The new normal in contribution and distribution

There’s nothing ‘normal’ about the world we’re waking up to every morning. The coronavirus pandemic has made sure of that and looks likely to continue to influence industry thinking around agility, business continuity and disaster recovery for some time to come.

This article will explore the issues and discuss whether cloud and software defined approaches will become the new normal.

Until recently, launching or amending a channel always needed people and hardware. Broadcasters were reliant on engineers going onsite with a kitbag full of cables. Maintenance teams needed to wait for access to that site, for someone to chaperone them, and for the kit to arrive before setting out. This took time, cost money and required a considerable amount of logistical effort to ensure it all happened as smoothly as possible.

This particular way of working has been completely disrupted with COVID-19. Manufacturing supply chains have been impacted, engineers furloughed or isolated at home, and access to sites has been highly restricted.

That is not to say that broadcasters aren’t functioning – but just doing so in a different and arguably more flexible and cost-effective way with today’s generation of software defined services. By swapping hardware infrastructure for this more software-based approach, content owners are no longer constrained by the physical world and are free to do more remotely and more quickly.

“This particular way of working has been completely disrupted with COVID-19”

Virtual Connect is the latest example of how Arqiva is embracing cloud delivery and software defined networking, and is increasingly featuring across its operating and delivery model.

Of course, while it is certainly important to have the technology discussions around software defined networks and architectures, it is just as important to back-up these conversations with examples of how the platforms actually deliver in the real world.

With this in mind, in this article I will take you through three examples of where Arqiva is actively supporting customers in this new software defined world – not just in responding to the issues caused by a pandemic, but in terms of delivering new levels of business agility for the long-term.

In this first program, Arqiva worked with a major international entertainment brand to rapidly deliver a data signal from Arqiva’s platform in its Winchester Facility to Sky Italia for service processing. While Arqiva already had existing equipment at both sites, instead of sending an engineer out to Italy (something that would have been challenging due to COVID-19 travel restrictions) it was able to rapidly and remotely configure the equipment from the UK – enabling the service using software to define the points and the path.

In another (pre-COVID-19) example, a content owner customer wanted to launch its Video on Demand (VOD) content onto Amazon Prime in Germany. All its content, tools and processes were hosted in the public cloud – but the onboarding process hadn’t been proven before. Using the Arqiva cloud-based VOD processing and delivery platform, all content was securely retrieved, processed and delivered remotely – without needing physical intervention, or reliance on hardware modifications.

Arqiva was also able to manage a similar program virtually – this time for a linear channel to an OTT platform operating in the US. Here, Arqiva used a Zixi-enabled network to contribute the channel direct to a cloud-based streaming head-end, then delivered it onto the operator’s CDN. Once the feed left playout it never again touched an on-premise infrastructure. This was an entirely software-based, remotely managed process using public cloud and public CDN to process and distribute the service to the consumer application.

These are, of course, not the only examples of where Arqiva has supported customers over the last few months. Hopefully though, they showcase how this emerging software- based world can add considerable agility, help reduce costs and provide new level of business continuity and disaster recovery – whether under duress (as with COVID-19) or simply to streamline business as usual.

“Arqiva is embracing cloud delivery and software defined networking”

Another key use case, and one of the primary drivers for development of Virtual Connect, is the ability to deliver customer content onto cloud native distribution platforms. We’re seeing global OTT aggregators like Amazon Prime Video onboarding more and more channels and live events as part of their content offering. Virtual Connect is ideally suited to rapidly reaching those OTT aggregators without having to commit to fixed infrastructure.

This is all a question of speed to market. If a broadcaster or content owner has a channel or live events they want to get that onto Amazon Prime Video, they can do so cost- effectively and in record time. Another interesting use case involves the flexible delivery of live contribution services. Here, Virtual Connect offers rights owners the opportunity to experiment with new live event sources without the significant upfront costs or complexity of managing outside broadcasts, SNG trucks or OU satellite capacity. So broadcasters can onboard new, non-traditional live events like mobile journalism or eSports and make it available on traditional broadcast platforms.

Plus, as your content is in the cloud, why not use new virtual playout and multiplexing services to process it? Certainly, with the integration of evolving artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, automated workflows will make live event production in the cloud not just possible but highly efficient. Combined with evolving content analysis tools and cutting edge big data systems the ability to innovate around content creation, distribution and monetisation will be greater than ever.

As we see, there is a huge opportunity to use solutions like Virtual Connect to radically change the game. And while it may be slightly disingenuous to suggest that opportunities are only limited by the imagination, enabling broadcasters and media owners to take advantage of the scalability and flexibility of the cloud really does allow them to think out of the box, explore new approaches and get on that road to the future. And do it today.

If you would like to find out more, let’s talk.

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