Prime Focus Technology - ‘Reimagining the Content Supply Chain for the Media Enterprise’

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Reimagining the Content Supply Chain for the Media Enterprise Presented by:



INTRODUCTION The broadcast media enterprise1 is facing extraordinary change across several dimensions. Some of the disrupters are: Over-the-Top (OTT) methods and providers; anyplace/anytime viewing; transitioning the media infrastructure to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment; moving to all-IP media transport; operating in new geographic markets; and possibly Ultra-HD (UHD) video and/or high dynamic range (HDR) support. Top off this list with the ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. This last driver is reason enough to rethink how workflows are implemented. Adapting to meet these challenges will require more than a facility equipment upgrade; it will require a new strategy for managing, acquiring, processing, and delivering media assets. The current situation for most large media enterprises is illustrated in Figure 1. Workflows may be local or geo-distributed. The islands of source/distribution partners, disparate databases, content storage locations, workflow control, facility locations, and more will hobble workflow functionality. The new reality is that the enterprise must integrate the silos of media workflows or new business opportunities and improving operational efficiency may never see the light of day.

THE VIRTUAL SUPPLY CHAIN The end goal of any media enterprise, large or small, is to have an efficient supply chain for its programming or services product. A supply chain2 is “A system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer.” There are many moving pieces in a supply chain. With the advent of ubiquitous data networking and the compute cloud, the supply chain is being reimagined as the

“virtual supply chain”. How is this different from the traditional model? The ability of a supply chain to quickly cope with change requires virtualized resources and not static, fixed, hardcoded processes. The virtual supply chain is underpinned by global networks and fungible infrastructures that enable systems, employees, and partners to work anytime and anyplace. A well- designed virtualized supply chain is key to a smoothly run and profitable media business.

FIGURE 1: A siloed view of a media workflow environment


REIMAGINING THE CONTENT SUPPLY CHAIN FOR THE MEDIA ENTERPRISE 1. This paper focuses on the broadcast ecosystem but the concepts can be applied to any media enterprise. 2. Definition from

There are several approaches a facility designer can take to upgrade an existing system to create a virtualized supply chain. One approach is to create or modify on-premise workflows inch-by-inch. Another is to build entirely new standalone, inhouse solutions, unencumbered by existing workflows. Both of these techniques may perpetuate silos of operations, do-it-yourself infrastructures, and the CapEx model of business accounting. A better approach is to step away from the traditional methods and reimagine the entire workflow chain using cloud-based service components with tight integration into the legacy environment. Using hybrid methods, end users get the best of both worlds: local asset storage/ processing and security coupled with coordinated cloud-based media services and networked partners. The discussion that follows will focus on this new approach.

Media ERP does not replace traditional business ERP systems but may integrate with them to provide a real-time, holistic view of all business operations. CLOUD-BASED MEDIA SERVICES TO THE RESCUE Any cloud-based approach for implementing an agile and functionally rich media virtual supply chain should support the following requirements;



•E nd-to-end control and management of operations (few or no silos) • Heavy reliance on automation (orchestration, efficiency) • Reduced content acquisition, processing, and distribution costs (better ROI) • Faster time to market for new products (business agility) • Geo-diverse networked operations

• Support for legacy product integration • Support for small, medium, and large systems • Leveraging of virtualized cloud services, e.g. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), storage, processing, security, reliability, pay-as-you-go accounting (OpEx not CapEx accounting) • Rich APIs for customization as needed What strategy can be applied to meet these requirements? One approach is to use the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) model to execute and manage the media workflow chain. Traditional ERP software integrates the functional areas across a business to create a unified view of business operations, metrics and data. The same concept can be applied to media workflows. At its core, media ERP 3 provides the means to execute workflows more efficiently by removing the surface friction between operational silos. Figure 2 illustrates a high-level view of a media ERP tool suite supporting common media operations. At the core are the applications execution engine, control logic, dashboards, and master metadata database. This functionality should cover the requirements in the bulleted list above. Media ERP does not replace traditional business ERP systems but may integrate with them to provide a real-time, holistic view of all business operations. In the early days of ERP, the execution hardware/ software was located in companycontrolled, non-virtualized data centers. Client-side ERP software was installed on many enterprise desktop computers. Today, ERP Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) user apps and processing are being executed from both public and private cloud centers. On-premise servers dedicated to ERP are a dying breed. The use of browser-based SaaS apps and mobile platform apps improves geo-diversity with near instant

