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Get smart: Blend technologies to build a rugged, reliable ‘network of networks’ in the cloud

By Shaun Lim

With the pandemic continuing to cause disruption to the way people work, broadcasters and media companies are constantly looking for more cost and operational efficiencies as they navigate the  ‘new normal’. Where remote production is concerned, cloud solutions are proving to be both “feasible and economical”, observed Yvonne Monterroso, Director of Product Management, Dejero. She said: “Broadcasters are frequently integrating the cloud and actually improving efficiencies without sacrificing the quality of their content.”

Monterroso told APB+, “During the pandemic, many of our customers found that more news and content can be generated with the same number of people by utilising the Dejero LivePlus mobile app on smartphones.”

Solutions such as the Dejero EnGo mobile transmitter and the Dejero Gateway network aggregation devices also allow high-quality live video streams to be shared from any location in real-time, thus reducing the number of people required to be physically present to cover live events or be on set.

For instance, at the height of the pandemic in 2020, systems integrator Ideal Systems powered its cloud-based remote productions in Asia using Dejero connectivity solutions, including deploying Dejero’s video transmission technology to produce ‘pop-up’ matches for the Malaysian Football League (MFL).

As multiple and concurrent matches kicked off in empty stadiums, Ideal Systems needed to avoid lengthy setup times or restricted bandwidth when connecting to the cloud. With the Dejero EnGo mobile transmitter as the production core, lightweight flyaway kits deployed to stadiums were ready to broadcast within 90 minutes, sending high-quality, low-latency video to the cloud by combining multiple network connections in real-time.

Need to control and manage systems remotely

“The pandemic has focused attention on the need to control and manage systems from any location, and this applies not only to remote production but also to playout and master control,” said Michael Rebel, Director, Solutions Architecture, Imagine Communications.

Rebel shared with APB+, “A virtualised system, whether it is on your premises or in the cloud, is perfectly suited to remote production – master control and channel supervisors can work from home in exactly the same way that they would if they were on-site.”

One of the advantages the cloud offers, Rebel said, is its neutrality in providing access to infinite amounts of processing and storage space. “What you do with it is down to the broadcaster and the systems architect. Good media software will run on standard platforms and are built on a microservices architecture, so it is ideal to be hosted cost-effectively in the cloud.”

As remote work becomes more prevalent because of the pandemic, Rebel also sees a growing trend where on-site facilities are being reduced by moving from hardware to the cloud, and by moving management to remote operation. “This reduces the real estate required, as well as the power consumption and air-conditioning, making a real environmental impact,” he added.

Challenges of adopting cloud solutions

Like any technology transition, the adoption of cloud solutions will present challenges that need to be addressed. Bandwidth and latency are obvious concerns, as are transmission costs, if cloud storage is to be continually refreshed.

“But if you take cloud operations as part of an overall view of broadcast operations, it becomes much more manageable,” Rebel said. “Programme archives, for example, might be on LTO (linear tape-open) tapes, which are a significant continuing expense and need regular capital investment.

“Moving the archive to the cloud slashes these costs – most broadcasters now insist on IP delivery of programmes and commercials, and it is as easy for the producers to deliver it to your secure cloud account as to your premises.”

Drawing on Imagine Communications’ experience of providing core infrastructure for a large-scale ST 2110 live production centre for Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Tennis Channel, which featured a cloud-based environment for pop-up events, Rebel also highlighted the importance of minimum latency in sports, as quite understandably, “nobody wants to hear their neighbours cheer and wait to find out why”.

Imagine Communications helped Sinclair to design and build a complete operations architecture for the regional sports networks (RSNs) they had acquired, and equipped a media operations centre around a SMPTE 2110 IP network providing key functionality on premises. A cloud-based disaster recovery solution was also added as a backup.

All playout of top sporting events hosted in the cloud

During their coverage of the 2021 Miami Open tennis tournament in March, Sinclair spun up a number of live channels. All the playout, including the unpredictable live interventions associated with fitting commercial breaks into the matches, was hosted in the cloud, with operators sitting wherever was convenient and safe for them.

“With latency no different to what master control operations’ experience with on-premises solutions, it had no impact on Sinclair’s operations and distribution feeds,” said Rebel.

“Critically, for the operators, their interactions are absolutely identical: they work in exactly the same way, with the same screens and the same functionality, whether they are connected to the primary system or the backup in the cloud. When something goes wrong, the last thing you need is the operational team making errors because the backup systems are unfamiliar.”

For Dejero, its Smart Blending Technology (SBT) is designed to provide reliable connectivity, anywhere, and intelligently combines with multiple IP network connections – from diverse network providers in real-time – to form a virtual ‘network of networks.’

Monterroso explained, “If a connection is lost or becomes congested in highly populated areas, SBT automatically re-routes packets in real-time across the connection paths to maintain a seamless and reliable connection. This provides enhanced reliability, expanded coverage and greater bandwidth capacity.

“Connection performance is assessed in real-time and it incorporates dynamic recovery and use of connectivity, supporting cloud, hybrid cloud and on-premises applications with delivery to multiple, optimised end-points.”

By providing reliable high bandwidth connectivity, SBT empowers those working in the field to take advantage of cloud-based workflows to send and receive voice, video and data while in challenging nomadic or mobile environments; access media management systems, newsroom systems, data centres; and exchange information with studios.

Powered by SBT, Dejero’s EnGo 260 transmitter also allowed Italian production company Nexting to address the issue of low latency during the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics. Nexting was able to send broadcast-quality live video via just cellular networks at all of its broadcast clients in Tokyo during the Games, with latency as low as 0.8, Monterroso reported.

She said, “SBT has also opened a new world of opportunities in the media and film industry this year by helping to establish ‘virtual video villages’ for multiple productions. Using the cloud, it allows high-quality video and audio content on location to be transferred to any destination across the globe. This empowers anyone involved in the creative process to view, in real-time, what the camera is capturing, and provide instant feedback.”

The transition to cloud and IP continues …

Since the SMPTE 2110 suite of standards was introduced in 2017, the transition to IP and the cloud has been a priority for broadcasters looking to streamline operations, decrease footprints and effectively integrate with an industry in a rapid state of flux, Monterroso observed.

She predicted that, as financial pressure on broadcasters continues to increase, “essential transformation” will need to happen for broadcasters to continue to transition towards IP and cloud services. “Without the entrenched legacies of traditional broadcasters, digital platforms can assist as well as disrupt, using cloud capabilities to provide reliable and agile solutions.”

To continue to provide cloud-based tools that untether production teams and pave the way for more innovation, Dejero recently combined their remote contribution solutions with cloud-native live production platforms Dazzl and Grabyo.

Users now need to access only a web browser in order to produce, edit and distribute live streams from any location. A key benefit of this partnership, said Monterroso, is that broadcasters can use a cloud platform from a non-IP station and transport native SDI or IP content to the station or directly to the cloud via the Dazzl and Grabyo customer portal.

Much like the company’s approach to the transition to IP, Imagine Communications believes that the transition to cloud should happen at broadcasters’ own pace.

“My number one piece of advice, however, would be not to tackle too much at once,” Rebel said. “As existing systems reach life expiry, have a debate with a trusted partner like Imagine about how best to replace them.”

With disaster recovery a priority during the pandemic, broadcasters need to have a strategy to stay on-air and to broadcast billable commercial spots. “Equally, renting more premises and building out a complete duplicate playout centre that will probably never go to air is a huge financial commitment. So, many are looking to the cloud to provide business continuity for traditional on-premises playout operations,” he added.

In a “your path, your pace” approach, all stakeholders within the organisation are also allowed to build up knowledge and confidence, Rebel pointed out, before concluding, “Backing up your legacy playout system with disaster recovery in the cloud means that, whenever you rehearse a failure, everyone gets more comfortable that the cloud is providing the response and the quality you expect. In turn, that makes it easier to move to the cloud for the next step, or the next legacy sub-system that is due for replacement.”

Question: Working in the cloud is no more an option but a matter of survival. How best can broadcasters migrate to the cloud without junking their legacy systems and yet build a playout system with a robust disaster recovery in the cloud?

To share your challenges or experiences working in the cloud, please send them to maven@editecintl.com

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