Creating, managing and distributing media content with Microsoft Azure

Creating, managing and distributing media content with Microsoft Azure
We spoke to many executives to find out why companies worldwide are choosing the platform

Richard Humphreys |

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox. 

According to a 2019 Cisco study, video will make up 82% of all online traffic by 2022. And this isn’t all – video streaming via the internet to smart TVs will increase threefold between 2017 and 2022 and consumer video on demand (VoD) traffic will nearly double by 2022. The amount of VoD traffic by 2022 will be equivalent to 10 billion DVDs per month.

“Media companies must – and have – been adapting to the fact that a great deal of video viewing occurs on screens other than TVs, even in consumer living rooms,” explains Shruti Jain, principal analyst for Cisco’s Video Networking Index. “Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are the screens that many people choose for consuming news and entertainment video content. This has given rise to a host of streaming services – some from over-the-top (OTT) players like Netflix, and others from traditional broadcasters. Reaching and retaining the growing online audience demands an internet streaming media strategy that provides regularly updated and/or popular and compelling content – delivered in high-quality.” 

Howard Bass, senior advisory partner for Media and Entertainment at multinational professional services firm EY agrees. “There are increasing opportunities for great storytelling and really extraordinary production values to engage audiences,” he says. “Traditional media companies, as well as newer global content distribution platforms, will compete on quality.” 

Pioneering businesses are ahead of the game. Take corporate social networking site LinkedIn, for example, which has just begun piloting its new LinkedIn Live service with select broadcasters. “In the 18 months since we launched native video, live has been the top requested video feature from members and we also see a number of examples where live video would make sense,” said Tatiana De Almeida, LinkedIn spokesperson. “For example, an influencer doing an entrepreneurship ‘ask me anything’ video, or a video series on workplace culture. We’re looking forward to seeing how our pilot broadcasters use LinkedIn Live to bring people together and will evaluate what makes sense for expanding based on the communities we see forming and growing around streams.” 

Meanwhile, Canada-based media firm zonetv is using artificial intelligence (AI) and human curation to create Dynamic Channels – customised and personalised video channels that draw content from a variety of sources and learn viewers’ tastes over time. In the six years since its founding, zonetv has offered a variety of video products, including interactive event-based pop-up channels like the Santa Tracker, which gets millions of viewers during the holiday season. The company is also one of the largest curators and aggregators of subscription video on demand in North America, supplying content to some of the biggest names in the home video industry.

And UK provider of television, telecommunications, internet access, and mobile network services TalkTalk is also capitalising on new opportunities through TalkTalk TV. With the service, the firm delivers the latest TV and movie content to a million monthly users on PCs, game consoles, tablets, mobiles, smart TVs and more. 

While very different in their approach, all of these firms have one thing in common: they are leveraging Microsoft Azure – a hyperscale, enterprise-grade hybrid cloud platform providing more than 150 services – from basic storage and compute services to advanced AI services. 

“Azure enables firms to integrate their media supply chain by creating, managing, distributing, and monetising content in the cloud,” explains Rainer Kellerhals, Microsoft’s media and entertainment industry lead for the EMEA region. “Meanwhile, Azure Media Services provide the specific capabilities required for audio and video workflows, like high-definition video encoding and transcoding, dynamic media file packaging, handling digital rights management keys and encryption, broadcast-quality live and on-demand streaming to reach audiences on most popular devices, and telemetry to monitor service quality and track user interaction.

“In addition, Azure Video Indexer enables companies to automatically extract descriptive information – also referred to as ‘metadata’ – from their video and audio content, making video content searchable at a very granular level.” 

In the future, the rise of 5G will transform the industry further. “Telecommunication firms such as Telefonica, Ericsson and AT&T are pushing advancements in 5G in order to facilitate the distribution of content to any device,” explains Rikke Helms, Microsoft’s managing director for the Global Telecommunications Industry. “5G will address many of the challenges facing media firms today – resulting in a faster, more robust network and enabling telco firms to retain their important roles within content distribution. Telco firms and media companies have never been more aligned – it’s exciting to see how they will shape the future.”  

Cisco’s Jain agrees, but also warns of other hurdles that may prevent a smooth journey going forward. “In addition to the investments in network infrastructure (or partnerships with network operators), an equally important element to consider is the production cost of creating content, as well as the cost of finding talent.” 

This is something that Rex Grignon, co-founder and CEO of Nimble Collective and former head of Character Animation at DreamWorks Animation, feels strongly about. “Building production infrastructure is a major cost and very complex for today’s media firms,” he explains. “Finding and engaging talent in the increasingly competitive landscape is a huge challenge too. That’s why we created Nimble Collective, which leverages Microsoft Azure. Our on-demand production infrastructure allows content creators to focus on what they want: creating content, not building infrastructure, as they’ve always done.

“As for talent, Nimble Collective allows companies to find and engage artists around the world with easy onboarding/offboarding and a very collaborative workflow. We’re now doing what all the studios have wanted to do for ages but couldn’t afford to engineer on their own.”

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