3. For more information on media ERP see

Frank Gens, IDC senior VP said, “New solutions born on the cloud and traditional solutions migrating to the cloud will steadily pull more customers and their data to the cloud.”4

FIGURE 2: High-level view of the media ERP Tool Suite

access for distributed users. A major advantage of SaaS compared to traditional desktop apps is the centralized software execution and management with no enduser software patching/upgrading. One advantage of services-based ERP is that end users pay only for the services and scale they need, knowing they can move up or down the functionality/scale ladder as necessary. Need a media asset management (MAM) app for a few users at a remote location or a company-wide solution? Cloud-based media ERP can scale accordingly. Popular commercial ERP services can be found in private data centers or in a public cloud.



Only a few years ago there were loud objections voiced by end users about adopting cloud technology for missioncritical operations. In 2016, the cloud has gained respect from all corners of business. Gone are many of the criticisms about reliability and security. Companies such as Netflix, Hertz, Time Inc., Coca Cola, General Electric, Best Buy, and others depend on the cloud for most if not all critical business operations. 4.

This shift is due to the benefits (SaaS, agility, security, scale, OpEx accounting, ROI, etc.) that the cloud provides to businesses. Bottom line, the media enterprise can leverage cloud services without jeopardizing programming assets while improving operational performance. With this background, let’s review an example of a media ERP suite from Prime Focus Technologies. THE CLEAR MEDIA ERP SUITE The CLEAR software suite is the only media-focused hybrid cloud ERP solution available specifically for the broadcast industry. CLEAR software modules (SaaS) and services help broadcasters, studios, brands, sports, and digital organizations enhance ecosystem efficiencies while reducing operational costs and enabling agile workflows not possible before. Imagine Figure 2 now with CLEAR at the center. CLEAR is a collection of individual software modules that can be marshaled together to realize the desired workflows. Most modules have associated SaaS user screens while some are API-only services. A few prominent software modules available in CLEAR are: • Agile media asset management (MAM) module: Centralized digital asset repository of videos, images, graphics, text, and audio files. This is preintegrated with scheduling and rights management applications. • Collaborative production asset management (PAM) module: Simplification of workgroup collaboration and tight integration with editorial suites.

fundamental to all the other solution sets. Uniformity in how content-related metadata is catalogued, presented, and described is a vital function for the MAM module. Elements of the Broadcast Cloud include the MAM module and some portions of the Operations Cloud and other CLEAR services. It’s not difficult to imagine additional bundles of software elements assembled to support specific workflow needs.

FIGURE 3: The CLEAR Software environment with module partitioning examples

• Multifaceted Broadcast Cloud modules: Streamlined content ingest, processing and distribution workflows across multiple networks (e.g. linear, mobile, and OTT). • Efficient Operations Cloud modules: On-demand cloud functions such as preparation, packaging, and delivery (transcoding, auto-QC, archive, watermarking, and many other functions.) These can run in the CLEAR cloud or another public cloud. In fact, the Operations Cloud modules have been ported to the Amazon cloud.5



The beauty of cloud services is that users can carve out only the features they need. As workflows expand and shrink, CLEAR modules are applied and scaled accordingly. At the top level, several “pre-packaged” solutions are available. Some of these are the Cloud MAM, Broadcast Cloud (BC) and the Operations Cloud (OC).6 These are shown in the context of the entire universe of CLEAR software components in Figure 3. Within the rectangle are SaaS apps and other software components for supporting the Cloud MAM, BC and OC and other modules. The MAM module, composed of SaaS applications, a streaming video server, a master metadata database, and many other components, is

