Cloud-based services for broadcasters include graphics, asset management, email for user-generated video, back-office functions and warehousing of documents and video. The list of services and vendors grows almost daily. Although some broadcasters, attracted mostly by the cost savings and improved efficiency, have embraced the services, others still harbor a basic mistrust of them, principally because they rely on the public Internet that lies beyond their control.
Cloud-Based Services Making Inroads
Cloud technology means different things to different broadcasters, but for most it means services delivered over the Internet where they are accessible from virtually anywhere and where they can take the place of dedicated hardware and software solutions.
Cloud-based services for broadcasters include graphics, asset management, email for user-generated video, back-office functions and warehousing of documents and video. The list of services and vendors grows almost daily.
Although some broadcasters, attracted mostly by the cost savings and improved efficiency, have embraced the services, others still harbor a basic mistrust of them, principally because they rely on the public Internet that lies beyond their control.
“What I’m skeptical of is these are valuable assets and you are throwing them out there [on the Net],” said Mark Siegel, president of Advanced Broadcast Solutions, a systems integrator based in SeaTac, Wash.
Despite such misgivings, under intense pressure to cut costs and become more efficient, some broadcasters are pioneering the use of cloud-based services. Among them: Gannett Broadcasting and Scripps Television. Both use Chyron’s AXIS cloud-based system for all their news-producing stations and both report that the service works reliably, saves money and has helped speed production and distribution of graphics among the stations.
AXIS World Graphics charges by the number of seats and the number of services a station uses — be they maps, quotes or charts. Currently, there are roughly 250 stations and network facilities using AXIS graphics with between 5,000 and 6,000 seats. In addition to Scripps and Gannett, users include Sinclair, Post-Newsweek, ABC News, Fox, Sky Sports News and Yahoo.
“We went with AXIS in 2008 and there have not been a lot of downsides,” said Asa Darrow, VP of design strategy for Gannett Broadcasting.
Gannett uses AXIS in 19 newsrooms, supplemented by a 10-person Gannett Graphics Group based in Denver. The Denver group produces custom and animated graphics, about 10% of all the group’s graphics. The rest is done via AXIS.
AXIS has proved reliable and efficient. “Video used to have to come in as email and then we’d send it back to the art department where they’d have to doctor it up and then send it down to editing…. That whole process is now gone,” Darrow said.
And it’s not just a way of managing costs, he added. “It really does make your product better.”
“An ah-ha moment came in Buffalo a couple of years ago when we had a plane crash,” Darrow recalled. “Our Buffalo station was getting digital photos from viewer-generated content. They were putting all the photos in AXIS in Buffalo and then airing them.
“Our station in Denver was able to go in and pull those pictures out of AXIS for their evening news. It’s a very quick way for the sharing of graphics. We are a big media company with newspapers and broadcasting and we have a lot of content. We are trying to share that content across these divisions and outlets. The cloud allows us to do that with AXIS.”
At Scripps, AXIS connects nine news-producing stations. “Our producers can control all the graphical elements of their newscast without having to go to an art department down the hall,” said Brian Lawlor, senior VP of the group. “It gives the producers the ultimate look and control of their show.”
The AXIS system, Lawlor said, makes more sense than each station having its own graphics staffs and equipment. “We have found great reliability in the system,” he said.
“Initially, there were some latency issues,” Lawlor added. “We wound up doing an evaluation of the size of the pipe we had going into our buildings and made a determination of how much bandwidth we’d need to push this video and graphics in a timely manner. We increased our broadband capacity to an appropriate level at each station. It has not been a major problem since. An open Internet has been the least of our worries.”
Jim Ocon, VP of technology for Gray Television, is getting his feet wet in a search for a new cloud-based email service that can handle the wide variety of video that is sent into stations from viewers with smart phones and other devices.
“Email is probably as good a place to start [in closed-based services],” he said. “But buyer beware. There are lots of cloud solutions out there and you’ve got to do your due diligence and know what you’re getting into.”
For video email, Gray is investigating a number of venders. “Some email companies only accept one kind of smart phone, which is no good for us. Some promise to handle all of them and to keep upgrading. These are things that must be checked out.”
Bitcentral’s Oasis is a content archiving and management system that allows news stories to be located, retrieved, shared and repurposed. It has the option of connectivity via the cloud.
Canada’s CBC and CNN are now using the cloud for high-res video exchange. But station clients, including Raycom Media, Gannett, Media General, Meredith, Hearst, Fisher and Journal Broadcasting, use it only for metadata and proxy video.
John King, Bitcentral’s VP of engineering, said the broadcasters’ reluctance to use the cloud for all applications will eventually disappear.
“We have seen the reliability of ISP and the maintenance of connections come up tremendously in the past couple of years,” King said. “Prior to that, the Internet was hit or miss. It was not uncommon for an internet service provider to refresh everybody at odd times of the day, thereby terminating any connections you had open at that time. We find, even internationally, that we are now encountering about a 100% success rate.”
Part of the reason for the increased reliability, he said, is that broadcast stations have switched from standard cable ISP to commercial-grade service. “Now the Internet is more important to the station, so they made an investment.”
King acknowledged that many broadcasters still question the reliability of the Internet. “In the past, stations always built a redundant, fault tolerant environment with no single point of failure for their real-time systems. That’s always been lacking in their approach to the Internet.”
Manufacturers, service providers and users have to recreate that environment, he said. “That may mean some users need more than one Internet service provider. If one goes down, you have a backup.
“There also needs to be a redundant network infrastructure. It’s no different than having two tape machines or two cameras. The manufacturers need to build their applications around that kind of environment and account for the complexities of it.
“The service providers have to provide both redundancy and disaster recovery plans. And the broadcasters and production facilities have to make a similar investment in redundant providers and infrastructure.”
Once vendors and broadcasters can satisfy their own requirements, King said, “they will adopt it very quickly. Eighteen months ago I’d hear the term cloud every two months. Today, I hear the term multiple times a day. I predict it will be accepted in three years … and we’ll see widespread deployment in less than five years.”