Live Production In The Cloud Is ’23 Goal

Executives from Sinclair, Fox Television Stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, TAG Video Systems and Imagine Communications told a TVNewsCheck webinar last week that live production at volume in the public cloud may finally come to pass next year, noting the growing adoption of enabling technologies like low-latency JPEG-XS compression.

Broadcasters could see the much-touted goal of live production at volume in the public cloud come to fruition next year, according to top engineers and technology executives speaking at a TVNewsCheck webinar last week.

The proliferation of enabling technologies like low-latency JPEG-XS compression and the NDI transport protocol are making production in the cloud much more feasible, according to top engineers who assembled for the webinar Technology Predictions for 2023, moderated by this reporter. And they see the growing adoption of 2110 on-premise IP routing hardware as helping to boost the cloud’s production prospects, instead of competing with it.

“I think next year is the year where cloud production might actually become viable, at least at smaller scales,” said Peter Wharton, chief strategy and cloud officer for monitoring vendor TAG Video Systems. “We’re starting to see a lot of the technology align. JPEG-XS is becoming more commonplace, we’ve got some nice high-quality, low-latency feeds into the cloud and the tools are there. So, this might be the year where that works.”

While the coverage is not being produced in the cloud, Wharton noted the importance of Fox’s successful broadcast of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where the network is using JPEG-XS and 2110 technology in Qatar to deliver all feeds to its cloud-based U.S. broadcast centers. He said other networks are considering making JPEG-XS a key part of their everyday operations.

“There are a couple of networks I’ve been working with who are actually thinking about placing 2110 at the core of their network with JPEG-XS, which really allows them to flatten their entire operations,” Wharton said. “No more encoding and decoding cycles to go from New York to Washington, but just have everything JPEG-XS at the core and get rid of the latency, to be able to share content much easier, be able to send to the cloud and reduce your network footprint by 90% when you do that.”

Imagine Communications President Steve Reynolds, whose company sells 2110 routing systems as well as cloud control software, is seeing the same trend. He said that delays in some big 2110 routing installations due to supply chain problems during the COVID-19 pandemic definitely spurred some broadcasters’ move to cloud technology. But now that supply chain issues have improved somewhat, he is seeing customers who want to use 2110 and the cloud in combination.


“One of the areas where we’ve seen advancement is JPEG-XS contribution into the cloud,” Reynolds said, “the ability to actually use 2110 production on the ground, and then use JPEG-XS as the contribution mechanism to move that stuff up into the cloud for production and ultimately master control origination. That has actually accelerated.”

Tim Joyce, SVP, engineering for Fox Television Stations, said the Fox network had been closely tracking the evolution of JPEG-XS for years before deciding to go all-in with the public cloud by building new broadcast centers in Tempe, Ariz., and Los Angeles in partnership with cloud platform AWS. [Joyce was SVP of media and broadcast engineering at Fox Corp. until moving to the station group in January.]

“At Fox Sports that was one of the things we really weighed heavily, looking at JPEG-XS, because we wanted to get in the cloud space,” Joyce said. “That was really the determining factor, when that became available, and all the vendors started jumping on board we knew that was definitely the way to go. We couldn’t be doing what we’re doing at the World Cup today without it.”

Joyce is now focused on how the cloud can aid production at the Fox stations, where he would like to use customized cloud-based tools to quickly spin up remotes with a minimum of equipment for small productions and special events “where we don’t have to rely on so much infrastructure, and we’re able to get to places and locations where we can’t get today,” Joyce said. “That is the future.”

Sinclair Broadcast Group is already successfully using the public cloud for its content ingest pipeline and by the end of next year plans to transition most of its playout to the public cloud as well, said Mike Palmer, SBG senior director, media management. And now the company is exploring how it can use the cloud to transform local news production.

While Sinclair plans to implement 2110 routing at its larger stations when their current HD-SDI infrastructures are due for replacement, Palmer said, the group is looking at “the possibility of skipping that” for its smaller outlets. It is already running a test control room in the cloud today, which it is feeding with NDI and SRT sources.

“For our small stations if we take SRT or NDI feeds from the ground up to the cloud, we can simply switch the entire program in the cloud and deliver it back to the transmitter and not have to worry about 2110,” Palmer explained. “And these NDI or SRT feeds give us the ability to rather economically bring those contribution feeds in for smaller stations. Even for the larger stations, doing much of that in the cloud is very attractive right now using those technologies.”

Beyond exploring further use of the cloud, the rollout of the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard is the big priority for both Fox and Sinclair in 2023. Fox, which is already running 3.0 “lighthouse” stations in Los Angeles, Houston and Orlando, Fla., views the move from MPEG-2 to HEVC compression that comes with the 3.0 transition as being imperative for its business, particularly given the continued growth of diginets that have maxed out 1.0’s capacity.

“I think this would also help even our MVPD partners, to have a signal that could come in and handle all of the innovations that we’re seeing in HDR and 1080p, things we can’t currently do on MPEG-2 without really hindering how much bandwidth we have,” Joyce said. “And ultimately [with] UHD, the only way you can do that over-the-air is through 3.0.”

While 4K video and immersive audio are powerful improvements that 3.0 can deliver, public broadcasters may be less interested in those aspects than their commercial counterparts, cautioned Stacey Decker, SVP, innovation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He said that given their public safety and educational mission, as well as budget constraints, noncommercial stations are more likely to choose content quantity over video quality when it comes to their 3.0 broadcasts.

“It’s the age-old debate for us, it’s quality versus quantity,” Decker said. “You can do one or the other, you can’t do both.”

Decker would also like to hear more from the broader technology community about concrete plans for non-traditional applications of 3.0’s robust data pipe.

“I do hope in the coming year and maybe even the next 24 months we see some technology providers look at 3.0 and start to solve the problems with the promise of 3.0,” Decker said. “There’s the obvious stuff that comes along with it, the better-quality video, the better-quality sound, but what can we do with this broadcast infrastructure to start solving problems in other areas?

“We’re going to have to diversify the use of those systems to keep them relevant,” he said. “I don’t think content distribution is the only thing they can do to stay relevant in the future.”

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