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Cloud Cover: Pioneering cloud technology will help media companies thrive in 2022

By Tim Banks, VP Sales, EMEA, Grass Valley

The coming year looks like it will be marked by more of the turbulence we have seen throughout the pandemic. Still, disruption will be tempered by inspiring innovation as the live content market continues to adapt to meet each new challenge. In 2022, we will see changing consumer habits continuing to reshape the way media companies create content in Europe and beyond.

Two interconnected market trends that rapidly accelerated when the pandemic hit will continue to gain momentum: rising demand for a broader array of content across more platforms than ever, and the use of pioneering cloud technologies to help media companies adapt to this shifting consumer landscape. What’s more, in 2022, the trend towards cloud adoption will be driven increasingly by the need for media companies to find greater efficiency, flexibility, scalability and resiliency – with the aim of achieving better yield per asset.

The future of TV is a richer media mix that includes more varied content

Following another tumultuous year when the pressure to stay at home stoked demand for new video content, 2022 will see audiences in EMEA continue to consume programming across more platforms – including live coverage of sports, news and entertainment. Consumers are hungry for fresh content and are turning to multiple sources to get it. The big winner has been streaming services, which have boomed during the pandemic and are positioned to keep winning customers even after the situation improves.

But streaming’s rise is not all about cord-cutting, as many consumers are adding additional subscriptions to existing pay-TV packages. Research from Ampere Analysis showed that 80% of pay-TV households in the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany now also subscribe to at least one streaming service, with the total paying for multiple subscriptions increasing in each market in 2021 compared to 2020. The UK has the most multi-subscribers, with close to a third of households having three or more services (myself included!).

Consumers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for more content across more platforms will continue to impact live production in 2022. The shortage of new live premium content during the pandemic due to cancelled and delayed events has highlighted the potential value of programming previously considered niche.

The growing demand for a broader live content choice has meant an increase across the board in ‘alternative’ programming, such as lower league, regional and specialised sports, as well as more live shoulder programming such as pre-game shows. With slimmer budgets, this niche and complementary content must be produced as cost-effectively as possible and delivered to the broadest possible audience through global and largely IP-based multiplatform distribution. Even with the pandemic, European media companies have strengthened their live content portfolios, with Canal+ Sport and Matchroom just two of several launches in Europe that have expanded sports content through a multiplatform approach.

Remote production and cloud adoption will accelerate

The growing consumer demand for more varied content has neatly intersected with media companies’ ability to move towards more remote and cloud-based production – an approach that has been proven during the pandemic. The wider uptake of remote and cloud-based approaches has been driven by necessity as restrictions around social distancing forced content producers to look at ways to deliver live content while reducing onsite staff and travel. Social distancing measures also impacted media centres, where skeleton crews for news networks were bolstered by talent and technical staff contributing remotely. Indeed, back in 2020, Grass Valley was very much at the heart of Project Restart, an effort by the Premier League and its football clubs to resume the 2019/2020 season safely. Grass Valley worked closely with the likes of Sky, BT Sport, NEP, EMG, Timeline and Gravity Media to create and deploy these new ways of working.

Even coverage of flagship events such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the UEFA 2020 Euros – both held in 2021 – were adapted to a largely remote footing. Using high-tech studios and remote production capabilities, many rightsholders were able to bring the immediacy of up-close live sports action to these events despite restrictions and precautions. For instance, while BBC’s Olympics hosts were presented against a Tokyo backdrop, they were in fact appearing on set in the pioneering dock10 television facility in the UK. Increasingly, a seamless integration of onsite and remote elements will be seen less as an exception and more as another viable option with its own pros and cons.

Cloud adoption has accelerated across many areas, as audio, video switching, clipping, editing and highlight reels can now easily be managed in the cloud. In 2021, distributed production teams using a cloud-based workflow supported high-profile esports events for EA SPORTS FIFA 21 and Apex Legends. All team members worked from home via Grass Valley’s cloud-based Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP) to deliver live tournaments from locations in Europe and the US to a global fanbase. The efficiency and innate flexibility of this type of innovative, cloud-based approach mean that in 2022, even more esports leagues and other providers of premium live content are poised to adopt it.

The changes ushered in by the pandemic are here to stay

No more so than since March 2020 – I think we can all agree that necessity truly was the mother of invention. Remote, cloud and distributed production methods and technologies have been tried, tested and demonstrated to work. In 2022 and beyond, there seems to be little reason the media and entertainment market won’t continue to embrace the innovative techniques developed to work within a pandemic environment, even as conditions get better – the benefits are too hard to ignore.

Indeed, it is clear that the demand for live content across sports, news and entertainment will continue to grow – and that cloud-based production and delivery has a big role to play in supporting that growth. Leading media companies that dominated areas such as sports rights are now being challenged by streaming pioneers such as DAZN and Amazon Prime, with all players exploring new ways to engage with audiences.

The next few years will likely see a lot more competition, partnerships, challenges and surprises in the premium live content production space across Europe – but the lessons learnt over the last two years will help the media market adapt and thrive. For this next phase, it is clear that the scalability, flexibility, resiliency and cost-effectiveness of cloud-based technologies will have a huge appeal to media companies striving to stay ahead in the evolving mediascape. If 2020 accelerated awareness; and 2021 consolidated acceptance; 2022 (and beyond) will see a rapid rise in the adoption of cloud-based production for premium live content.