AMAGI TO PROVIDE UHD CLOUD PLAYOUT FOR NBC OLYMPICS
The global leader in SaaS technology, Amagi recently announced their partnership with NBC Universal to provide UHD cloud playout for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, taking place in Tokyo, Japan, this year. We spoke to Srinivasan KA, Co-Founder, Amagi on cloud porting a scalable future for mainstream broadcasters and switching to hybrid solutions
HOW IS AMAGI GOING TO ENABLE A BETTER PLAYOUT AT THE NBC OLYMPICS?
The Tokyo Olympics is the biggest sporting event to date to be broadcasted over the cloud. It is a groundbreaking achievement for the whole industry, and not just Amagi. And what makes it special is – that it is the ideal use case for the cloud. Broadcasters would not want to invest in infrastructure for an event, that occurs only once in four years, keeping it idle for the rest of the time. Cloud helps them to scale up and scale down the infrastructure based solely on their requirements for this event.
For Amagi, it is a very prestigious event to be associated with, and in partnership with one of the biggest broadcasters globally - NBCUniversal. We are naturally very excited! Amagi’s cloud-native technology is enabling the playout of 4K live feeds of the Olympics in UHD. Unlike other cloud service providers, Amagi is not employing GPUs, but standard, off-theshelf, CPUs for image processing, further bringing down the cost of operations for NBC Olympics. In spite of leveraging CPUs only, Amagi delivers rich, high quality visuals, as validated by the multiple screen quality tests by NBC.
Furthermore, we are introducing new, cutting- edge technologies for the live telecast, such as JPEG XS based playout, Ultra HD live tone mapping, and more. We are eager to see the outcome from the deployment of these technologies.
WHAT DOES CLOUD AUTOMATION HAVE IN STORE FOR MAINSTREAM BROADCASTERS?
Cloud automation provides countless benefits to broadcasters. Firstly, it allows you to scale up and scale down the infrastructure based on your specific needs. During the Olympics, for instance, a broadcaster would be running anywhere up to 40 to 50 channels for specific sporting events. Cloud technologies allow broadcasters to create these channels for the duration of the event, and bring it down after, cutting down operational costs significantly. Compared to traditional broadcasting systems, cloud is a better suited solution for this business model – a more natural fit.
Secondly, cloud automation allows you to have more compute intensive applications. A classic example is the use of Machine Learning to convert speech to text and enable live closed captioning during sporting events (which Amagi is doing for the Olympics). It is much easier to accomplish this over the cloud, given the amount of compute that is available.
And finally, there is the flexibility of remote production – taking the feeds that are coming from sporting premises, mixing and matching them and creating the 24/ 7 channel that will be broadcasted the world over – all of these can be done from any part of the world on the cloud. Cloud is breaking down misconceptions that broadcasters have been labouring under for the past 20 years or so. With the Olympics, the cloud has well and truly arrived.
HOW IS CLOUD ADDING RESILIENCE TO THE BROADCASTING INDUSTRY POST PANDEMIC?
I think it is providing a lot more options to the broadcast industry. Cloud allows broadcasters to have one unified platform for their broadcast and OTT needs.
It allows them to innovate in terms of business models, and save costs by customising technology spend according to the business requirements.
A classic example of the cloud’s inherent flexibility and scalability is in the creation of topical or season pop up channels – a feat that would have been difficult and expensive for content creators to achieve from a traditional broadcast standpoint. With the traditional system, broadcasters get a single fixed infrastructure set-up, to which they have to adapt their business models. For instance, if a traditional broadcast network has 50 channels (some big and some small), they also have uniform redundancy across all of the channels. Cloud, on the other hand, allows broadcasters to customise redundancy, reducing it for their non-prime channels, and increasing it by as much as three or four levels for channels that showcase prime time events. The technology needs to correspond to business needs, and vice versa. And that is where cloud outperforms traditional broad-casting.
Cloud is going to enable field crew to not be on the field at all. Remote production allows delivering experiences that are similar to being on the field.
WHAT KIND OF LATENCY IMPROVEMENTS CAN WE EXPECT IN FUTURE?
