Playout in the cloud is more of a focal point than ever before.

Many media companies are now able, with the assistance of cloud playout, to engage in an entirely new range of media opportunities, while breaking down geographical and historical content boundaries, ultimately changing the way viewers consume media. At an infrastructure level, cloud playout offers a flexible, programmable platform to host a wide variety of software systems and services. Playout systems can potentially benefit from this flexibility too but the playout system needs to be written to be both compatible with cloud infrastructure and to actually take advantage of it.

While most industry effort remains at the compatibility stage, more work must be done to truly take advantage of the benefits cloud playout can offer. Some of these benefits include the potential to allow more dynamic channel deployments, lower cost operations, more rapid channel launches and various business continuity scenarios. Other benefits include overall performance optimisation and playout visibility.

Alongside these benefits, there are naturally some teething issues that must be addressed if cloud playout is to be a success. First of all, there can be a mismatch between the highly deterministic needs of a real-time playout chain and the best effort cloud model. This can be mitigated with the right infrastructure, architecture and software, but it’s not easy. Next, cloud playout also requires IP and software only components which today can mean making compromises on functionality, vendor choice and interoperability as the industry migration to those technologies continues. Finally, the economics of always-on infrastructure which is often associated with a playout chain, means that the public cloud might not offer best value today.

Further hurdles also include the switch from SDI to IP, hardware-centric products to software-centric products, different licensing approaches and a clearer vision of what television in its many forms could/should look like so that we can build for that future rather than simply migrate and then emulate the old.

Striking the perfect balance between these pros and cons should help us as an industry to strive for cloud playout to offer traditional content owners the flexibility to match that of OTT offerings. The technology stack, development practices and operational approaches used in the OTT domain are very good at delivering flexibility, agility and innovation in the face of rapidly changing viewer behaviour. If we can embrace that approach, without breaking the reliability associated with linear TV, then we can be better placed for the future.

There is work yet to be completed before we can truly embrace the cloud and use it to replace our current broadcast environments. Embracing new technologies will help this transition, and allows us as an industry to provide viewers with the content they want, wherever they want it, whether that be on traditional playout services, or with the aid of cloud playout.

Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer