Coffee, croissants and the capabilities of cloud

At a specially-convened breakfast seminar in May, MTM gathered leading buyers and sellers of cloud technology solutions from across the broadcast industry to discuss the opportunities and challenges of migrating media workflows to the cloud.

Since 2014, the cloud industry has grown by an average of 45% per year.  The media industry has been relatively slow to engage with cloud, but take up has recently accelerated as broadcast executives explore the ability of the cloud to support increasingly complex and fragmented video delivery models.

Silver linings and storm warnings: Identifying drivers and barriers

Across the seminar attendees, the flexibility of cloud-based systems was identified as the most significant driver of cloud migration. Our broadcasters highlighted the ability to scale services up and down, launch quickly in new markets and rapidly develop new product offerings as key use cases.

For both broadcasters and media tech vendors, outsourcing complex IT functions to external cloud providers can also help streamline their businesses by alleviating the need for advanced in-house technical capabilities: “SaaS cloud allows us to focus on our expertise – ie. providing data analytics – not on computing”.

Concerns remain, however, particularly regarding the perceived costs of egress. As one broadcaster complained: “It can’t be more expensive to distribute a show than that piece of content brings in as revenue”.

Broadcasters also cited live multicast at scale as an area where the cloud is not seen as an optimal solution. For most broadcasters, live workflows remain largely on-premise and are expected to remain so for the foreseeable future, with attendees citing issues with latency as a significant barrier to cloud migration.

Lessons learnt

  1. Cloud migration can be an opportunity to understand your business better: “The culture of outsourcing over the past years means most businesses have lost a lot of knowledge about their own workflows – we need to understand these better and then engineer to specific business outcomes”.
  2. Seminar attendees warned of the dangers of “lift and shift”: uncritical migration of existing processes onto cloud servers. A common view was that companies need to conduct a total reevaluation of their business processes to design an optimal cloud solution instead: “At present there are amazing solutions wrapped in old school engineering thinking”.  
  3. While most organisations will move to cloud bit by bit, egress costs as well as system efficiency can be optimised if end-to-end workflows are entered into the cloud – although certain discrete workflows (e.g. video processing, production) may be left on-premise for technical and cost purposes.
  4. The necessity of people transformation alongside technical innovation was another significant lesson. Broadcasters who had undergone major cloud migration projects highlighted the importance of educating and supporting their workforce to adapt to the new systems. Without buy-in across the company, new technology will fail to achieve its maximum potential.
  5. Importantly, there is not simple template for cloud migration:  every media company’s journey is unique, shaped by individual cultural and strategic considerations.

Cloud forecast?

Over the next 5 years, our attendees expect to see particular advancements in cloud use cases for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Subtitling, monetising archives and viewer analytics – which can be fed back into scheduling, recommendations and even content commissioning – are all areas in which cloud technology can help broadcasters reduce costs and provide better customer experiences.

Speculating on the wider shape of the industry, many envisage that media businesses will employ increasingly multi-cloud strategies, integrating products across a selection of preferred public and private cloud providers. This “cloud agnosticism” should help to prevent “vendor lock-in” and encourage a healthy competitive landscape.

Many thanks to all our seminar participants for providing a thought provoking discussion.