV networks will have to consider the sheer number of different platforms and devices out there. Unlike TV sets, which are fairly standardized, Internet-ready multimedia devices vary in screen size, screen ratio, computing power, and other capabilities that have a bearing on showing multimedia. There’s nothing worse for a content provider than their product being misrepresented due to hardware mismatches. A large amount of development time in the PC videogame industry is spent on avoiding this problem, and it will do TV networks good to take a look and learn from the former.
Networks That Have Already Started the Move to the Cloud
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has always been one of the networks that are willing to adopt new technologies, and they are already at the forefront of the move to the online model.
The initial problems encountered by the BBC is the need to support at least 18 different video formats, which can be daunting for smaller providers and those that are new to the industry, not to mention expensive, as hosting 18 different versions of the same content will consume a lot of expensive storage space. At first, the BBC tried to compromise by focusing only on a few target platforms, which turned out to be the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot, as it has greatly limited their audience. The BBC soon realized that the cloud model can be a solution, as storage is infinitely scalable and they don’t have to invest too much on hardware in advance, since cloud storages can be purchased on a pay-as-you-go model.
The cloud also has a big potential advantage when it comes to the production aspect, as it can greatly reduce cost and development time for software being used during the production of content. Additionally, more and more networks these days are starting to rely on apps running on tablets, PCs, and smartphones as a way of attracting and engaging viewers, all of which can be developed and deployed on the cloud for a fraction of the cost of doing it using on-site resources.
Areas That Can Benefit from the Cloud Model
Right now, there are three key areas that stand to benefit from the cloud, consisting of content providers from big Hollywood studios, broadcasters like the BBC, and pay-TV operators like BSkyB. The beauty of it is that the three areas tend to overlap – for instance, broadcasters can produce content that is owned by pay TV operators. In this way, it shows that the TV industry stands to benefit from the cloud as a whole, not on a per-company basis.
Conflicts of Interest
While all of the above-mentioned operators are interested in the cloud’s ability to reach as many people as possible, there’s still a few conflicting interests at work. For instance, content owners that are holding the rights to broadcasts aren’t afraid of the cloud’s capability to break existing agreements. Geographical silos have always governed broadcast content such as movies and sports broadcasts, but the cloud can easily break said silos and even region-based laws.
In a way, this works as a double edged sword, because it can inhibit the cloud distribution of broadcast content but can also serve as an opportunity for the cloud to become the place for renegotiations and applications of digital rights. Arvalto Bertelsmann came out with a list on how the TV industry uses the clouds.
TV Networks Have No Choice But To Migrate to the Cloud
One of the biggest reasons why the TV industry is pushing for cloud innovation is that they don’t really have any choice. The industry is fast moving away from conventional media, with over a million people leaving cable television on a yearly basis. Research posits that the reason for the trend is the consumers realizing that the packaged, bundled TV and movie delivery model is outmoded and won’t fill their needs. Especially now that there are services like Netflix and Youtube that allows them to watch exactly what they want, when they want – no more, and no less. Consumers love freedom of choice, and the ability to control their consumption. Unlike in the past, they are no longer easy to manipulate or control, especially since they can move to the Internet if they feel constricted with traditional media.
Currently, the TV industry still has legs to stand on, and remain on top of things because True On-Demand TV Anywhere services are still unstructured, limited, and lack any standardization or organization. Convenience is still one of the best selling points for people, and sometimes it is easier to watch their shows on the TV instead of hunting down the best online stream or mixing and matching service providers.
Main Uses of the Cloud for the TV Industry
Craig Winter enumerated several benefits of the cloud. Right now, there are three predominant media and entertainment use cases for the cloud, which further drive the TV industry’s push for cloud innovation. These consist of:
As mentioned above, consumers want convenience first and foremost, and when it comes to the shows they watch, they don’t want to suffer through various problems that used to plague digital content, such as stuttering or skipping due to traffic spikes that affect latency. This is particularly problematic because it means the more popular a show is, the more likely it is to stutter and skip for viewers due to the number of people watching at the same time. If only the only shows that play smoothly are the unpopular ones, people tend to switch back to traditional TV sets.
The cloud allows content to be hosted on different locations and streamed to different users, which means the number of viewers is no longer relevant to the viewing experience – everything remains smooth any time of the day, even if the content being watched is live on air.
Production on Movie and TV shows – whether it’s live action or animated or CG rendered – require the frequent exchange of data such as drafts of scripts to still images, to raw footages. The value of these data is literally worth millions of dollars in Hollywood. Losing all of them to a hard drive crash or a fire can send a studio straight to bankruptcy.
In fact, the same almost happened to Pixar once, when an employee accidentally deleted all the digital assets for Toy Story. If not for the coincidence that one of the execs happened to save a copy for her own viewing at home, they could have lost the one movie that gave them a break in the industry. With the cloud, worries about losing files like that is nonexistent, as they could have multiple backups hosted offsite and easily retrievable from anywhere.
Another aspect of collaboration in the cloud that benefits the production part is through faster turnaround. Hollywood firmly believes in the adage “Time is Money,” and the cloud can save studios a lot of time by allowing marketing staff, execs, and production crew to exchange digital assets in real time in the cloud, instead of constantly waiting to download email attachments or for physical discs to arrive via courier.
Like the above example, post production (which is the part where footages are retouched and polished, and where the digital special effects are added) requires the exchange of massive amounts of data back and forth so that it can be worked on by different departments.
When sent back and forth, it can take weeks or months, especially if they were sending physical discs back and forth to studios located in different countries (which happens a lot these days, due to the trend of outsourcing post production work to countries where labor is cheaper.) but with the cloud, the exchange of data can be skipped entirely as different departments can instead work on the same file in real time as it is hosted on the cloud, with their tools also being hosted on the cloud. This greatly speeds up post production work and allows studios to release properties at a much faster scale, or work on it more so that they can deliver the best possible product during the slated release date.
Obstacles to Cloud Technology in Broadcast
The benefits of cloud technology in the broadcast industry is quite clear, but right now there are also some obstacles that are preventing some companies or studios from deploying the technology.
The most common obstacles cited are budget over cost, availability of bandwidth, content security, and the misguided notion that cloud technology is still in its infancy, and not yet suited to the more mature broadcast industry. There are also more valid concerns such as a lack of cloud-skilled manpower, conflicts with rights and ownership, red tape, and the need to disrupt existing workflows just to deploy the new technology.
These obstacles are minor when compared to the potential that many customers are seeing, and the technology vendors themselves are willing to invest and innovate in the development of more cloud technologies and services, which may end up convincing companies that are still on the fence.
It’s not a surprise that cloud technology is valued more by technology suppliers than their customers, but this does not necessarily mean that the broadcast industry doesn’t value the cloud. Various studies have already shown that there is considerable interest in the broadcast industry for deploying cloud services. However, only the TV sector is pushing for it actively, as they are the ones who are seeing the most potential, and are willing to address or ignore the concerns and issues associated with the immaturity of the technology, the security, the cost, and the relatively few proven business models.
There’s also the problem with lack of knowledge as to what exactly they can do with the cloud, particularly when it comes to key decision makers. TVB has recently interviewed around 50 executives from the broadcast industry, and found out that while they are interested in cloud computing and cloud based services, they all had different ideas on how they plan to use the technology, and which parts of the workflow they are going to migrate to the cloud first. There were even some who admitted that they don’t really understand a lot about the cloud, and wanted to know more about its implications in the industry.
Fortunately, the industry execs all understand that cloud technology has the benefit of enabling new workflows and increasing efficiencies and cost-savings. There’s also a large number of them who understand that the technology is a potential driver of revenue, and can become products in and of themselves.