Traditional broadcasting models and platforms have long begun transitioning towards digital distribution models over the Internet in response to changing media consumption habits.
And as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing swathes of people into their homes, this transition has accelerated on all fronts, as broadcasters, streamers and media organisations make the shift to remote working.
Cloud technology has been integral to the transitioning process, offering solutions to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and optimise productivity, while the entertainment and broadcast industries collectively figure out how to navigate this ‘new normal’.
According to findings from the International Trade Association for the Broadcast & Media Industry (IABM) published in July, cloud adoption has accelerated significantly over the last six months, with adoption rates at 45%, up from 39% a year ago.
The latest figures now stand at 50%, according to the Head of Insight & Analysis at IABM, Lorenzo Zanni, when W.Media interviewed him in September. He attributes the significant rise of cloud adoption to the lockdowns and social distancing measures due to the pandemic.
“Some broadcasters have had to jump into cloud-based workflows almost overnight during the lockdown phase to enable business continuity of mission-critical functions. Others that had already moved a sizable portion of their operations into the cloud were still forced to adopt virtual tools,” he commented.
How is cloud computing changing the broadcasting industry?
Derrick Buckley, Regional Business Lead, Media and Communications of Microsoft Asia, sees three key transformations at present, specifically with optimising content production processes, securing global distribution capabilities, and improving content and ad delivery with data analytics.
“Cloud computing firstly solves the challenge of streamlining complex production processes, which has proven useful when many vendors across diverse locations are involved. Cloud computing also solves the challenge of storing and processing content, securely and efficiently,” said Mr. Buckley.
Several major industry players have recently announced partnerships with cloud service providers to streamline many of their processes via cloud.
AWS recently announced its partnership with Weta Digital, to create a new, cloud-based visual effects (VFX) workflow that will enable artists to collaborate remotely, accelerating key portions of film production.
On a similar note, Microsoft and Universal Filmed Entertainment Group announced a strategic partnership to cloud-optimise live-action and animation production.
“One of my favourite examples is of NBC’s The Voice, which successfully went remote with Microsoft Teams. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the show had to go remote, and coaches had to provide artist feedback using Microsoft Teams, and artists similarly performed in the finale of the popular singing contest using Microsoft Teams, which brought The Voice performance experience to life in a new and innovative way,” said Mr. Buckley.
Last year, Microsoft also worked with Walt Disney Studios to create, produce and distribute content on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
“Cloud computing also provides secure, global distribution capabilities, while ensuring that content is made available across platforms and devices,” Mr. Buckley added.
As social distancing guidelines drive nationwide cancellation of live events, major sport leagues are also turning to live broadcasts of closed-door matches, looped with pre-recorded crowd noises to complete the whole game experience.
Cloud solutions were used for the very first time in the history of Olympic games for competitions in Rio. Working on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, NBC Sports Group broadcasted a record-breaking 4,500 hours of online content from the Olympics, with streaming viewership up 266% over the 2012 games.
Atos, the Information Technology partner of the Olympic Movement, is planning for a cloud-only 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now pushed to the summer of 2021. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Atos ran all critical IT systems, such as the management of the accreditations, event applications for athletes, online volunteer portal, competition schedule, workforce management and more on their cloud platform for the first time. This was a replicable model, which will be used for subsequent games.
Another key transformation that Buckley sees is the use of media analytics and audience insights to improve content and ad delivery.
“Cloud has greatly helped media companies with engaging their audience, including converting anonymous users to paid subscribers,” said Buckley.
In distribution, the surge in streaming demand and the accelerated move to direct-to-consumer models have made broadcasters focus more on data analytics and personalisation, according to both data gathered and interviews carried out by IABM.
Industry 4.0 Technologies Shaping Future of Broadcasting
Looking ahead to the not so distant future, Industry 4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and big data are set to play an important role, complementing cloud-hosted remote solutions.
For example, AI offers a way to streamline workflows on the cloud.
“AI is making way for more efficient and creative content production with automation,” said Mr. Buckley, citing examples of automated content generation, assisted editing, automated indexing with face, object, action and brand recognition, subtitling, sentiment analysis and automated translation.
“All these are very powerful tools,” he added.
With these extra efficiencies, media and content creators have more time to focus on improving content quality, delivering more relevant and personalised content and driving engagement with consumers.
Additionally, new insights provided from machine learning has improved the consumer experience greatly.
Earlier in June, AWS and Formula 1 announced plans to roll out six new, real-time racing statistics through the 2020 season, which uses machine learning to better predict outcomes and allow fans to compare their favourite drivers and cars.
According to Mr. Zanni: “AI/ML adoption in the media industry is also growing as broadcasters seek to improve operational efficiency and content monetisation in this difficult time. When it comes to these strategic areas, the focus remains on content management and more specifically, on automated metadata extraction.”
“This is the low-hanging fruit for AI/ML technology, as it enables media companies to better monetise their catalogues and archives through improved data on their assets,” he added.
But how will this work? Mr. Buckley believes that we will see improved search and indexing experiences across video libraries, where one can derive search results via spoken words, images, movie scenes and actors, if the movie title does not come to mind.
He also expects there to be better content moderation functions, as AI/ML technologies identify and potentially remove inappropriate content within videos.
Already, we see BBC launching a voice AI assistant across the UK, which allows viewers to verbally interact with broadcasters and search for content within BBC’s audio portfolio via speech.
Improved advertisement delivery, through placements within appropriate video scenes, accurate audience-content match based on metadata, is also expected to bring new monetisation opportunities to the entertainment industry.
Making the future of entertainment a reality
As more entertainment companies turn to Industry 4.0 technologies to enhance viewing experiences and increase engagement, reliable and efficient digital infrastructures are imperative to make the future a reality.
On what digital infrastructures we need to make a cloud-based broadcasting future successful, Mr. Buckley said that the key requirements are a global infrastructure consisting of physical data centers scattered around the world linked by a large interconnected network, ideally in close proximity to the end user.
He added, “These physical data centers will need to provide high availability, low latency and scalability to ensure the optimal end user experience,” said Mr. Buckley.
5G technology investments are also expected to be crucial, as it provides a distributed cloud fabric which would ensure that performance is no longer limited by latency concerns.
With increased deployment of edge and hyperscale data centers as well as the rollout of 5G, we might expect more in the entertainment industry to partner with cloud providers to empower their digital transformation and a potential new golden age of film and television.