“The only thing that is constant is change.” In a world shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 18 months, never has this quote from Greek philosopher Heraclitus been more true. Shaped by lockdowns and social distancing, the world in which we live, learn, and work has altered irrevocably, with technology coming to the fore as a critical enabler for collaboration, engagement, and how we consume content.
About the author
Gordon Brooks is Executive Chairman and CEO of Zixi.
With regards to the latter, as an example, according to Nielsen, the most popular activity for stay-at-home workers was listening to music on an AM/FM radio station or streaming services, with 40% listening daily. This was closely followed by watching TV or streaming content during a work break, with 33% watching every day.
This rise in content streaming, specifically live streaming, is not behavior that is likely to change in the foreseeable future, and for the media and entertainment industry it is important to adapt and embrace new technology to prosper.
With this in mind, we’ve identified three key characteristics for broadcast streaming infrastructure to support successful, agile media workflows. These are:
- Inherent agility
- Universal interoperability
- Data-driven capabilities
Let us step through these in turn.
1. Inherent agility
Modern streaming workflows have to be able to respond quickly to changing market dynamics, as well as be able to seize new opportunities as they arise. For that, they need to be based in the cloud.
Software-defined and virtualized workflows provide a degree of responsiveness that is impossible to replicate in any other manner. For that reason, we are seeing more and more large-scale media enterprises pivot towards increasingly end-to-end cloud-based workflows.
The cloud brings five major benefits: improved flexibility, cost savings, an increase in reliability, faster time to market, and the ability to support a virtualized and remote workforce (this later becoming a key component of the post-pandemic economy). Each one of them is a compelling reason to move to the cloud on its own; add them together and it’s easy to see why only 35% of future infrastructure build-outs in a 2020 poll were planning a hardware-defined infrastructure. 65% were looking at a software-defined infrastructure and, given the pandemic’s ability to accelerate all things in this area, we would be surprised if that number wasn’t already higher.
2. Universal interoperability
Any IP, any protocol, any infrastructure; the most effective new streaming workflows will be IP-based and portable.
The move towards IP workflows throughout the media industry is a generational shift being driven by numerous different factors from changes in viewing options to the adoption of hybrid network workflows, increased bit rates, enhanced monetization opportunities, and more.
It is also being enabled by the increased reliability, adoption, and democratization of managed and unmanaged IP networks over and above legacy transport methods. Managed and unmanaged IP networks are defined to include, internet, leased fiber, cellular including 5G and IP Satellite. When done correctly, public IP provides higher resiliency, higher reliability, lower latency, higher quality, and considerably more flexibility than traditional methods. If you look around the industry, that is where the momentum lies. Other transport methods have played, and still play an important part in the overall development of IP-based workflows, but they are essentially becoming evolutionary dead-ends for new world media workflows that are nearing the end of their usefulness as IP becomes the dominant route to connectivity.
It’s important to recognize the critical importance of 5G in this as well. 5G will drive $1.3 trillion of revenues in the media and entertainment space by 2028, completely reshaping the media landscape and ensuring that if companies fail to support it, they risk failure or even extinction.
Cloud is also critical to successful 5G deployment, as are the other four of the 5Cs, namely Content, Carrier, Cellular, and Consumer.
- Content – Provides the ability to produce and deliver broadcast content at the highest quality of experience (QoE)
- Cloud – The extension of the existing cloud to 5G / 4G LTE creating multi-access edge computing (MEC)
- Carrier – The critical fiber infrastructure between regional and global MECs
- Cellular – The high bandwidth, ultra-low latency wireless network providing universal edge
- Consumer – The enablement of mobile consumers to create and deliver 4K live content
As an example, we’ve spent the past year working on a deployment with a major broadcaster for delivery over Verizon 5G networks using AWS Wavelength Zone technology to allow distribution of 4K UHD streams to commercial targets at super-low latency without the need for satellites. The result is a defined architecture that includes on-premises devices (5G routers) across all segments.
3. Data-driven capabilities
Finally, it is important to consider the role of data analysis in ensuring QoE and more.
There are quite a few complications here. Data overload can lead to too many false alarms, leaving organizations unsure of what is important and what is not, while a reactive approach rather than a predictive one can prove costly and stressful.
What is required is better RCA (Root Cause Analysis) to swiftly understand the causes of instability and failure, to get ahead of them and prevent them from happening in the first place. Increasingly utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning have a major impact here, and the correct application reduces noise and costs, improves the accuracy of RCA, drives operational efficiency, and enables a predictive and proactive approach to streaming issues — enabling users to be alerted to problems before they occur.
The momentum behind broadcast streaming is undeniable. However, there are a few traps for the unwary in such a rapidly evolving field and the potential exists for solution deployments to be too restrictive to ensure adequate ROI, especially as we look towards future developments.
However, by ensuring they engage with partners that provide services with inherent agility baked in, the universal interoperability necessary to accommodate public and private IP, hybrid IP, and 5G networks, and the data-driven capabilities to ensure reliability and QoE, broadcasters and other media companies can be confident that their streaming offerings will meet and exceed consumer demand for streaming content, now and into the future.