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Media and entertainment cloud use poised to shake up industry

The media and entertainment industry is moving workflows to the cloud in a dramatic cultural shift. InterVision's Ray Panahon sheds light on this development.

Media and entertainment cloud adoption could dramatically alter how business gets done in that vertical market.

That's the view of Ray Panahon, who joined managed service provider InterVision Systems in August as head of technology for the media and entertainment industry sector. Panahon previously led technical operations at Riot Games, developer of League of Legends and an e-sports broadcaster.

Cloud use could help media and entertainment companies address a number of pressing business challenges. Panahon said companies in that field are under pressure to "continuously create more content cost effectively." At the same time, they must deal with changes in how media is consumed and how it reaches audiences. And then there's the global dimension. A video game developer, for example, may need to localize content for 16 different languages and coordinate disparate content-creation teams around the world, he noted.

Up next: New workflows

As a result of those forces, media and entertainment companies are adopting new content-creation workflows that incorporate cloud tools and infrastructure, Panahon said. It's a double whammy for a vertical market that, culturally, has been slower to adopt new technologies.

"One, it is a paradigm shift in terms of culture, and, two, it is also a huge paradigm shift in terms of normal workflow," he said.

Indeed, workflow has been more centralized. Content was created in brick-and-mortar studios, with ads sold around the content and monetization coming through narrow channels such as cable television and traditional broadcast. Today, the drop in cable television subscriptions and "the much larger amount of eyeballs now on digital plays and mobile devices" set the stage for greater cloud adoption.

"It's only natural that tools for creating this content would shift away from brick and mortar," Panahon said.

Another factor influencing cloud use: businesses seeking more predictable cost models around content production and moving toward Opex-based approaches. "Cloud plays really well into this," Panahon said.

MSPs in M&E

The media and entertainment sector isn't a traditional stomping ground for managed service providers and IT professional services firms. But some companies have carved out a niche in that space.

Accenture in 2018 inked a three-year deal with Walt Disney Studios to investigate emerging technologies such as virtual reality, machine learning and blockchain. Outside of such R&D initiatives, service provider partners have tended to focus on entertainment companies' infrastructure needs, storage in particular. File-based workflow is creating significant demands for storing video and audio. And some MSPs have found demand for hyper-converged infrastructure among video game developers.

InterVision, however, is taking a somewhat different tack in media and entertainment, focusing on what Panahon described as "lens-to-lens workflows that incorporate studio to cloud." He said his aim is to make InterVision among the first MSP subject matter experts in this field.

Smaller, agile networks

Media and entertainment companies navigating this paradigm shift could reap substantial rewards on the other side. A traditional brick-and-mortar cable network might need 40 to 50 people to staff studios, master control facilities and transmission operations centers. But Panahon said a network running in the cloud can run with 10 to 15 people. Real estate such as studios become unnecessary, except for post-production facilities for "talking head" interviews.

Ray PanahonRay Panahon

"Cloud providers let you manage the whole function of broadcasting from the cloud," he said. "When you look at the big picture of reduction of headcount and real estate and facilities … it changes the game entirely."

That said, the cloud approach will be more compelling for some media and entertainment companies than others. "This entirely depends on who is funding the network or product and what the temperature of risk is for downtime and quality," Panahon said. "You also lose a lot of capabilities by running a smaller, more agile network in the cloud with reduced headcount."

The requirements for running a given network -- a shopping channel versus a college sports network, for example -- will also influence interest in the cloud.

Overall, however, "headcount reduction and savings on real estate will always be a motivator for networks regardless if they're selling Nielsen-rated content or not," Panahon noted.

Media and entertainment cloud partners

The larger media and entertainment companies, in particular, have figured out which cloud platforms to partner with as they incorporate cloud into their product and content strategies.

Those companies "have been working tighter with technology solutions and platforms such as Google, Microsoft and AWS," Panahon said.

Another set of cloud partners stems from media and entertainment solutions providers that are shifting from on-premises software to SaaS offerings.