ARCHITECTURAL OVERVIEW Figure 4 outlines the basics of the CLEAR hybrid cloud environment. At the core is the CLEAR Software Cloud. The cloud is built by and managed by Prime Focus Technologies (PFT), with regional locations in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mumbai, Bangalore, Toronto, and Johannesburg. It provides dedicated execution, storage, and database operations for the software components and modules outlined in Figure 3. This core connects to the Private Media Center(s) of the primary user as well as contracted content providers/distributors. Distributors include traditional linear playout, OTT service providers, app stores, and hundreds of supported publishing platforms. This configuration is the embodiment of the hybrid cloud in action. The CLEAR cloud connects to end users and third-party partners over the Internet and/or using private connectivity provided by, for example, Metro Ethernet carriers. One of the main functions of CLEAR is to provide the many SaaS user apps. Users access apps from browsers (PC/ Mac or mobile devices) so geo-diversity is built in. Some of the SaaS roles available are for asset acquisition/ingest, MAM, A/V processing, scheduling, distribution, quality assurance, legal usage rights, editorial, and many more. New applications are being released and upgraded often so end

5. 6. There are other modules too, including the Distribution Cloud, DAX Production Cloud, and mixed combinations of modules to create customized workflows.

FIGURE 4: The CLEAR Hybrid Cloud Media ERP Environment

users have a wide choice of modern media workflow tools. CLEAR has a highly available, worldwide-accessible, master database so records can be created, read, or updated as needed by CLEAR’s functional components. This is important for synchronizing worldwide business operations. Figure 4 also shows several media transport connections in and out of the CSC. Files are received from content providers and sent to distributor partners and to/from the Private Media Center(s) of the primary end user. Files are always encrypted during transport and get a speed boost with “file acceleration” technology from vendors such as Aspera, Signiant, and File Catalyst. A CLEAR Edge hardware appliance (or browser plug-in) may be used at any location to guarantee transport security and execute the file acceleration methods, among other functions.



When a new media asset (e.g. HD movie) is being imported from a provider (as on the left side of Figure 4) where should it be

stored — inside the CLEAR cloud or inside the PMC? Technically, it can be stored in either or both. However, many content owners stipulate that ALL their files must be stored in the PMC for security reasons. This is true for high resolution files and possibly low resolution proxy files too. CLEAR is designed to work with either PMC and/or CSC-stored media files so this gives workflow designers flexibility. If the original asset provider permits cloud storage, then this could shift the media processing to the cloud. If not, then all media file processing would occur inside the PMC. Think of it this way: media content can reside and be processed in either domain but SaaS app execution, workflow orchestration, and database records are processed in the cloud. The same reasoning applies to distribution of assets. As Figure 4 shows, if the principal media files are stored in the PMC, then distribution of these assets (to partners on the right side) originates from the PMC. Conversely, if the principal media files are

A major advantage of SaaS compared to traditional desktop apps is the centralized software execution and management with no end-user software patching/upgrading. stored in the CLEAR cloud then distribution of these assets originates from the cloud. As media companies gain more trust in cloud providers, they will be less concerned about storing their valuable media assets in a cloud. In fact, some now see the cloud as the most secure (and reliable) way to store assets. See sidebar: “To go public or not?” WORKFLOW SERVICES Returning to Figure 4, consider the PMC component “CLEAR Workflow Services”. This is an API gateway between the PMC’s internal systems and CLEAR’s control logic. Typical internal PMC processes may be archivers, transcoders, AV processors, edit engines, quality/legality checks, and more. These elements are controlled via their APIs from CLEAR. Here is an example; • User accesses CLEAR SaaS MAM app and starts a Quality Check (QC) operation on an HD movie file stored at the PMC • CLEAR requests QC operation via Workflow Services gateway • Gateway invokes the API on the QC engine to start task (e.g. Interra Systems’ Baton QC product) • QC results returned to SaaS MAM app via gateway



