The new face of TV: using the cloud to deliver content in an agile manner

As internet viewing figures soar, broadcasters are having to figure out new ways of delivering premium content quickly and reliably. We speak with Tony Emerson to find out more

Rebecca Lambert
Rebecca Lambert
By Rebecca Lambert on 02 July 2015
The new face of TV: using the cloud to deliver content in an agile manner

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows

YouTube videos are proving big business today. It’s reported that Felix Kjellberg – the man behind last year’s most watched YouTube channel, PewDiePie – makes at least US$4 million a year in ad sales. Amassing over 4.1 billion hits in 2014 alone, the UK-based gaming commentator’s channel currently has 36 million subscribers and counting.

For those who haven’t seen them, PewDiePie’s videos are by no means polished. And he’s not the only one producing this type of home-grown content. So how does this affect the many broadcast and media companies who have stuck with the mantra that as long as they’re producing the highest quality content they will still attract a broad audience and, ultimately, succeed? Is content still king?

“In many respects it still is,” says Tony Emerson, managing director of the Worldwide Media and Cable division at Microsoft. “But as the likes of PewDiePie and other YouTube stars are proving, you don’t necessarily need to spend big bucks on top-notch content to get the viewers – and you certainly don’t need to distribute it via TV ­anymore. We work closely with premium content providers to stream their videos from Azure so they do not need to depend on the YouTube model and lose control (and revenue) to Google.”

What the internet has done is open up content sharing to pretty much anyone. “New contributors don’t have all the old baggage of feeling like they need to put together the best scripted movie quality content,” says Emerson. “They just put stuff out there and if it resonates with viewers then they can quickly achieve overnight success. It’s become more acceptable – not to mention easier – to produce content at a much lower cost.”

Major media companies are making moves to cash in on this latest trend and become more agile content creators. Last year, Disney bought short-form video producer Maker Studios, which has the likes of PewDiePie signed to its network, for US$1 billion.

Confirming the acquisition, Disney chairman and CEO Rober Iger said: “Short-form online video is growing at an astonishing pace and, with Maker Studios, Disney will now be at the centre of this dynamic industry with an unmatched combination of advanced technology and programming expertise and capabilities.”

According to Emerson, the key to success for media companies today is to provide their customers with instant gratification, which translates into the ability to view the content of their choice when they want, where they want and on any device.

For many, this means doing away with antiquated systems that are not integrated or mobile, and moving to more modern, cloud-based technologies that not only help them to enhance team collaboration and workflow but also to reduce the overall cost of the IT infrastructure needed to do so.

“This is critical for media networks since so much content is created in the field, ­especially when it comes to live entertainment such as sporting events,” says Emerson. “Media and cable companies need to support collaboration across great distances, and they must enable this while ensuring the highest levels of security to protect their intellectual property. They need to deliver their content across great distances, too, as consumers want digital, personalised content to be available from anywhere.”

Using the power of the cloud, media companies are finding that they can launch new services quickly, deliver content across the widest range of devices and manage peak demand times without huge investments in on-premises servers.

Take Japanese station FujiTV, for example. Recently, it launched FujiTV NextSmart – a 24-hour internet channel version of its cable/satellite channel supported by Microsoft Azure Media Services. It streams content live but also replays content on demand for a limited time after the original broadcast. It can be viewed on pretty much any mobile device and has reduced the average age of new subscribers by 15 years.

Next Generation Sports Network (NGSN) is taking a similar approach. Earlier this year, it launched a beta web service that streams live football matches from eight leagues around the world to subscribers in the US.

“Using Microsoft Azure as its platform, NGSN built a scalable solution that can not only serve millions of subscribers when it’s game time, but also supports the entire video workflow from end to end — essentially a broadcast and production facility in the cloud, including live ingestion and commentary, live encoding, live and on-demand broadcasting, and user apps for iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Xbox and more,” says Emerson.

Developments like this are just some of the ways in which Microsoft is helping media companies keep up with their customers’ demands. “We’re committed to helping them to spin up new services quickly in the most cost-effective ways,” explains Emerson. “Today, broadcasters need to be able to bring new services to market within weeks rather than years. The industry has changed almost beyond recognition and it requires a brand new way of doing things.”

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