There’s no doubt about it: cloud-driven workflows are on the increase—everywhere.
For some perspective, look to the global cloud computing market which is on pace to grow from $371.4 billion in 2020 to $832.1 billion by 2025, according to a recent Markets and Markets report. Driven by growing demand for IaS, PaaS, and SaaS, these are the same forces that have pushed Amazon Web Services (AWS) to see a revenue increase of 29% in Q2 2020 compared to Q1.
Media broadcasters are no exception to this trend, adding to the momentum with their steadily quickening transition from SDI-based physical plants to IP video production environments. Trends in IP video and cloud virtualization are also merging rapidly, as evidenced by major developments like the Fox/AWS partnership announced at the end of 2019. As the leading provider of closed captioning solutions to broadcasters, streaming media producers, and a wide range of content creators, EEG Video has played a key role in aiding with this changeover.
EEG’s cloud expertise began with its launch of iCap in 2008, a pioneering IP-based closed captioning and subtitle delivery network that went on to win an Emmy Award for engineering innovation. iCap introduced a modern, secure, IT-centric communication system that increased caption accuracy, lowered operational costs, improved interoperability, and rapidly became an industry norm in North America. In the process, widespread adoption of iCap provided early proof of broadcasters’ desire and ability to move vital operations to the cloud, increasing the ability to reconfigure capabilities and networks through code—rather than physical equipment—while reducing manpower costs.
Growing the iCap network gave EEG a wealth of first-hand experience maintaining business-critical cloud systems, providing it with the same perspective as its customers on virtual workflow expansion. The insights gleaned from iCap were a natural segue into creating two more leading IP-based closed caption solutions for broadcasters, the Alta Software Caption Encoder and Lexi Automatic Captioning. Whether working together or separately in a broadcast workflow, their increasing popularity as a solution set for IP-based captioning provides a window into how overall broadcasting workflows are evolving.
According to Bill McLaughlin, VP of Product Development for EEG, broadcasters have moved past proof of concept and research on transitioning from SDI to IP-based workflows, and are now firmly in the implementation phase.
“There’s declining levels of doubt that IP-based protocols—SMPTE 2110 specifically—is the way forward for media production,” McLaughlin says. “The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the consensus that virtual production is essential. The more of it that’s IP- and software-based, the easier it’s been for people to continue working remotely. Virtual workflows have reduced the urgency of having essential staff on site with equipment all the time, since IP-based broadcast solutions are easier to monitor, implement, and run remotely.”
According to McLaughlin, broadcasters are moving forward with a mix of general-purpose cloud solutions and ones that are purpose-designed for their needs. “Broadcasting is scaling virtual workflows in much the same way as other industries,” he explains. “Broadcasters are realizing that their work can be done much more cost-effectively when they leverage widely-available IP solutions, such as public clouds like AWS or commodity on-prem servers and switches, while retaining specialty software vendors that are unique to their industry. Broadcasters don’t need to ask these vendors to design bottom-to-top bespoke deployments; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. By recognizing the distinctions between unique value products and broader commodity components, media companies’ cost savings, flexibility, and speed to deploy new content can be increased.”
McLaughlin sees broadcasters working with a dual focus: infrastructure virtualization to enable new services and workflows on one hand, and to trim costs of delivering existing services on the other. When it comes to captioning, EEG’s Alta provides a proven virtualized platform that expands familiar live captioning services seamlessly into new OTT and streaming services. On the savings front, for those who are ready to go further with an AI captioning transcription solution, EEG’s Lexi Automatic Captioning service is fully compatible with both Alta and legacy SDI solutions to deliver scalable, high-accuracy performance.
“Broadcasters are looking at both transitioning video production infrastructure to software and the cloud, as well as new ways of creating live captioning,” McLaughlin says. “With Alta and Lexi, you can get started with both paths smoothly and in either order, while staying future-proof. It’s a flexible set of solutions that gives broadcasters additional options for tackling these complex decisions.”
Mix and Match Captioning Methods
This interoperability between Alta and Lexi means that broadcasters can take a customized approach to their captioning methods.
“It allows broadcasters to make this transition at a pace that’s just right for them,” McLaughlin points out. “Interoperability makes it easy to say, ‘We’re going to pay significantly more for human captioning in prime time, or during a live soccer match. However, we’ll use a much more cost-effective captioning workflow for other applications, such as teleprompter-based news reporting.’
“These decisions can be based on programming visibility, past performance of human or automatic captioning in a particular situation, or available budget, and they can move transparently between transcription methods in a very flexible way. When a combination of SDI caption encoders and Alta is installed, there is no dependency locked in between the production format and the captioning method.”
Keeping an Eye on Costs
As competition for viewers intensifies, broadcasting decision makers are being asked to cover even more bases, even if their budgets aren’t increasing in step.
“Broadcasters today frequently have the sense that they’re being asked to do more with the same budget that they had before—and maybe even accomplish more with less budget,” McLaughlin says. “It used to be that the team was solely focused on putting their traditional station on the air. Now, however, with more platforms to feed that focus has become more diffuse, often without the corresponding financial resources.”
It’s a situation that raises the stakes on implementing the more efficient and automated systems that come with IP-based production. “This just increases the degree to which broadcasters want their workflows to be simple, streamlined, and function seamlessly,” observes McLaughlin. “The content’s closed captioning will be distributed by the converting applications for different platforms. But since more and more downstream steps are added and need to be monitored, it’s more important than ever that broadcasters know that their captioning will work without worrying about it. In addition to its proven reliability, solutions like Lexi deliver on those crucial cost savings.”
With captioning’s essential role in the industry, EEG has seen how even the largest broadcasters are thinking like startups when it comes to planning out their next steps.
“They see that non-traditional competitors like Amazon Prime or Netflix are working in a way that’s software-focused, and that they’ll save money and release more content that way,” McLaughlin says. “The mindset that broadcasters today are taking is one of starting from scratch with the very latest technology. They’re approaching the field with a fresh eye.”