Channel Origination and Playout: Understanding the Features
Many years ago, when CiaB (Channel in a Box) was gaining popularity, a customer commented to me, “These products are not Channel in a Box. If they were, they would do everything I need all the way up to the transmitter.” In hindsight, he was probably right. The label “CiaB” did not really fit the product.
In today’s market, a playout server is generally assumed to be a CiaB, or at least CiaB capable. But that does not address our customer’s previously stated specific issue with the CiaB terminology. Based on the features, CiaB is just playout, since its functional reach ends at Master Control.
The Silo effect of vertical workflows and traditional CiaB
One differentiating aspect of playout and the CiaB feature set is that it adheres to a vertical workflow. In general, broadcasters, content creators and distributors have been operating vertically integrated workflows for decades. These workflows include multiple databases, siloed control and management tools, and specific organizational structures. All of which are linked to historical technology choices and the expertise needed for each vertically integrated workflow to function. In addition, each part of the vertically integrated workflow has little to no crossover into the other parts.
Vertically integrated workflows are siloed by technology and organizational structures
Channel origination broadens the feature scope
Channel origination takes the benefits of file-based playout and CiaB functionality running in the cloud, and tightly couples it to the rest of the content distribution chain. This works well for a variety of delivery networks, whether for satellite, terrestrial, cable, IPTV or OTT.
The result is a microservices-based software platform that integrates more than CiaB staple features and services, such as:
- Live sources
- Graphic branding
- Switching directly connected to encoding
- Origin services
Channel origination lets us redefine how we originate channels
- More cost-effective and advanced capabilities: Channel origination in the cloud provides a wider range of capabilities because it extends far beyond Master Control. Consumer-ready content can be delivered for live linear broadcast and OTT, VOD, catch-up, and start-over usage. Channel origination platforms can now deliver content to any platform efficiently and cost-effectively in SD to UHD.
- Greater reach to more audiences: The greater reach enables delivery direct to consumers, for broadcast, and for distribution.
- The power of orchestration for source to screen video delivery: A cloud-native channel origination platform also uses a single orchestration system for configuration, management, and monitoring of the video workflow, from source to screen. Horizontal integration reduces the need for multiple systems and their numerous control mechanisms.
More advantages with horizontal channel origination integration
The broader functionality and horizontally integrated approach offered by Harmonic’s VOS®360 Channel Origination and Distribution Platform clearly go beyond the basic feature set of CiaB and traditional playout.
Horizontally Integrated workflows are easy to use and simple to deploy
Channel origination has clear advantages over vertically integrated playout systems: improve operational efficiency, simplicity of configuration, management, and monitoring and/or ease of deployment.
But what if you still need some vertical integration? Or if you need to tie into on-premises systems because you have dependencies or workflows that you are not yet ready to move to the cloud?
Progressively move to the cloud
You can use the cloud for a sub-set of what a full channel origination and distribution platform offer. Even if only the playout capabilities are used, you can still benefit from:
- Much faster channel launch times (hours or days, versus weeks or months)
- Integrated monitoring and control access from anywhere with an internet connection
- The ability to turn off channels when they are no longer needed
- The capacity to run cloud-based disaster recovery and launch pop up channels
- The option to integrate with on-premises automation for control
And if you use a SaaS approach, you also benefit from:
- Not having the hardware to manage, maintain or upgrade
- Software upgrades that are taken care of by the service provider
- Not having an idle compute capacity since you only pay for what you use
Cloud channel origination vs. vertically integrated on-premises playout systems
Despite its many advantages, cloud channel origination platforms do have one small issue. There can be a slight latency for control. However, this doesn't outweigh the clear advantages that channel origination in the cloud offers. The tighter integration and easier delivery of channels to any endpoint provide greater value, despite any minor latency. And, let’s not forget the real advantage of compatibility. Most playout features that work on-premises also work in the cloud.
Overall, you get more choices with horizontal integrations, especially when it comes to how you operate channels. Vertically integrated workflows struggle to compete with that agility, flexibility, and simplicity. Siloed systems that need to be organized into an end-to-end workflow may no longer be a relevant option for you.
When to consider channel origination in the cloud
In most cases, cloud playout gets used for simpler and/or lower revenue-generating channels, recovery for service continuity, and pop-up channels. We continue to test the waters of what we can do for playout-oriented workflows in the cloud. Meanwhile, other workflows that include live streaming in the cloud are now being used for complex high-value channels. It is reasonable to expect the cloud will be more increasingly used for complex, high revenue file-based linear playout, as it has for so many other workflow integrations.
Public cloud channel origination and distribution gives us highly flexible tools and integrated workflow. It lets us try new things quickly and with low-cost implications, neither of which is practical with appliance-based workflows. Experimentation has never been so easy or so cost-effective. It may not be appropriate for every channel, but its use will grow as we build confidence in more advanced and modern channel delivery platforms.
About Andy Warman
Andy Warman is the Director of playout solutions at Harmonic. He provides business development and strategic direction for Harmonic’s line of playout enabled solutions for cloud and appliances including Spectrum media server, the Polaris automation suite, MediaGrid shared storage solutions and VOS cloud-native media processing. Warman also serves on the board of directors ofthe Alliance for the IP Media Solutions (AIMS) and chairs the trade association’s Marketing Working Group. Warman joined Harmonic after 11 years at Harris Broadcast in product management, where he drove Harris’ channel-in-a-box strategy, server platform and storage consolidation initiatives. With deep domain experience in the production and playout arena, he also has experience in automation, news production, content creation and infrastructure common to broadcast workflows. Andy holds a degree in Electronics and Management Science from the University of Kent at Canterbury.