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Cloud Media Services: Adopting The Cloud And Making It Work

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Richard Welsh, SMPTE International Governor and CEO at Sundog Media Toolkit, discusses the ever-evolving landscape of content-delivery.

The biggest application for cloud-based media services, today, is in transcoding and repurposing of content. This is true largely because both are critical processes for over-the-top (OTT), mobile, and other nonlinear digital platforms. Broadcasters set delivery requirements that can, and do hold true for years, so post-production companies can commit to the technology and infrastructure necessary to deliver content in a particular format or encoding scheme. For those post operations that support content services in the Internet-delivered market, however, content delivery requirements are ever evolving.
Rather than maintain the traditional mindset of locking down requirements once and for a long while, this part of the market is characterised by rapid change as providers try to augment content with different assets, different quality/compression ratios and different resolutions (HD, UHD, etc.). So, in terms of delivery, factors such as file format, compression codec and bit rate are constantly in flux. Addressing these many variations is the most popular use of cloud services, which are a safe bet in that they eliminate the need to commit to infrastructure tied to fixed delivery parameters. Rather, a post facility using cloud-based processing can take advantage of the services it requires at any given moment. Often employed at the end of the delivery chain, cloud services make it possible - and most importantly, cost-effective - for post-production facilities to hit a rapidly moving target.
Though cloud-based media services are most popular now for Internet and mobile content delivery, the landscape is changing, especially in areas unconstrained by the need to distribute uncompressed content. Even now, production teams are turning to cloud processing of content within the digital dailies workflow. The use of digital cameras and the ability to playback video on the set in real time have led to expectations that this footage can be sent direct from the set to many channels - from the producers to studio to editors and visual effects staff working off-set - in very short order. Rather than maintain a sizeable transcoding facility on-set, crew can use cloud-based transcoding to define and deliver content to all key team members in the appropriate format. In fact, telegrading and dailies companies now are offering cloud-based versions of their services, and across the broadcast and film industries, cloud companies that have worked on transcoding are now pushing into dailies.
Standards work in several key areas is facilitating use of the cloud by improving the interchange of digitally mastered motion picture elements. For example, the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) being standardised through the work of the SMPTE Digital Cinema Technology Committee (TC-21DC) is designed to facilitate a wide range of motion picture workflows while eliminating the ambiguity of today’s file formats. By providing an architecture and supporting tools for digital motion picture production, mastering, and archiving, ACES aims to codify the end-to-end colour workflow.
The Framework for Interoperable Media Services (FIMS), a task force managed jointly by the AMWA and the EBU, is a project committed to defining standards that enable media systems to be built using a service-oriented architecture (SOA). This approach will provide the flexibility, efficiency, and scalability that have previously been impossible to achieve.
SMPTE’s Essence Technology Committee (TC-10E) is focusing on electronic capture, generation, editing, mastering, archiving and reproduction of image, audio, subtitles, captions and any other master elements required for distribution across multiple applications. Meanwhile, the File Formats and Systems Committee (31FS) focuses on the definition of common wrappers, file formats and file systems for storage, transmission, and use in the carriage of all forms of digital content components, including the Material Exchange Format (MXF).
Even more important to the adoption of cloud services is the work of SMPTE’s Media Packaging and Interchange Committee (35PM), which focuses on the packaging of media elements in order to facilitate interchange and interoperability of formats within specific integrated application ecosystems in the professional fields of media creation, production, post-production archiving and related topics. These standards assure interoperability between systems, as well as cost-effective exchange of master formats in file form and new functionalities, and they include the 2067 document suite for the Interoperable Master Format (IMF). Comprising a master set of file-based elements for any downstream distribution using multiple composition playlists, IMF allows a master set of files to be used, as the input to subsequent processing that will create deliverables.
As these specifications and tools are adopted by the industry, they will do much to foster effective use of the cloud. Not all processes are currently available in a cloud implementation, and industry demand for specific functionality will drive development of new cloud services in various areas of the production/post chain. In fact, the disruptive influence of cloud services is blurring the lines between the traditional notion of ‘production’ and ‘post’ as distinct and separate processes. Ultimately, however, optimal use of the cloud will arise when vendors and users are able to take integrated approach to working in the cloud, with various services linked together – that mirrors the integration that currently takes place in media facilities.

Richard Welsh will present a SMPTE Educational Webcast on 17 April; 'Disruptive Weather Conditions: Clouds in the Forecast'.

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The article is available in the online edition of RFV here.


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