When looking at the innovation taking place over the last three years, commenting that the media industry is fast-evolving is an understatement. Cloud and IP workflows have been bringing solutions to broadcasting challenges, enabling media organizations to continue to deliver high-quality live content in the face of adversity.
Fast-forward to today and the media world have gone back to a new ‘normality’ where on-premise and cloud workflows co-exist and even complement each other. Given the level of investment in innovation and the need to continue to leverage existing hardware investments, the future of broadcasting is hybrid.
In this hybrid broadcasting environment, media organizations must be ready to deliver compelling live viewing experiences overcoming the latency, synchronization, and security challenges.
Marrying on-premise and cloud in the best possible way
Every broadcaster has a unique set of business and operational requirements, which means that the pace of its migration to IP and the cloud will be different. In addition, every media company has its existing technology infrastructure that has been leveraging, and completely overhauling its modus operandi in favor of transitioning to cloud workflows is often unrealistic.
In a hybrid broadcasting environment, media companies continue to utilize their existing CAPEX investments for their core traffic needs, including 24/7 contribution and distribution for linear TV. However, they can pivot to cloud workflows for occasional use and when they need additional networking capacity, for example, during the traffic peaks accompanying popular live events. This additional cloud-powered capacity brings the flexibility and scalability media organizations require to spin network resources up or down depending on actual needs — and replace satellite-driven content contribution and distribution. Given that C Band satellite bandwidth is being redeployed for 5G, satellite has limited availability — and being able to source additional capacity from the cloud is becoming a mission-critical capability. This can also be a financially viable solution as long as the cloud services price structure is flexible and grants media organizations the transparency to plan and manage their costs.
For this traffic mix to succeed and work seamlessly, media companies need the right media platform to enable a hybrid architecture that supports all types of traffic mixes — including core and occasional. The media platform needs to be open, flexible, and standards-based to support all on-premise data centers and cloud providers. In addition, the platform needs to be compatible with the full range of protocols available in the market, including RTMP, SRT, RIST, Zixi, and support protocol conversion as necessary.
Overcoming latency and time synchronization challenges
Live production in the cloud needs to meet stringent latency and time synchronization requirements to ensure high-quality video delivery. For remote production which has the most stringent demands, the maximum latency is typically 100-150 milliseconds, but for most other live applications that the contribution latency needs to be below 1 second end-to-end, including encoding and decoding.
Media traffic is sensitive to jitter and that the content is sent and received with the same clock (pace). . In addition, for high-tier live events (i.e., Tier 1 and 2) with multi-camera productions, synchronization is key to ensure frame alignment and compensate for any network delays. For this to happen, the source and destination nodes should use the same clock. However, in IP environments, transferring time can be challenging. Therefore, it is important to ensure clocks are configured correctly on both sides to avoid frame misalignment and overall poor quality.
The criticality of security, IP domain management, and flow control
Another key consideration when moving to end-to-end cloud production workflows refers to security, IP address domain management, and media-related flow control. The transition to cloud means switching between local and public IP networks and different IP address domains. Therefore, it’s important to be able to handle translations at edge points (for instance, when moving between the IP address domains of the venue, cloud, and studio).
All data, audio, and video will enter the different domains over the same network links and ports. As a result, ensuring what type of IP media traffic can pass through these networks and which streams can go in and out of each network domain becomes crucial for security. IP media traffic doesn’t need to be harmful to damage the network. Even ‘secure’ IP media traffic can cause serious issues. If the content isn’t configured properly, it can flood the network and cause packet loss, jitter, and delay. Therefore, it’s essential for media companies to have full control of the content filtering in their IP media networks and services.
So far, securing cloud workflows and IP media networks has relied on the combination of general-purpose, media-unaware firewalls and to a certain degree Network Address Translation (NAT) capabilities. These solutions have not had all of the functions and performance required to handle the large number of streams and data in large IP media networks.
An IP Media Trust Boundary supporting ST 2022 and ST 2110 workflows can bring new levels of security without compromising on speed, latency, or efficiency. The IP Media Trust Boundary automates traffic filtering of incoming and outgoing IP addresses and ports per stream and per core application. Through user-selectable metrics, industry players benefit from strict control to define which data and streams to be allowed or blocked. This covers transferring content in mixed IP environments and between trusted and untrusted IP domains. The IP Media Trust Boundary does not simply reintroduce security, it also ensures flexibility and scalability. The NAT functionality allows for removal and reapplication of the full IP layer, creating a tamper-proof seal while enabling the full reuse of IP addresses and dramatically simplifies the move between multicast and unicast networks and IP media devices.
The right platform to deliver a hybrid future
Cloud technology is transforming the media industry. Part of cloud’s innovative potential refers to its flexibility — media organizations can transition to the cloud on their terms and at their pace. Hybrid workflows will dominate the media and broadcasting industries for the foreseeable future, allowing media companies to combine their CAPEX investments with cloud technology as and when it makes sense. For hybrid broadcasting environments to succeed, they need to address the challenges of latency, time synchronization, and media-related flow control and security. An open and flexible cloud media platform enables media companies to leverage the media delivery workflows that are best for them and set them up for success.
Per Lindgren is CTO of Net Insight and is a founding member of the company. He spearheaded the development of Sye, the low latency OTT streaming platform that was acquired by Amazon in 2020. In addition, he is an inventor of more than fifteen patents. Previously, Lindgren was an assistant professor at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology and holds a Ph.D. in telecommunications from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.