By Keir Shepherd, SVP, Global Technology Architecture at Encompass on September 29, 2017
Now more than ever, it is clear that mainstream audiences’ viewing habits are changing from a passive schedule-led approach to a more active on-demand model. The most obvious sign of the times is the fact that binge watching has become commonplace and has shaped broadcasters’ approaches to commissioning, marketing, and delivering key programming.
In order to keep up with this ever-increasing demand for anytime, anywhere viewing, service providers and broadcasters are increasing their investment in Content Processing Systems (CPS). CPSs provide the automated management of content preparation steps behind the scenes and transform source material into the multitude of packages required for digital delivery platforms.
Traditionally, CPSs have been architected using solid Service-Oriented-Architecture (SOA) and loose-coupling principles that leverage a range of third-party technologies (such as transcoders, automated QC, image processing, metadata transformation) and orchestrated by an overarching workflow management system either as part of or working alongside an asset management system. This approach has allowed service providers and broadcasters to optimize their video-on-demand (VOD) processing operations and improve reliability and quality through automation.
TODAY: The Transformation of VOD for Broadcasters
The underpinning strategy behind these content and video processing systems was on the principle that they are there to support a set of primary linear origination services – typically providing ‘catch-up’ services for MVPDs and similar service providers. As such, the CPSs have traditionally been built to the same scaling, location, and operating principles of the linear services they support.
As VOD moves from a supporting role to a leading position in the broadcast and media industry, broadcasters have a new set of opportunities to get closer to their audiences and bypass the traditional distribution and delivery platforms and operators. They can monetize content archives by opening new revenue streams through direct advertising and subscription models. With business models changing to be more reactive and agile, the technologies and operations of today’s CPSs struggle to keep pace with these new demands.
OBSTACLES: The Challenges of Transformation
Broadcasters and service providers with existing content and video processing platforms that support linear services are beginning to experience the challenges that processing for an OTT (over the top) ecosystem brings. Specifically, they are starting to find:
- Unpredictable process volumes, higher peaks and longer troughs, broader ecosystems
- Reduced launch timescales to capitalize on emerging markets and niches
- Larger, evolving set of formats, codec and DRM schemes, with more frequent changes.
- Frequent backlog reprocessing to support new platforms and devices
- Requirements for globally distributed endpoints and monitoring
CPSs must evolve in order to capitalize on the growing opportunities that OTT VOD services are enabling. Infrastructure changes are required to enable these systems to deliver VOD content for OTT services reliably and cost effectively. This is where the public cloud can help.
TOMORROW: Supporting Dynamic Business Requirements
A well-implemented public cloud migration enables broadcasters and services providers to:
- Break out of the scale constraints that are inherent in traditional, on-premises solutions and even private cloud implementations
- Increase cost effectiveness by paying for usage only
- Breakdown geographical constraints and enable operational transportability
- Provide multi-geography business continuity capability
- Standardize products and processes by leveraging 3rd party technologies as platform services
Adoption by operations and engineering is essential. Attempting to migrate to the public cloud without first understanding and embracing the key principles can lead to less reliable, less flexible, and more expensive outcomes. This is as true for CPSs as it is for any existing service migrating to the public cloud.
THE JOURNEY: Transforming to the Cloud
Encompass migrated its on-premises content processing platform to Microsoft Azure and launched successfully in EMEA, North America, and LATAM markets. This further validates the decision the company made to use the public cloud as its enabler to meet the challenges of delivering services for OTT VOD; however, there are a few key lessons learned:
- Do Not Simply Lift-and-Shift an Existing Technology or Process
Leverage Azure’s capabilities designed to facilitate the migration to cloud, such as file shares to replicate NAS environments and multiple pre-built VM images including both OS and pre-installed applications such as active directory and SQL Server
- Containerize Wherever Possible
When migrating web interfaces or web services, the use of a containerize deployment approach should always be considered in preference to a VM
- Objects Not Files
If a shared file system is necessary and files processing forms is a significant part of an application, then it is usually preferable to use an object-file system bridging technology. This provides a hybrid object/file system approach allowing applications to share and access files using both traditional file system access and object storage APIs
- Prefer PaaS
The bulk of the workload in a content processing platform sits with the transcoding process and as such this is a critical service to migrate to a PaaS in order for the platform for be truly scalable. Transcoding PaaS services, such as the Azure Media Services Transcoder used by our platform, complete the final piece of the puzzle and represent potentially the largest integration effort required – this is the key to unlocking the target operational and cost model
LOOKING AHEAD: Do. Or do not. There is no try.
Migrating a Content Processing System to the public cloud can bring cost reductions and substantial operational benefits including standardized processes and technologies, location independence, seamless scaling and business continuity capability. It can also help support broadcasters and service providers achieve the growth potential generated by changing viewing habits and the new OTT ecosystems. Keep in mind, it can only be truly successful if the business embraces and applies the methodologies and practices of the public cloud.
If you’re considering migrating content processing services to the cloud, then there are a few key things you should do that will help set you on the right path:
- Know your current end-to-end workflow, and create a high-level workflow diagram
- Understand the key concepts of the public cloud; PaaS, object storage, containerization etc.; there are some greater pointers here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/fundamentals-introduction-to-azure
- Decompose your workflow to discrete, self-contained processes
- Prototype as much as possible
To learn about Microsoft partner Encompass, visit https://www.encompass.tv/end-to-end-ott-tve-solutions/. To discuss your journey to the cloud, email email@example.com