Amazon prepares way for linear TV to cloud, lands Turner

Amazon further put the squeeze on Over The Top technology suppliers in the pay TV market this week, by closing holes in its existing AWS services, adding 5 distinct new offerings, which will drag more processing cycles to the cloud from existing media clients, and attract a whole lot more to join them.

The drift to using AWS for delivering video from the cloud has been compelling, and on the back of Netflix and MLBAM trusting the service, almost every other media service which has contemplated using the cloud, has already followed suit. Now it’s after those who were more suspicious of the cloud, and has developed all its new software with the same “customer care” that the old Elemental was famous for, consulting clients about best practice and preferences all the way.

The key messages from its presentation from the AWS re:Invent show seem to be more function can come to the cloud, complete processes, rather than discrete steps, can move there, and less technical staff can be in charge of that transition. To top it all AWS’ security announcements at the show means it now has even better security. For all but the largest tier 1 players, who feel keeping their systems close to their chest makes a competitive difference, this simply makes the temptation of the cloud all that more alluring.

And it sets AWS to take a larger slice of what appears to be an ever inflating pie, as more and more video delivered goes to the cloud.

The graph above was supplied by ABI Research, but it ably illustrated Amazon’s point, which is that in pay TV, it has none of the existing business represented by the blue histograms, but every chance of getting most of the growing orange lines which will one day soon come to represent over 30% of the video revenues out there. Clearly the size of the pie which Amazon AWS is going after is set to double in 5 years.

What is not on the graph is the extent to which AWS as a brand is the leader in cloud, nor is the fact that if its products continue to be constructed with help from the industry, they will make the cloud transition increasingly comfortable.

The 5 services which were added by AWS Elemental in the Media Series were MediaTailor, MediaConvert, MediaLive, MediaPackage, and MediaStore and Keith Wymbs, CMO at AWS Elemental characterized them as enabling video providers to accelerate innovation, improve reliability, increase scale, more easily monetize their offerings, and reduce total cost of ownership.

And the nature of the protagonists assembled at the event to comment showed the type of targets that best suit these offerings with BT TV, Pac-122 Networks, Amazon Prime itself, Fox Sports Australia, fuboTV, Nine, Spuul, M2A Media, Cinépolis and Imagica, among those who have been consulted throughout these services’ construction and who already use them.

Wymbs said, “If you want to have speed of innovation, then you must do more things in the cloud,” and cited preparation of the NFL by Amazon for global delivery as one such instance, where it delivered to over 180 countries. And if you want to apply AI or content discovery, then you need to do things in the cloud. He went on to forecast that Advertising VoD would rise by 23% CAGR and to do that, and do it quickly, operators need to insert advertising in the server, rather than continue to send adverts and video from two different places on the internet and have the client merge the two.

Wymbs then took us through very basic workflows for both On Demand and Live channels, and showed how now all of it can come from AWS Media Services, from camera, through contribution encoder, to encoding and transcoding for delivery in real time, moved to an origin server and pushed out through the AWS CloudFront CDN.

He included steps such as adding the correct DRM to various packages, adding Watermarking to 4K video, and when he talked about live streaming, he was absolutely clear that it does not just mean sports or live events, but also entire linear channels, on a pay as you go basis, but with extra instances spun up to keep up with CPU intensive stages such as ingest or consumption above expectation.

All the time the emphasis was that an entire workflow can be built, which runs full time TV channels permanently, implying this was cheaper that existing head ends that tier 1 players have installed, and those that even FTA broadcasters use. We imagine they are as much intrigued by this as their pay TV counterparts.

MediaLive is the core video processing service, offering high quality encoding, multiple ABR outputs, at broadcast quality, in real time. And if lots of different versions are needed, the system automatically spins up new AWS instances without the operator having to focus on spinning them up, the workflow simply keeps up. AWS now supports 24×7 workflows, so this is all about enticing operators who have full time, round the clock TV channels and he hinted at channel based pricing, which sounds like AWS is ready to meet or beat what an operator is already paying.

From there it can go straight out to the Amazon CloudFront CDN, and then on to any type of device. MediaPackage seems to be a special instance of the old Elemental Delta origin server, as this includes just in time packaging for ABR delivery.

MediaPackage is also about being a smart origin server which can cope with a story evolving and developing and different versions being created by over-writing ABR manifests. And now a variety of external Media Asset Management products can communicate directly into this. MediaPackage also ensures that a viewer is getting the latest version of the manifest and also the same version of the video.

But AWS Elemental has kind of split its Origin server strategy in two and has a faster read write store called MediaStore which acts as an HTTP origin, optimized for fast, low-latency writes, decreasing the risk of buffering video. It may not be the final solution for “simultaneous” viewing with broadcast, as some technologies have promised, but this must be the closest that AWS Elemental can currently get, because it boasts delays of just a few seconds, rather than minutes.

Finally its MediaTailor product is all about personalization, by which Elemental means personalization of the advertising, using server side ad insertion. This immediately makes it tough for a piece of client side software like an Ad blocker to tell the difference between the core video and any advertising. But MediaTailor doesn’t stop there, and can also ensure that both sound quality and audio volume, as well as video quality, are all set at the same level in adverts as the video they are inserted into.

Mike Callahan, senior director solutions Marketing at AWS Elemental said, “Trying to do this on the client side sometimes means running two media players at once, and putting one in front of the other, and it is hard to track how much of the advert has actually played out.”

“MediaTailor does this on the fly, and will always convert the advert to match the video.” The workflow diagrams he presented showed that this can be integrated with any ad decisioning software such as that marketed by Comcast’s Freewheel. Callahan finished suggesting that you can have new workflows for just pennies, and that it can produce Dolby Audio and offer automatic noise reduction as well.

There is an AI element to this which creates metadata on the fly from the video itself, and this is important for say pulling out sports highlights of a particular player, clearly something that MLBAM would be keen on, and it was probably developed with it in mind.

Finally AWS Elemental talked about doing this in any of native AWS, or using its sister service Thinkbox, or using any AWS partner’s software.

While there are few truly tier 1 players shifting yet to cloud only installations, we suspect that all tier 2 and 3 players will eventually find this level of automation and customer care, irresistible. And some tier 1 services will follow, if at first only partially.

Just a day after this, in a separate announcement, AWS confirmed that Turner had selected AWS as its preferred cloud provider as it embarks upon a cloud-first, digital transformation where it will be leveraging AWS’s machine learning capabilities to drive more personalized viewer experiences

Turner is moving thousands of virtual machines to AWS and creating cloud-native applications for TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, CNN, NCAA, and NBA and has reengineered its media supply chain across AWS including the creation of a 15-petabyte library of archived CNN videos.

AWS also announced Amazon Sumerian at the show to allow any VR developer to target virtually any device with their outputs and also launched new features for AWS Marketplace to simplify buying 3rd party software which runs on AWS – already up to 4,200 software listings from more than 1,280 software sellers.