Visibility is as important to network health as it is to operate a motor vehicle. Have you ever tried to drive through a whiteout snowstorm or torrential rainfall and had to pull off to the side of the road under an overpass to wait it out because you just couldn’t see out of the windshield? Now picture a network facing these same challenges. Network visibility is the next big hurdle as broadcasters move content production to the cloud to satisfy remote production and workers.

When two Media and Broadcasting engineering minds get together for a virtual coffee over Webex, amazing insights are shared and aha moments happen. In this blog, Chris Lapp, Cisco Technical Solutions Architect, Media & Entertainment and I put each other on the hot seat, asking tough questions that we know broadcasters are asking. We touched on how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way broadcasters conduct business, the technology shifts that resulted from it, how this change affects the content and entertainment industry, and what we’re doing to help our customers adapt and overcome.

Let’s jump right in!

Digital experience monitoring in a post-pandemic world

The pandemic caused a major disruption in the content distribution process to accommodate remote workers. Because of this, content production is now dependent on infrastructure that isn’t directly under the producer’s control. Critical applications and data sources are running on uncontrolled infrastructure such as the internet, Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, data centers, and in the public cloud. To ensure the best consumer and fan experience possible, content and application owners need end-to-end visibility across the network and cloud.

Chris: Cisco is all over the ecosystem when it comes to live and post-production for sports. How do you see the pandemic changing the media landscape, and how have you presented tools and workflows to help people adapt to those changes?

Robert: The pandemic forced some rapid adoption of technology that enabled flexible workflows in a distributed production environment. We went from 60 to zero in the sense that you used to produce content in office buildings and production facilities and now everybody’s at home. To be able to continue to produce content and run your media business, you had to figure out how to make that happen. And so, you saw fast adoption of technologies like what we’re using right now for collaboration to continue to facilitate the media production workflow. There wasn’t a lot of time to think about the downsides of this new paradigm of distributed production for media companies that used to own a bigger percentage of the infrastructure.

Chris: Now that a lot of infrastructure is owned by third parties, what are the operational challenges?

Robert: With so many third parties, you no longer have visibility into that infrastructure. How do you know that your users are able to access the applications they need to produce content? How do you guarantee the consumer or fan is having the best possible experience? Is the content you created reaching the audience as intended?

Chris: What does this new paradigm mean for broadcasters?

Robert: Everything that’s happened over the last year has created an entirely new paradigm for media and entertainment companies, and for much of it they’ve just flown by the seat of their pants to build new workflows. Moving forward will determine what that new paradigm means for media companies.

Chris: How is Cisco helping companies navigate all these challenges?

Robert: You see it now with changes to traditional methods of monitoring the network and applications and ensuring the quality of the experience. It’s really changed how media companies adopt new tools and technologies that helped them gain visibility into these infrastructures that they don’t own and don’t control. If you’re producing a video and depending on the SaaS provider of the collaboration software, the internet, and DNS servers, all these different components must work together for this production to happen. If this was a live production, you can imagine the criticality is ramped up even further. We have a couple of products to really help the media company solve this challenge.

Chris: For example, visibility?

Robert: It used to be a world where you knew exactly what your ecosystem looked like, and you could put your hands on it. It was located onsite or at least you had ownership over it, and suddenly with more SaaS and cloud-based models, you’re experiencing a major lack of visibility.

Chris: What specific tools does Cisco offer to provide visibility and more efficiency in this new world that everyone’s living in.

ThousandEyes and Appdynamics extend visibilityRobert: We have a software product called ThousandEyes that offers end-to-end visibility from the consumer all the way to the application provider. The internet is typically a black box where if you can’t access your application, it’s like well my cable provider is terrible. My internet’s slow but is it really the cable provider? It might be the cloud or upstream provider and ThousandEyes gives you the capability to monitor that entire path and ensure the experience of the content consumer. It gives you the analytics to see how things are working long term. It could be the way you have things set up isn’t optimal, or maybe your infrastructure provider isn’t offering the service level they’re supposed to. You can determine exactly where the problem is occurring and react quickly.

