Around five years ago, “clouds” started to roll in to National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas in earnest. With a new record attendance of 107,000 people and companies like Google and Facebook vying for attention amongst the ‘traditional’ companies like Sony, Canon, Adobe and Avid, have we reached peak cloud?
Not hardly. Five years ago, the Hollywood feature film “Flight” was the first film to have all its visual effects shots (400 in all) rendered “in the cloud.” But rendering (which is the process of generating and displaying a photorealistic object) had already been something that film houses were doing off premise for years, even if it wasn’t called cloud, or done on a public cloud service like Amazon Web Services. But it does seem that the people involved in video production at the NAB show are deep into using cloud-based services, regardless of whether the video is delivered via terrestrial signals or the internet, and announcements from companies like Avid, whose partnership to move more of its applications to Microsoft’s cloud, are just the latest sign that move is a work in progress.
The presence of the major cloud providers Amazon (AWS Digital Media Solutions), Microsoft (Azure Digital Media) and Google (Google Cloud Media Solutions) at NAB is nothing new, but their show floor presence is more expansive than ever.
Google, for one, placed itself in the forefront-literally-with a significant booth presence in the South Hall of the LVCC where the tech vendors are congregated. Google has built up its digital media offerings through a number of acquisitions ranging from foundational technologies like DRM (Widevine, 2010) and video codecs (On2, 2010) to services such as digital rendering (Zync, 2014) and applications such as an online video platform for managing OTT video services (Anvato, 2016). In the case of Anvato, Google noted that it has moved Anvato onto Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and highlighted customers such as Scripps Networks Interactive, which is using Anvato and GCP to leverage machine learning to insert personalized, local ads into live video streams on the fly.
AWS is the gorilla of the cloud market, however, and is working furiously to be a big player in digital media. In media, symbolism and flash go hand in hand, and AWS sent a message by partnering with NASA to live stream 4K video (that’s UHD, or ultra-high definition) from the orbiting International Space Station using encoding technology from Elemental Technologies (acquired 2015) and delivered via Amazon’s Cloudfront CDN. Anybody on the planet with enough bandwidth and the required UHD screen could see the broadcast. How are traditional terrestrial broadcasters competing with that? Move production workflows and distribution to the cloud-that’s how.
Along those lines, one of the bigger announcements indicating the movement of content production to the cloud was Avid’s partnership with Microsoft. Avid, one of the main players in non-linear editing systems for filmmakers, will make Azure its preferred cloud computing partner for SaaS and PaaS offerings built on Avid’s MediaCentral platform, and the two companies will co-develop new offerings as well. Avid announced Al Jazeera as a client that has moved to an all cloud-based deployment of Avid services – enterprise pricing for a combined IT stack of compute through application is an attraction, but also the ability to deploy assets in any combination of on-premises and private or public cloud provides media companies a certain flexibility that might ease their anxiety about a path to cloud deployments.
Although Amazon is the dominant public cloud provider and has been working hard to build up a digital media services ecosystem, Microsoft is not to be counted out. It’s roots in the entertainment and media industry go back to the days where they worked to displace proprietary platform players like Silicon Graphics Inc.; the relationship with Avid was cemented in 1998 when it sold Softimage’s 3D animation and graphics production tools to Avid. Microsoft and Avid will be formidable players in the move to cloud-based media production. Having announced a partnership to have updates to Adobe Creative Cloud applications (including Premiere Pro) leverage Microsoft Azure as the preferred cloud provider, Microsoft looks well positioned to be a leader in the M&E segment of the cloud market. With the other major provider of video editing tool from Apple (Final Cut Pro) likely to take a DIY approach to compute infrastructure for the time being, Google will have a hard time forging into the high end of the video production ecosystem, but still has a shot at building a presence on the content management and distribution side with its ability to acquire and integrate technology.