Here we can see the beauty of the hybrid cloud approach. The action to get QC results on the movie asset was initiated using the CLEAR SaaS MAM app and the actual QC operation was executed in the privacy of the user’s data center with usersupplied tools. CLEAR is integrated and

tested with many commonly used industry products. Here are a few examples of the many supported products: • Transcode – Rhozet, Elemental, FFMPEG, Telestream • Auto QC – Cerify, Baton • Archive Management – Oracle DIVArchive, Masstech • File Accelerators – Signiant, Aspera, File Catalyst, Airship • Rights Management – Rights Logic • Broadcast Management Systems (BMS) – Champs, Jelly Roll, others

“TO GO PUBLIC OR NOT?” Many media enterprises are reluctant to fully embrace the public cloud, citing security as a primary reason. There are many aspects to cloud security and multitenancy is near the top of the list. This is when a given user shares cloud resources (compute, storage, networking) with other mostly unknown users. However, “There’s been no correlation between security failure and the degree of multitenancy”, according to Jay Heiser7 of Gartner. He also noted that the hybrid cloud model is a good way for organizations to become more confident about using the public cloud model. Gartner also predicts8 that by 2018, increased security will displace cost savings and agility as the primary driver to move to the public cloud. In the near future some trusted public clouds will become the most secure places to store valuable digital assets. The tide is turning.

7. VP of Research, Gartner. Quoted at Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit (6/2016) 8. (primary focus on government agencies)



Extract Tech Metadata

Auto Tech QC Deliver to Playout

Prog Review Ops Decision/ Override

Create Proxy


Push to LTO Archive

S&P Review No Go

Push to OTT

Copy Content from TX Queue Notify User to Re-ingest Content

FIGURE 5: CLEAR workflow orchestration example

The CLEAR Workflow Services gateway is key to making the hybrid cloud a reality. As vendor products (like those in the list above) require upgrading or even replacement, facility engineers now have a choice — continue with PMC-based solutions or move to cloud-based equivalents from PFC or others. This flexibility enables organizations to decide intelligently if and when to migrate a functional operation to the cloud. Media software vendors are providing more and more products that are designed for the cloud and this advances the opportunities for migration. DISTRIBUTING ASSETS In a broadcast setting, the CLEAR cloud does not play out real-time linear programming directly to air. Instead, workflow processes send files ready for air to a playout system, usually located at the PMC, or to a contracted playout service (e.g. Encompass). A typical TV station playout system can mix live (news, sports, events, etc.) and filebased programming as scheduled by the traffic manager. The live portion of any programming output would originate from the PMC domain shown in Figure 4, although some control aspects of a live event could be cloud-based, depending on specific workflow requirements.



CLEAR is pre-configured with over 450 pre-set “template robots” to send program files to: (1) linear playout systems; or

(2) media OTT outlets and others, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Hooq, Voot, iTunes store, and more. Using templates to publish programming reduces errors and can reach more end points with more viewership opportunities. WORKFLOW ORCHESTRATION Orchestration methods are applied to design the “flow chart” of the process flow, execute the processes, and provide progress and exception reporting. The more recurrent or complex a given workflow, the more important it be automated. CLEAR provides GUI-based, drag-and-drop tools to build graphical models of flows. Many pre-made templates are available so designers can snap together the elements to create a model. Figure 5 shows a typical workflow diagram designed using CLEAR tools. In this example, a video file is ingested and processed according to the connected functional blocks. These blocks, and many others, are part of the CLEAR library of operations. Building the workflow is easy using the common drag-and-drop method of design. The many value propositions of the CLEAR cloud should now be apparent. However, in practice, does it deliver the promised workflow agility and overall savings both in operational costs and in increased efficiency? Next, some user stories to illuminate how CLEAR is being used daily. CLEAR CASES FOR CLEAR This section briefly reviews three real-world use cases and demonstrates the value of the CLEAR hybrid cloud for media operations. The following is the first use case: Hearst Television is a national multimedia company with operations serving nearly

three dozen U.S. cities, reaching one out of every five U.S. households. It delivers local and national news, weather, information, sports, and entertainment programming via every available contentdelivery platform. Over a dozen years ago, Hearst Television adopted the notion of “touch-once, usemany” for syndicated broadcast content management. This direction was born through the development and creation of the Hearst Television Content Distribution Center (CDC), located in Orlando, Florida.