Chris: We’re going to see tools like that become more important as time goes by because the world’s not going back to exactly how it was, and the media landscape is not going back to how it was. All these new tools will play a huge role, so we’re excited to hear more about them in the future.

Media and entertainment production moving to the cloud

Robert: So now it’s my turn to put you on the hot seat and ask questions. How are things going in the Media and Entertainment (M&E) technology deployment space?

Chris: Broadcasters are telling us that they are experiencing an accelerated roadmap towards what they were planning to do years from now. COVID-19 has really taken those five- to 10-year plans and made them more like one- to six-month plans. We’re talking about more movement to the cloud, increased virtualization, and additional remote workers and production. It started out slowly as people tried to formulate those plans, but it’s really accelerating at this stage, and as you know the vendors out there come up with more solutions to create these technologies and make them better than they are today. We’ll see more and more growth in that space especially as we move out of the pandemic.

Robert: Are the broadcasters you support asking you how they can analyze data so they can make better decisions?

Chris: From a data perspective, there are a couple of ways you can take that. There’s data in the sense of what Cisco traditionally deals with like metrics of KPIs on network performance, visibility analytics, and cost. It’s really the same metrics that we’re looking at today, but now you see them through a different lens. You can no longer look at just installing infrastructure and using that capital cost as your baseline decision because you have to consider labor and electricity costs, and all those other metrics that play into that decision. Only then can you see the value in going to something virtualized in the private or public cloud. Just looking at the upfront cost doesn’t make a lot of sense until you take in the bigger picture.

Robert: Looking over the horizon what do you think is going to drive technology spending, adoption, deployment a year from now?

Chris: One thing is the analytics side, and it’s becoming a lot different when we start looking at cloud workloads. You need to look at tools to monitor your performance across other infrastructure that you’re not used to monitoring. We have solutions like AppDynamics real-time performance monitoring and Cisco Intersight workload optimizer that can move your visibility outside of your traditional infrastructure and beyond.

Robert: Let’s talk about the cloud. What are you seeing?

Chris: You hear a lot of talk about public and private cloud, but what exactly are customers adopting? Is it a 50/50 strategy, or a 75/25 strategy? And then what workflows are going to the cloud first? Obviously, with the pandemic we’ve seen remote production has been very prevalent but what other workflows are going to the cloud and how are they doing? That would be something nice to understand.

Live production in the cloud is going to be more of a reality than it is today, but how we do that and what customers do will likely depend on the actual content itself. I don’t think we’ll be looking at events like the Super Bowl or other stadium events necessarily ever being produced in the public cloud. But I think it has a place for things like news and short-turnaround workflows.

The initial move to cloud was actually prior to COVID. And we did see a few of them pull back from public cloud because the cost was just so astronomical at that time. For the ones that made sense in the cloud, we haven’t seen those workflows come back on-prem yet, and I don’t think we’ll see many of them return at all. Customers have taken that greater picture and looked at the overall costs, and finally figured out what those metrics are to make it lucrative to work in the public cloud.

Don’t sit in the dark

The future of media content production remains fluid as broadcasters determine how to effectively use public and private cloud infrastructure. Whether or not you gain increased visibility into cloud workflows will play a large part in your willingness to adopt these new solutions. There is no need to sit inside a black box.

Interested in hearing more from our experts? Join Chis Lapp on July 28th for a conversation with  Devoncroft Partners, Josh Stinehour and Joe Zaller about the business drivers and tech trends that will advantage broadcasters. In this webinar, we will discuss the latest research on the state of IP transformation in the Media & Entertainment sector, as well as learnings from the past, what’s different this time, and what to keep in mind when planning to migrate to IP-based operations.

Register for a conversation with Devoncroft Partners

IP for Broadcasters: How to get the most from IP transformation and the move to the cloud

Wednesday, 28 July 2021 @ 8am PT / 11am ET



Robert Covington

Systems Engineering Manager

Global Service Provider