We are seeing a lot of innovations from cloud providers, that are going to markedly improve latencies in future. AWS Cloud Digital Interface (CDI) is one such innovation that allows extremely low latency video transport in just a few frames.
Similarly, Amagi’s solutions replicate on-premise experiences for operators with very low latencies. The HLS segmented delivery technology is one such solution.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE SCOPE FOR GROWTH IN ELASTIC COMPUTING?
Cloud providers are building architecture that can dramatically leverage spot instances over reserved instances, substantially bringing down the overall cost of the system. In fact, the dynamism of the system can be utilised even further. We can create micro components within the system, where each component is elastic.
Amagi’s architecture has been built with the philosophy of shunning monolithic systems and having it organised by components instead, to allow individual modules to scale up and down based on the need, producing a more optimal end system. At the next level, the architecture could be further broken down into smaller components, creating micro services and components that can provide even more agility.
Cloud providers are also starting to see options for elastic computing on the cloud as well as on the edge. This is going to lead to new innovations. Innovations with regard to the size of processing are already being made, giving us a lot more flexibility in terms of choosing the right option for the application.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR SOLUTIONS AND THEIR ROLE IN AN INCREASINGLY HYBRID WORLD.
We enable our customers to opt for purely cloud-based solutions or a mix of on-premise and cloud-based solutions, and the ability to seamlessly transition between the one and the other. Similarly, our disaster recovery system, where you can bring up the whole workflow onto the cloud during a disaster to act as a backup for your on-premise system, is a classic example of a hybrid model. Lastly, our fully transparent unified web interface allows full control of broadcast workflows on the cloud from any part of the world.
Over the next few years, the industry is going to witness a transition from purely on-premise operations to hybrid models and eventually fully cloud-based broadcast workflows. We are currently working with many of our customers on each of these models.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF AV OVER IP?
The advantages are obvious. It lowers costs considerably in comparison to traditional cabling infrastructure. It also reduces the need for specialised cabling in general. Having HDI or specific broadcasting engineering capability moves you from a broadcasting support to an IP support infrastructure. As you look at moving workflows to the cloud from onpremise, IP is really the only choice.
Some of the disadvantages with IP are the packet drops or network congestion. These are some of the challenges that the industry is working towards, and many of them are getting resolved. We are increasingly seeing better and better transports. We are already able to deliver high bandwidth videos with none to very low levels of packet drops.
SHARE SOME OF THE APPREHENSIONS WITHIN THE MARKET RELATED TO THE ADOPTION OF SUCH NEW PRODUCTION METHODS?
The biggest challenge with any technology adoption is not the technology itself, but the human mindset. It is the fear of the unknown, or simply a resistance to learn. This is common for all technologies, and not just the cloud. A lot of these apprehensions can be resolved through education and a demonstration of the capabilities of the technology. We see pioneers in the industry who go out of their way to demonstrate the efficiency and value of technologies to the market. And we see a majority of the industry looking at them and coming to terms with the innovations they are bringing forth, as well as the resulting changes.
In the media and entertainment industry for instance, one of the predominant concerns in adopting new production methods is the cost of the initial set-up. Often times, broadcasters take a lift and shift approach to cloud migration and end up spending more, rather than less. Cloud is a cost saving solution for broadcasters who are willing to adopt cloud-native systems that allow them the flexibility to create business models, instead of simply replicating them on a virtual platform. To leverage the competitive advantages of the cloud, you need the right technology, the right architecture and the right business model. We combat the lift and shift mentality by working closely with the customer in understanding their requirements and recommending appropriate architecture, rather than a one-size fits all approach.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW HAS THE MENA MARKET ADAPTED TO CLOUD AND WHAT DO YOU FORESEE IN TERMS OF GROWTH HERE?
A lot of cloud vendors are beginning to invest in the MENA market. There is also much more awareness on the potential of cloud solutions among conventional broadcasters. High internet expenses was one of the limitations of the market, which is becoming less of a concern. Some of our customers in the region have been at the forefront of migrating their services to the cloud. We’re starting to see a lot more momentum and potential for growth.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A HOLISTIC VIEW ON TECH INNOVATION?
It is important for tech leaders to understand how a business needs to be impacted and articulate it in terms of ROI. Technology innovation is not the end in itself, it is the means to an end.