New applications are being released and upgraded often so end users have a wide choice of modern media workflow tools. At the time, the CDC was built with many disparate systems and was based on a custom application that acted as the nucleus for the workflow and other applications. Hearst Television now finds the group’s requirements rapidly changing from the original feature set, with the inhouse system requiring a major overhaul. Hearst Television turned to PFT and its flagship product CLEAR to update the CDC. CLEAR enabled the streamlining of the content acquisition, metadata creation, and the distribution to its stations via either the Hearst Television file-based satellite backbone or its terrestrial media network.



“The CDC leverages the economy of scale of our station group and affords us the opportunity to lift the load of many broadcast operational tasks from the stations. The CDC also serves as a backup to the stations in the event of lost content or equipment failure,” said Jim Lange,

Hearst Television’s manager of the CDC since its inception. Joe Addalia, Director of Technology Projects at Hearst Television, has oversight of the integration of CLEAR with the TV group. “Even more so today, Master Control playout has become about the proper metadata and the leveraging of that metadata throughout all segments of the organization,” said Addalia. “CLEAR provides Hearst the capability to not only move the metadata downstream to the station automation systems, but upstream to the traffic systems, as well as for streaming video onto digital content platforms.” The basic features include the cloud MAM module and other CLEAR software components to meet Hearst’s specific workflow needs. All media content (HD and low resolution proxy files) resides in Hearst Televisions CDC for security. This is a good example of how CLEAR can manage/process media files whether stored locally or in a cloud environment. Here are a few of the benefits accrued by Hearst Television: • Touch once, distribute to many. Better quality product with less time and resources consumed. • SaaS user apps are available at all stations from day one. SaaS scales and is low-maintenance; software execution and enhancements are provided by PFT. • The modular nature of CLEAR allows workflows to expand and collapse at will. • CLEAR’s Workflow Services integrate with Hearst Television’s existing media products (transcoders, file transfer accelerators, archiving) to reduce the amount of workflow disruption and product training. • CLEAR positions Hearst Television to expand into new directions quickly.

From traditional domestic television, let’s pivot to an international distributor of programming for the next example. MOVIES IN THE SKY This case describes Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE), a worldwide leader in providing entertainment content – including movies, games, and live TV – to millions of travelers in the air, at sea, and in remote locations. In 2016, close to 1 billion people will have access to GEE’s content and connectivity services as they move around the globe.

“ As a global company in a fast-paced industry, we need a common operations platform that can scale with our and our customers’ evolving needs. CLEAR offers the best of both worlds: a cloud-centric model, SaaS apps, and process orchestration with locally secured content and integration to our existing technology infrastructure and enterprise systems.” —Ajay Malhotra, Chief Digital Officer, Great Eagle Entertainment

To run large portions of its daily media processes and manage complexities at this scale, GEE is deploying CLEAR’s software modules and hybrid cloud structure. With over 50 offices worldwide, operations require geo-diverse access to SaaS apps for media asset management, content acquisition/distribution tools, and regional content customization. Assets need to remain in GEE’s regional storage locations to meet the contractual terms of usage by the original asset owners. Also of importance is integration to GEE’s existing transcoding and hierarchical storagemanagement archive systems.



