Content creation in the Microsoft Azure cloud

Microsoft and its partners are helping leading content creators to successfully move their media value chains to the cloud. Here we discover how

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 11 May 2020
Content creation in the Microsoft Azure cloud

According to the latest predictions by ABI Research, 2020 will witness significant progress towards a future where more over-the-top (OTT) content goes direct-to-consumer (DTC) and video on demand (VoD) reaches 900 million subscriptions worldwide.

“After a tumultuous 2019 that was beset by many challenges, both integral to technology markets and derived from global market dynamics, 2020 looks set to be equally challenging,” said Stuart Carlaw, the analyst’s chief research officer in the whitepaper 54 Technology Trends to Watch in 2020. 

“In 2020, more and more consumers will be moving away from the forced packaging of channels into fixed bundles,” added Michael Inouye, ABI Research’s video and cloud services principal analyst. “As the content landscape becomes more fragmented and consumers are presented with a growing list of options, the ability to pick and choose which ‘channels’ of content best fit their needs will only become more important.”

Tim Murphy, Microsoft’s principal program manager for Azure media and entertainment, believes that, while these are obvious new threats creating new challenges, these are great problems to have. “For example, the newly expanded reach that OTT DTC offers creates a new challenge of increasing the pure volume of work, but compounded by the reach introduces many more variables to account for localisation, such as more language dubs and subtitles, more regionalised compliance checks, more regulations, more formats and transformations required,” he explains. 

It’s a long list, but operating at scale obviously puts more eyes on media firms’ prized content. “The operational and technical impact of this global reach is a multiplier larger, but the budgets do not account for scaling operations to match,” Murphy says. “The other challenge we are often seeing is shorter timeframes to get to their new content market. So, think about that combined challenge: more, faster, with same (or less) physical and operational resources.  Finally, the content creators need to capitalise on the DTC offer.”

As more content owners rush into the DTC market to compete with OTT threats from the likes of Netflix et al, a new problem arises: how many of these DTC services will the end users agree to pay for? It’s a challenge felt by many of the industry’s biggest players. For example, speaking at the Citi 2020 Global TMT West Conference in Las Vegas, Discovery’s president and CEO David Zaslav said he expects “only a few DTC services will ultimately survive”. However, he went on to say that Discovery will stay afloat thanks to its growing DTC business, including what he refers to as the firm’s ‘local-language Netflix business’ in international markets that he predicted will be very big. “We think this local language is going to be really potent,” he said. 

If there’s one technology that can really help content owners to rise to this multitude of challenges, then it’s the cloud. “Clearly the reach of any public cloud provides a platform that allows the content creation process to behave globally,” says Murphy. “Given that the Microsoft Azure cloud has more data centres than any other public cloud providers that are geographically located within close proximity of major metropolitan areas, the creative process, which is latency sensitive, only benefits by being closer to an Azure data centre. When you use the global network of Azure, it is entirely possible to enable global collaboration. This means an on-set editor can hand off their day’s work when working in London to editors in LA at the end of their day. Historically, this process was serial, in that editors would wrap their work on set and literally ship hardware to LA to finish work. I often say to clients the technology reduces the geography to nearly zero.” 

The cloud also offers other clear benefits beyond global reach and collaboration. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), for example, offer a very quick and efficient way to find faces in shots, locate profanity for compliance workflows, provide speech-to-text converted to another language for subtitles, and more. “The future use cases where ML and AI can offer operational assist tools to accelerate their work is endless,” says Murphy. 

Microsoft’s emphasis is not only on helping the media and entertainment industry as a whole, but more specifically on the content creation community. This is evidenced in the recent strategic partnership with Disney Studio Labs. The parties are agreeing to bring best practices to the content creation community as a whole, in the public domain for everyone to use and contribute to.  

“The combination of Azure’s hyper-scale capacity, global distribution and industry-­leading storage and networking capabilities with Disney’s strong history of industry leadership unlocks new opportunity in the media and entertainment space and will power new ways to drive content and creativity at scale,” said Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft US, in a press release announcing the collaboration. “With Azure as the platform cloud for content, we’re excited to work with the team at StudioLAB to continue to drive innovation across Disney’s broad portfolio of studios.”

Since the increasing volume of content creation and global distribution is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, Microsoft and its partners are perfectly placed to help producers and broadcasters to ensure they stay one step ahead. “The challenges will continue for everyone,” concludes Murphy. “The next evolution will be around how they reach and capitalise their end users in a more meaningful and direct method – this is where Microsoft technology will come into its own.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.

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