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Cloud Is Helping Broadcasters Grow

This article was originally published in FEED Magazine

Cloud-native microservices are empowering broadcasters – including a whole new generation of non-traditional content producers.

Tim Banks,
Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)

"Grass Valley has been around for 60 years – that’s longer than Microsoft or Google,” observes Grass Valley Chief Revenue Officer, Tim Banks. “The company has seen the world of video change beyond recognition in that time. Through it all, it has remained relevant – still one of the most trusted brands in broadcast TV.”

The company cut its teeth providing a variety of robust hardware systems – from cameras to playout solutions – forming the technological backbone of many live broadcast facilities around the world.

But the development of broadcast infrastructure has increasingly turned toward software. Why buy a rack full of equipment, spend the money to house, power and maintain it 24/7, only to have to upgrade in five years? And software brings huge benefits in terms of flexibility, distributed working and tailoring infrastructure to each broadcast’s requirements. Seeing what was on the horizon, Grass Valley applied its expertise to building a cloud-centric platform that would not just allow broadcasters to replace their hardware but do even more in a software-as-a-service environment. Grass Valley’s Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP) rolled out a set of cloud-native microservices for building a content pipeline, from capture, encoding and transfer to asset management and distribution. But the journey to the cloud is not one-way. Moving every single broadcast process to the public cloud is just not practical. For the foreseeable future anyway, most live broadcast is going to be an integration of on-the-ground hardware and in-cloud services.

“The real value for Grass Valley is going to come from combining software and hardware together and being good at both,” says Banks. “Apple is a great example. You get a great user experience that brings together something you can touch with computing power in the cloud.”

Winning content

The company aims to be the industry leader in software for real-time broadcast, but with that comes the responsibility to do more than dump a great set of cloud tools onto the market and wait for everyone to upgrade.

“There isn’t a major event on broadcast TV that doesn’t use some Grass Valley equipment, and every customer of ours has different needs and problems. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re a partner to our customers, in order to help them make great TV.”

Grass Valley customers are looking at how they can use the cloud to become more efficient – or experiment with new workflows and formats – but they are integrating these tools at various speeds. Companies aren’t going to risk their current business by leaping to a new model.

“One of the interesting things that happens in this kind of change is that, while you’re embracing what’s new, you discover the reason things from the past are still around is because that remains a good way to make a show.”

Close collaboration with customers even includes getting down to the root of a broadcaster’s vision. What are their business objectives? What kind of content do they want to make in the future? Who are their audiences? These conversations form a virtuous circle in which Grass Valley is also learning from the customer about what real-world business pressures they face and what tools are needed to meet them.

New tools, new broadcasters

The cloud means wider access to powerful broadcast tech – but not just for traditional media channels. Video is becoming the lingua franca for the modern world. Of course, platforms like Zoom and Teams have turned remote video collaboration into something we take entirely for granted, but businesses of all types are now looking at high-quality video as a way to extend their internal and external messaging.

“People are realising this is something any company can do. It used to just be broadcasters, but now every bank, charity and school needs to think about visual communication as part of how they reach people.”

A webcam and YouTube have been the preferred avenue for a large percentage of those companies – even ones with big marketing budgets – but a raft of studies have found that the esteem in which a viewer holds a broadcaster or company correlates with the quality of the video. Your message may be invaluable, but if the quality of the broadcast is subpar, it can’t help but reflect on your credibility.

“Grass Valley has spent its entire history helping broadcasters create great-looking shows – and now that’s something everybody needs. While there are lots of technologies that try to make things quicker and easier, unless it looks great, it simply doesn’t have value.”

The company is collaborating with broadcasters, listening to their problems and anticipating what they might need in the future – but this now goes beyond traditional TV channels. The next wave of content creators won’t have the same wealth of hands-on experience under their belts.

“As an industry, we’ve got to work out how to make it easier to create video. How do we make it so that anyone can produce a show? There’s a way to go there, and it’s going to be part of the industry maturing to the next stage.

“I’ve been in this business for longer than I want to admit,” Banks reflects. “During that time, there’s never been a moment when it’s not felt like there’s a big change happening. But it does feel like, for broadcasters and other companies in the space, there’s more change now than there’s ever been. If you’re a broadcaster, you need to make a gamble on something, and often you’re gambling a big part of your business. So, if you’re going to bet on something, bet on a software-centric approach. It’s the flexibility of software that is going to enable you to make other choices more easily.”