"Secondarily, there have been traditional solutions in the space that are starting to move their solutions into SaaS-based models running in the cloud," Panahon explained. "This is causing a natural evolution for the different parts of the ecosystem when it comes to broadcast and content production."

Entertaining the cloud

The top public cloud companies all provide offerings for the media and entertainment industry. Here are a few developments:

  • Google in September said it is building an "ecosystem of technology and systems integration partners to help accelerate the industry's adoption of the cloud across all parts of the media supply chain." The cloud provider's partners include Blackbird, which offers a cloud-based clipping, editing and distribution platform, and Harmonic, which provides a SaaS-based live video platform.
  • Microsoft, participating in the recent International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, partnered with Haivision's SRTHub, Avid, Cinegy, Epic Labs, Make.tv, Telestream and Wowza to demonstrate media workflows in the cloud.
  • Looking ahead, AWS has 45 media and entertainment-related sessions on tap for its re:Invent conference, slated for December in Las Vegas.

Variability rules cloud deployment

Media and entertainment companies show considerable variability in how they actually deploy the cloud. Some adopt public cloud infrastructure and services and then build custom tools for distributed content creation and production on top of the cloud platform. Or they might purchase third-party tools and applications to run in the cloud.

There's also variability in cloud services and solutions. Some may exist in one cloud platform, but not in another. In addition, some cloud offerings are problem-specific and only handle certain operations -- streaming content to specific regions for particular over-the-top networks, Panahon noted.

And the workflows themselves are subject to change.

"You'll find that in this industry, even though there are common brand name tools, no two workflows are alike," he said. "These all change due to the nature of the content produced, the volume, the size of the creative team and a number of other factors."

In short, the media and entertainment cloud is far from settled.

"This is still a very, very new space for the industry and there's a lot changing year after year," Panahon said.  

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What services and solutions are you providing to the media and entertainment industry?

The amount of content leveraged by media enterprises continues to rise, which means that additional requirements are needed to remotely access these media assets. The status quo for the remote workforce is to access these files through low-resolution proxies or by downloading large, multiple GB files. Furthermore, creatives in video production, for example, have a variety of large-file-based needs (e.g., editing, music, motion graphics, animation, color correction, and sound mixing) that can often only be dealt with through on-premises access. This is because of the high levels of latency and file storage associated with tackling these large media assets remotely.

LucidLink's solution provides remote end-users with read or write access to on-premises or

public cloud-based media assets, without the user needing to download the entire large media

file (which still appears as if it were locally stored).

LucidLink allows media enterprises to use any object storage on their application server in

a similar way to how elastic block storage (EBS) is used. We have a case study where one creative agency now gives remote workers immediate access to TBs of data. They are now able to work with freelancers all over due to the rapid data access and collaboration on projects.

Thanks for the article, John. I work with Ray, so it may already be apparent from your article, but to be clear I'll offer some more specific notes on what InterVision is doing in this space, below. We are helping with architecture, design, implementation, and optimization of datacenter infrastructure and applications supporting file-based workflows deployed on any premise (on-prem, hosted IaaS, hyperscale cloud). We have industry specific partnerships that allow us to help select and deploy the right technology, right premise, and right service model for any content need. In terms of service models, we have architects on the front of designing projects, implementation engineers that go up the stack from infrastructure to end-user experience, and finally a managed services practice that covers device monitoring support, resilience services like security/backup/DR, and media specific resources for staff augmentation or managed services for broadcasting or content processing workloads.

Additionally, we have in-house services for building and iterating on automation frameworks, as well as a dedicated team of data scientists that build business or IT focused AI/ML applications to generate new revenue opportunities, improve security and enable AI-driven IT services operations. Our security engineers help ensure every deployment is secure and compliant, and we are looking at partnering with M&E trade groups that have defined industry specific compliance criteria to become certified assessors, and not just remediation teams that come in after the fact.

Curious to hear what others are doing in this space!