CLEAR’s software modules meet most of GEE’s complex workflow needs, but

not all, necessitating some customization efforts by PFT, which is to be expected when dealing with specialized multifaceted workflows. PFT handles all of GEE’s “pain points” of application execution/ updating, centralized database operations, hardware infrastructure support, and geodiverse access. Now GEE can focus on servicing its customers and not worry as much about the day-to-day operations of workflow execution. The following quote shows the value of CLEAR in GEE’s hybrid cloud environment. 100 CHANNELS AND GROWING IN THE CLOUD The third use case describes STAR TV, which is owned by 21st Century Fox, operates worldwide, and has selected the CLEAR cloud as the basis for media workflows supporting more than 100 linear and OTT channels. STAR began with CLEAR in 2011, sustaining 17 channels. In time, skills grew and STAR gained confidence in the operational security and functionality of the CLEAR hybrid cloud model and expanded its reach to support all of STAR’s channels. STAR currently offers 25,000 hours of programming each year. STAR was an early adopter at a time when most media organizations treated the cloud with some ridicule. With such a head start, STAR TV is now a world leader in cloud-based media operations. STAR uses most of the available CLEAR modules, along with some customized versions. The company interfaces with many business partners for content import and distribution across a wide range of linear and OTT services. During any given week, 800 users access CLEAR’s SaaS tools. The architecture is “one hub and 25 spokes”. Each spoke represents a different function, such as MAM, ingest, playout, transcoding, promo creation, syndication, and others. The hub is the CLEAR cloud.

About the Author Al Kovalick is an active speaker, educator, and author in media technology. He has presented over 50 papers at industry conferences worldwide. Al holds 13 US patents and is the author of the book Video Systems in an IT Environment. He has a BSEE degree from San Jose State University and MSEE degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a SMPTE Fellow and recipient of the David Sarnoff Medal. Al writes the Cloudspotter’s Journal for TV Technology.

Most impressive is the company’s confidence to store both high resolution and proxy media files in the cloud with copies in STAR’s private data centers. This decision was not made lightly. Before earning such conviction regarding cloud security, PFT and the CLEAR cloud first had to pass strict audits based on the SSAE-16 auditing standard. Only then would STAR permit valuable programming assets to be stored in the CLEAR cloud.

(including governance). Encourage designers to adopt a “cloud first” viewpoint. That is, look first for products and solutions that leverage the cloud and its values. Migrating to cloud-based media solutions can start with small steps. Start learning, then expand over time and add more features. Many clients of CLEAR only utilize it for some portions of their overall workflow while others, such as STAR TV, have taken on a fuller commitment.

Is the cloud ready for prime time? These examples should provide confirmation that it is. Some best practices to achieve success are covered in the next section.

The hybrid cloud is ideal for media workflows. Designers can partition workflows across the private side and the public side, based on a variety of drivers, and achieve the security, reliability, performance, and reach that are needed. Remember, too, that cloud adoption may not always save money immediately. But it can improve workflow agility and functionality leading to an improved return on investment.

ACHIEVING CLOUD MIGRATION SUCCESS According to Gartner, “By 2020, a corporate “no-cloud” policy will be as rare as a “no-Internet” policy is today”.9 This may be a wakeup call for those who are still insecure about cloud usage. Here are four Gartner guidelines to consider: • Revisit your organization’s assumptions if it avoids the cloud on principle, as cloud deployments become more widespread and their benefits clearer. • Give preference to vendors that are strategically investing in cloud computing models and attributes. • Design on-premises architectures with off-premises interoperability in mind when possible — in terms of governance, integration, and migration. • Consider public cloud service as a destination for mission-critical applications, performing a thorough evaluation of its merits. After getting over the barrier of no-cloud thinking, develop a strategic cloud policy



LUCK IS THE RESIDUE OF GOOD DESIGN New business opportunities don’t follow established timelines. They can pop up at any time, in any place. The ideal facility design should be able to rise to the occasion to meet new business challenges head on. This will happen if the facility is rooted in a virtual supply chain methodology with agile and scalable means to provide the supporting workflows. It’s not luck when workflows can be quickly implemented to meet a business need. It’s not luck when 5x more storage is readily available or 10x more processing power is primed to go. It’s not luck, it’s good design. And good design is precisely what CLEAR cloud provides. Learn more about CLEAR and its hybrid cloud ecosystem at: ¢

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9. Gartner paper: Predicts 2016: Cloud Computing to Drive Digital Business,