Remote Production Successes Validate Cloud
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted virtually every type of broadcast production workflow. But there’s a silver lining, and it has two parts.
First, broadcasters of all sizes have found out just how much they’re capable of doing remotely, and how easy and cost-effective it is to adapt operations to remote workflows using technologies such as the cloud and IP-based networks.
Second, while COVID certainly pushed the envelope and accelerated the adoption of this new type of work (in some cases, almost overnight), many broadcasters had already made inroads into remote production — with the most notable examples being high-profile live sports productions using remote integration (REMI, also known as at-home) techniques.
The upshot: Remote production is here to stay. Broadcasters who had already taken the plunge will continue to refine and expand their remote capabilities, and those who were in the exploration stages — and then had their hand forced by COVID – will continue to build on the successes they have experienced over the past few months.
Trial By Fire: Validation For The Cloud
If the COVID experience has taught us anything about remote workflows, it has highlighted the enormous value of cloud technologies for connecting teams from separate geographical locations. A tremendous driver is the ability to give team members seamless access to assets regardless of where the data is stored with multiformat distribution capabilities.
Here are three primary use cases in which the cloud adds tremendous value for remote production:
- Multiple sites looking to build integrated workflows where content and projects are shared across locations and various tiers of storage.
- Projects with temporary workflows or remote productions requiring broadcasters to connect distant locations back to headquarters. Here, the cloud offers unprecedented flexibility over traditional, on-premises environments, allowing media operations the ability to set up a full production system in a manner of hours or even minutes — and making the time-consuming process of equipment procurement, shipping, receiving, racking, wiring and installation a thing of the past.
- A general need to manage costs by reducing infrastructure or the urge to stay current with technology as the pace of change picks up.
Overcoming Cloud Barriers
There are still a few challenges that are being worked out. Cost remains a concern, since cloud computing is by nature an operational expense — and opex is not as easy to budget for or control as a legacy, capex-based environment consisting of on-premises equipment. (One way to think about this is the idea of “unlimited storage” in a cloud environment: It’s a lot harder to control storage costs if there are no limits to capacity.)
However, emerging opex-driven concepts such as SaaS and managed services are helping organizations avoid runaway spending through the ability to purchase cloud services on a per-usage or subscription basis — and therefore scale cost-effectively for both current demand and future growth.
Another barrier to cloud-based remote production has been network limitations for the transfer and sharing of large, high-resolution media files. To see widespread adoption, cloud solutions will need to provide the same stability for remote connections as media teams are used to in their on-premises workflows, therefore ensuring the same real-time, high-resolution, quick-turnaround results.
Fortunately, next-generation media asset systems are addressing this requirement with the ability to download low-res proxy versions of assets for editing and review and then render the high-res versions remotely in the cloud. Since only proxies, rather than the original large files, are crossing the network, multiple team members can access the content without any loss of quality or network performance.
Even more, the technology now allows editors to work remotely using proxy versions without being connected to the MAM database, and then, when the editing is done, reconnect to the MAM database (on cloud or in the main facility) and sync the project to render (conforming) the finished piece using the high-res media.
On The Horizon
Driven by cloud technologies that continue to expand and mature, the future is bright for remote production workflows. A number of new innovations are emerging that will drive cloud adoption forward:
- Ingest in the cloud. Moving large quantities of high-resolution content into the cloud has traditionally been a challenge for operations that rely on baseband ingest of live video. This is now being addressed with new on-premises applications that enable live video capture and ingest in the cloud with live transcoding to multiple codecs and formats such as XDCAM, AVC, ProRes and H.264.
- Edit while ingest in the cloud. Today it is possible to do the ingest in the cloud using growing files (broadcast format) and distribute and publish the new content from the cloud to on-premises, social networks, and OTT/VOD platforms seamlessly.
- PCoIP (PC over IP), a remote display protocol that delivers remote desktops and applications to endpoints across IP networks. PCoIP works by rendering client desktops on a network or cloud server, compressing and encrypting the pixels and then transmitting them to the remote client. In a video production environment, for instance, this technology could allow editors working remotely to access NLE and color-correction stations in a seamless manner, as though they’re sitting at their on-premises workstations.
- Secure Reliable Transport (SRT), an open-source streaming protocol that has its roots in the online gaming and esports communities. SRT is designed to overcome the streaming latency and performance issues of unpredictable networks to ensure delivery of high-quality, low-latency video in a secure and reliable manner
The first half of 2020 has given broadcasters the best-possible proving ground to find out just how much can be accomplished — and how much content can be produced — by creative teams working remotely. And for most, there’s no going back – especially as cloud solutions continue to grow more stable, agile and reliable.
Mario Becar is the director of international sales for Primestream.